Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Strikeforce Survival Guide

As the UFC looks to soar to new heights in 2012, its new sister promotion Strikeforce is struggling to survive. This is due largely to the fact that most of the promotion’s big names have jumped ship to the UFC since the merger. Both ratings and show attendances have never been lower due to lack of big names and fights that have little meaning in the grand scheme of things. However, Zuffa had the power to turn the WEC into one of the most memorable organizations in MMA history, and a multitude of the fighters they had under that banner at one point or another have gone on to have successful UFC careers. So if what Zuffa says is true and they want to keep Strikeforce alive, here are a few things they should look into doing.

Promote the s**t out of Luke Rockhold – This kid has real potential. He burst onto the scene with impressive wins on Strikeforce undercards, and on the now-defunct Challengers Series. However, injuries nixed several possible bouts in 2010 and 2011, and then he was thrust into a title shot against grappling ace and then-middleweight champion Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. Although it was known Rockhold was a highly-touted prospect, many in the MMA community thought it was too soon for a title shot, as his biggest win to that point was Jesse “JT Money” Taylor. That all changed when Rockhold outworked Souza to earn a unanimous decision victory and take the Strikeforce middleweight title. I thought if Rockhold was for real, he’d have to beat tough veteran Keith Jardine impressively to prove it. He did, taking out The Dean by 1st round stoppage due to strikes. Strikeforce is perfect for Rockhold right now, and Rockhold is perfect for Strikeforce. There are plenty of tough middleweights in Strikeforce, such as Robbie Lawler and Tim Kennedy, who can continue to test Rockhold and further his development. In turn, Strikeforce can promote him as a “homegrown” superstar; one that can challenge top UFC middleweights soon. It works out perfectly in my mind: Strikeforce has a rising star to promote and Rockhold can continue to hone his skills. When the time comes, he’ll have the experience, and hopefully the exposure, to make a big splash when he (inevitably) transfers to the big show.

Give Tyron Woodley his title shot, or get rid of the welterweight division – Tarec Saffiedine, Paul Daley, and Jordan Mein are the best welterweights in Strikeforce not named Tyron Woodley. The one thing they share in common: Tyron Woodley has decisively beaten all of them. Recently, Strikeforce head-honcho Scott Coker seemingly retracted a previous statement by being non-committal on whether Woodley’s next fight would be for a title. I’ll answer that question…it damn well better be! Seriously, what more does he have to do? As for his fights not being the most exciting of recent, I’d say it’s because he’s fighting “not to lose” at this point because he’s been talked about in the title picture since the Saffiedine fight. Strikeforce’s welterweight division has been weak even when Nick Diaz was champion (KJ Noons got a title shot. 155lb fighter KJ Noons received a welterweight title shot. ‘Nuff said). Something tells me that once Woodley gets what he wants, we will get what we want in the form of exciting performances from him once again. If Woodley does not get a title shot, what’s the point of keeping the division around? He’s already beaten the best 3 guys on the current roster, and if a title isn’t in his hands, it may not guarantee him the top competition he needs to continue to develop. The UFC has a ton of top welterweights. Either give Woodley a title and promote him like he deserves, or get him to the UFC so they can give him the fights we want to see him in.

Make Women’s fights a priority – Zuffa kept the WEC around by making it the premier organization for featherweight and bantamweight fighters. Where they carved out that niche in the WEC, they should find a way to do the same for female fighters in Strikeforce. Fighters like Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey are getting a lot of press in recent times. There will be a time, even if it’s later rather than sooner, when the UFC will eventually have to answer the call to include at least one women’s division, just like they granted our wishes by installing feather, bantam, and flyweights. Do I agree that Sarah Kaufman deserves the title shot against Tate more than Rousey? From a logistical standpoint yes, but Tate vs. Rousey could be as big for women’s MMA as Carano vs. Cyborg was, especially with all the recent Twitter and media hype. Add to that the fact that there’s even a debate between who should get the next title shot shows that the division is getting at least a substantial amount of depth. The one thing I praised Strikeforce for in the non-Zuffa era was their eagerness to promote and progress women’s MMA. If this continues under the Zuffa banner, they could unofficially be the home of the best quality women’s MMA in any organization. If they mend the fence with Marloes Coenen, there’s another instant contender in their women’s 135lb division. With the release of her movie Haywire on the horizon, there would be no better time to get Gina Carano back in the cage. I think Dana White, and Zuffa as a whole, are finally beginning to see there’s a good amount of interest from fans in women’s MMA. Hopefully, they continue to reciprocate by continuing to give us high-level female action.

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