Strikeforce finale is filled with both veterans and unproven fighters
Ronda Rousey clamping on the armbar. Wouldn't it be poetic if the inevitably conclusive signature move of the brightest star in Strikeforce ended up being the final image cast by the ill-fated fight promotion?
It could happen, one supposes, if recent history repeats itself. One reason that Rousey submitting former champion Sarah Kaufman in 54 seconds -- her sixth first-round stoppage in six pro bouts, all by that badass armbar -- is such a lingering impression is that, in the months since her August main event, Strikeforce has cancelled both of its scheduled fight cards and been declared a dead man walking. The final bow is slated for Saturday night in Oklahoma City. We assume it's still on.
It's hard to imagine this one going belly-up. The card is stacked with just about every name fighter under contract who's healthy enough to make it to the cage and not already, like Rousey, scheduled for a UFC debut. And while many of those involved probably just want to get this over with, at least some of the fighters must recognize the importance of this event as an audition for the big show.
Yes, the middleweight championship that Nate Marquardt will put on the line against Tarec Saffiedine in the main event is irrelevant and soon to be defunct. But if "Nate the Great" hopes to once again be a UFC contender, he'd better build upon the momentum he got rolling back in July. His fourth-round knockout of previously unbeaten Tyron Woodley was an impressive Strikeforce debut, and it earned him something more important than the belt. Fighting for the first time in 14 months, following his banishment from the UFC after an elevated testosterone level resulted the cancellation of a main event bout, Marquardt needed to realign his name with a positive impression.
"Definitely, when I won the Strikeforce title," he said recently, "that was like redemption for me."
Marquardt spoke those words while huddled with a gaggle of reporters outside the doors of the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas while the early prelims of UFC 155 were unfolding inside. Here he was, so close to the big time yet still on the outside looking in. He acknowledged that being kicked to the curb by the promotion president was "one of the toughest things in my career," but added that the matter was in the past and now he was looking to the future. Not his distant future in the UFC, though, but rather the immediate future: his date with Saffiedine.
"I assume that I will be in the UFC after this fight and I'm not concerned about that, so it's not really an issue for me," said Marquardt. "I just look forward to my fight."
And so it is — or should be — for several others who'll walk into the cage Saturday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Go right down the list of matchups, from the main card to the prelims, and in just about every bout you'll find one guy who's got a reputation to defend and another who's trying to make a name for himself.
Look at the co-main event, which features homecoming fighter Daniel Cormier, a large reason Strikeforce is bringing its traveling show to where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain. While wrestling at Oklahoma State, he was an NCAA Division 1 runner-up, and he continued to train there for his two Olympic Games. Now he's an undefeated mixed martial artist who last May captured the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, a competition that included the likes of Fedor Emelianenko and Alistair Overeem. Cormier hasn't even fought in the UFC yet, and Dana White thinks so highly of the guy that he's said his first fight could be against Jon Jones for the light heavyweight title. If Daniel can avoid stumbling against onetime Overeem sparring partner Dion Staring, the sky's the limit.
The man Cormier beat for the Grand Prix title, Josh Barnett, has a cloudier future. His opponent is someone named Nandor Guelmino, a 10-3 Austrian who, well, about all I know about the guy is that he's 10-3 and from Vienna. Oh, and that he's won six straight fights. Somewhere. If that doesn't sound like much of a test for Barnett, a onetime UFC champion, it might just be that Dana White & Co. already know all they want to know about "The Baby-faced Assassin." After all, Barnett is the only fighter in MMA history to fail three drug tests, the first of which resulted in him being stripped of the UFC belt back in 2002 after he'd won it by knocking out Randy Couture. White has uttered not a word recently about the free-spirited fighter, positive or negative, so it's hard to get a read on whether the 35-year-old has a UFC future. But Barnett, who'd won eight straight before being manhandled by Cormier, isn't likely to turn many heads by dancing in the cage with the likes of Guelmino.
There are some fare more interesting matchups in Saturday's swan song. Former Strikeforce middleweight champ Ronaldo Souza will have his work cut out for him against UFC veteran Ed Herman. It's a bit of a trap for "Jacare" Souza: A victory over the middle-of-the-pack "Short Fuse" Herman will not elevate him to the top rung of the UFC ladder, and a loss will suggest he can't hang with the real steel of the division, sullying the championship on his resume. Herman's career would get a boost with a victory, but it's hard to grasp how much it would raise his profile. How much are Strikeforce belts worth in a UFC universe?
And then there's the UFC future of Couture to consider. I'm referring to Ryan, son of Randy, who has built a nice 5-1 pro record in Strikeforce, mostly on the second-tier "Challengers" cards. In a prelim, he'll face his stiffest test, K.J. Noons, a former EliteXC welterweight champ who owns victories over Nick Diaz and Yves Edwards. However, he's lost three of his last four (including a rematch with Diaz). What does he have left for Couture? Will it still be too much.
All of these questions will be answered on Saturday night. Either that, or the whole thing will fall apart and when you tune in, Showtime will be airing reruns of Shameless and House of Lies. And no, those are not documentaries depicting this fight promotion that, after sending off its best and brightest to the UFC, is about to go bye-bye.