In a somewhat surprising recent press release Strikeforce announced it had renewed its Showtime deal for 2012. Strikeforce promises up to eight events and to retain its marque fighters. They also promise to “put on some really amazing events”, which seems unlikely when they’ve lost so many fighters that they’re giving Keith Jardine a title-shot (against current middleweight champion Luke Rockhold). It’s really hard to see the positive for any players involved in this deal.
This is bad news for the UFC. Dana White has said the UFC is going to stop cherry-picking the elite talent from Strikeforce. So, instead they’re going to have the few remaining top talents in Strikeforce go to waste, laboring another year in crumbling organization? UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva and welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre have nearly run out of opponents. Those weight classes could use an infusion of some new contenders. Light-heavyweight kingpin Jon Jones ran through four top-ten opponents in 2011. Right now, there are only three fighters who can realistically be considered a top contender for his belt. And one of them just left Strikeforce.
This isn’t really good news for Strikeforce. Sometime last year, Bellator overtook Strikeforce as the number two North American promotion. Of Strikeforce’s five men’s weight classes, only two have champions. The other three divisions lost their belt-holders to the UFC. Apparently, after the current heavyweight tournament is over that division will be disbanded. But does anyone care about the SF championship anymore? Let me state this again, Keith Jardine is getting a title fight. Jardine who lost his last four fights in the UFC and should have lost his only fight in Strikeforce (it was a Draw on a terrible decision). Defending your belt against him means nothing.
Which is why keeping world-ranked fighters like Gilbert Melendez, Luke Rockhold, and Daniel Cormier in Strikeforce for another year, amounts to a waste of year for them. Sure, they won’t be thrown to the lions right away like they would be in the UFC, but no one in Strikeforce gets them closer to a UFC title-shot. They’re losing valuable experience and a year in their prime by being forced to stay in Strikeforce. I know I’m beating a dead horse, but Luke Rockhold would benefit more by fighting on a UFC undercard against someone like Demain Maia or Vitor Belfort than by defending his Strikeforce belt.
Strikeforce began as an admirable attempt to stage world-class fights outside of the UFC. At the time it was needed, because the UFC stranglehold on the sport could have killed its momentum. Because of Strikeforce, the UFC had deliver quality, it had to continue to increase its presence on cable, and it had to treat its fighters fairly. But now, Strikeforce is just a part of UFC and an increasingly less relevant one. Like a fighter past their prime, Strikeforce should have ended before it got embarrassing to watch. Or it should have been turned into a minor league. Instead MMA fans get to watch a year of a formerly important organization become a joke.
With the recent purchase by Zuffa, LLC (UFC’s corporate owner) of both the WEC and Strikeforce many are wondering what will become of those brands and their fighters. One option is to create a minor league system out of these two organizations. In two articles I am going to explore why the UFC should create a junior promotion and why it shouldn’t. In today’s article we’ll be exploring why they should. Next week, we’ll look at the counter-point.
Here is what I propose – Zuffa should keep the Strikeforce banner and turn it into a minor league with the same seven weight classes as the UFC. Strikeforce does not have men’s featherweight and bantamweight divisions currently, but there are plenty of fighters at those weights who fought in the WEC. The new Strikeforce should be a stepping stone into the big leagues. Young, unproven fighters will have place to prove themselves without being pushed in the deep end right away. Veterans on the downturn can be given a second chance to fight themselves back into contention and give the younger competitors valuable experience. Maybe winning a title and defending it once is an automatic promotion to the UFC. Or it could be as simple as a five fight winning streak. Here a few reasons why a minor league system is necessary.
There a too many talented fighters to simply make large cuts
While the UFC could use some new blood at the heavier weight classes some of the lighter ones are packed already. UFC.com lists 58 welterweight fighters and 54 lightweight contenders. There is no way that all of those challengers can be given a fair shake based on the UFC’s scheduling. Put some of the less-proven and over-the-hill fighters in Strikeforce and let them work their way up to the UFC.
The reasons for getting kicked out of the UFC are too varied and inconsistent
There are three main reasons a fighter will get the boot from the UFC -
1. The Fighter loses three straight fights.
2. Unsportsmanlike conduct.
3. Failed drug tests.
Those are all valid reasons, but UFC President Dana White seems to be the lone decider of who the rule applies to. For example, Dan Hardy has lost four straight fights but does not seem to be in danger of losing his UFC contract. Meanwhile other fighters are cut after just two straight losses. Paul Daley was banned for life from the UFC for hitting the aforementioned Hardy after their fight had ended. Yet, British star Michael Bisping spit at his defeated opponent Jorge Rivera and was simply fined. He remains one of the UFC’s biggest starts and is even coaching the current season of The Ultimate Fighter. Top ten middleweights Chael Sonnen and Nate Marquardt failed drug tests in similar manners. Marquardt was cut unceremoniously while the UFC was willing to schedule Sonnen’s fight this Saturday in Texas because he couldn’t meet other state’s athletic requirements.
There are obviously other factors at work in the decision to cut someone. How exciting their fights are, how marketable they are, the level of competition they lost to, and their relationship with Dana White and the UFC are all big ones. In my opinion, that’s putting too much faith in Dana White. Can you imagine if Roger Goodell had the power to cut players from NFL teams? Instead of relying on subjective judgment the UFC should demote a fighter after three straight losses, an instance of unsportsmanlike conduct, or a failed drug test. The fighter would instantly be assigned to Strikeforce. It would be a clear demotion, but also give the fighter a path back to the UFC if they perform well and keep their act clean.
The Ultimate Fighter is failing
The Ultimate Fighters is the UFC TV reality program which rewards the winner with a fight contract. It started off strong but has not produced a meaningful contender since the fifth season. It turns out fighting a bunch of other inexperienced combatants does not prepare one for the level of competition in the UFC. A number of former TUF winners have been released from the UFC.
How about instead of rewarding a TUF winner with competition they’re likely not ready for they are awarded a Strikeforce deal instead? They can fight other up-and-comers and UFC demotions and ease into the higher level of opposition.
There is already a TV deal in place for Strikeforce
I’m certainly not the first one to point this out: UFC Should Consider Extending Contract With Showtime, Keep Strikeforce Brand Alive. But, I agree with the argument, the TV deal is in place and Zuffa should use it to extend the Strikeforce brand. You will notice that article points out a number of similar advantages to those previously mentioned.
The UFC is simply getting too large to be contained in one fight promotion. A Triple-A organization solves a myriad of upcoming issues for Zuffa. Next week we’ll be looking at the problems it may cause.
Jon “Bones” Jones is a phenomenal athlete, an exciting fighter, and clearly UFC’s next big star. Dana White and the other UFC brass believe with good reason that he could have a Jordan-like effect on the sport. He’s charismatic outside the ring and on a whole other level from his foes inside it.
But he’s not a legend yet. He hasn’t cleaned out the light-heavyweight division. He’s looked unbeatable but he also hasn’t fought a lot of fights. People are presumptuously crowning him the greatest light-heavyweight of all time. I believe when all is said and done, he’ll be in that conversation, but right now I think a lot of people are overlooking something, and that something is Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
Looking at the top contenders in the light-heavyweight class and none of them look like much of a threat to Jones. He looks great in all aspects. His record wingspan, sharp knees and elbows, and unorthodox style make him almost unbeatable in the stand-up game. His takedown defense is superb. He has a wrestling background and has shown his jujitsu skills in submission victories. Like Anderson Silva, his reach makes it almost impossible for an opponent to try anything against him without opening themselves up for TKO.
This is where Jackson comes in. Rampage KO’d Chuck Liddell, the greatest counter-puncher to ever fight in the UFC. He’s got heavy hands, a strong chin, and one of the best stand-up games in the division. Rampage is huge, with a physique more like true heavyweight, it was rumored that he once cut from 300 pounds for fight. While he won’t have the reach advantage, he is one of few fighters in the division who could come into a fight bigger and stronger then Jones. He also has a stronger wrestling background than the Brazilians at 205.
That is how Rampage can beat Jon Jones. He could rush forward; put Jones on his back, and ground and pound away. With his size and his chin he can charge in more recklessly than other fighters. Then, he is the one guy big enough to keep Jones down. He could also keep it standing and wait for the right moment for a KO punch. He is the only one in the weight class whose hands are heavy enough to catch Jones with just one shot.
I do think Jones will win on Saturday night. If someone at light-heavyweight can beat him though, that someone is Rampage Jackson. So before we crown Jones the Tyson or Ali of MMA let’s see him get past his toughest test yet – and maybe the toughest of his career.
At UFC 115 on two weeks ago UFC superstar Chuck Liddell was handed his third consecutive loss. In a post-fight interview UFC president Dana White declared unequivocally that Liddell will not fight in the Octagon again.
Liddell, along with Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is the most popular and recognizable fighter in the UFC. But with a 1-4 record since losing his UFC Light Heavyweight title to Jackson it is clear that the game has passed the Iceman by. It is not just the losses, it is the way he has lost. Liddell was possibly the greatest counter-puncher of all time in the UFC. During his nearly two year reign as the Light Heavyweight champ from 2005 to 2007 he successfully defended his title four times and ended each fight with a TKO or KO. During this time the Iceman was the baddest man in the Octagon and undoubtedly the most dangerous striker in MMA.
But then Rampage KOed him on one punch. Then future Light Heavyweight champ Rashad Evans knocked him out with one punch. Then another future Light Heavyweight champ, Maurico “Shogun” Rua TKOed him with a flurry of punches. And finally at UFC 115, Rich Franklin, a former middleweight champion, KOed with one punch. Franklin delivered his knockout with his right arm, because his left arm had been broken earlier in the fight.
His losses have not come against slouches, but he has clearly been outclassed in the division. It looks impossible for Liddell to ever get his belt back unless about five guys suddenly retire. Most of all he has been surpassed at what made him great - striking and counter-punching. Worse, he seems to have no chin anymore and looks to be an easy knockout to an elite striker.
Liddell has been criticized for being one-dimensional and not keeping in good fighting shape in the past. But he came into his fight against Franklin fit and trimmed. In both his last two fights he showed more diversity in his game, mixing up his striking with some grappling.
But despite his re-dedication to the sport it is clear to everyone that his time is up. He is 40 years old and has over 30 fights on his body. It is time for him to retire. The Light Heavyweight division in the UFC is too loaded right now for him to have a chance.
But please Chuck, don’t go Strikeforce or some other lesser fighting organization. We understand, everyone wants to go out on top. That is why Brett Favre hems and haws everyone off-season, and that’s why Jordan ended up playing for the Wizards. But you’re already a UFC Hall of Famer. Sticking around for more disappointing losses is only going to taint your legacy the same way MJ’s Washington stint tainted his.
Chuck you were the baddest man in the world for two years. If you want us to remember you that way, retire now. We’ll appreciate it and still appreciate you years from now as one MMA’s greatest of all time.
Last Saturday night, the Strikeforce MMA organization held a major event on CBS. Strikeforce:Nashville featured not one, not two, but three title bouts. There are a few reasons I liked the event, and a few reasons I didn’t.
Let’s start with what I liked. It was free event for those at home, a network TV event even. I liked that there were three title bouts. I liked the stat tracking that CBS did, it made it feel like more of a sport. I liked the fact that there is an organization trying to compete with the UFC. Dana White is far too controlling of a President for my taste, one who is known for trying to control his fighters actions both inside and outside the ring. If there is an organization out there that can compete with White’s UFC talent-wise, and show us some quality fights for free then I am all for that.
Unfortunately, Strikeforce’s championship bouts on Saturday night were three of the sloppiest and most boring fights I have ever watched. All of the fighters looked gassed after the first round, no one was striking hard or precisely, and all of the ground game was ridiculously sloppy. The whole night was easy fodder for MMA critics who complain that the sport is nothing more than guys hugging and laying on top of each other.
While the majority of Strikeforce (or formerly Elite XC) fighters have never been as entertaining or skillful as the top UFC fighters, I was still expecting more from this group. Jake Shields was one of the few exciting fighters to watch in the Elite XC. Dan Henderson is an MMA veteran who was coming off two wins in the UFC. I was sort of expecting him to class up the joint. In fact this looked like Strikeforce’s most stacked card ever with the only contender not in Sherdog’s top-ten rankings being Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal.
As to who won the fights, who really cares? None of them deserved a belt after their poor performances. If any of the fighters had put out that kind of showing in the UFC they wouldn’t have lasted past the 1st round.
All in all a very disappointing night. There are good fighters out there who are not in the UFC. I mean if there are enough out there to fill EA Sports MMA there must be enough to fill a competitive league right? Here’s hoping the next Strikeforce event is actually good. Competition for the UFC is good for both the fans and the sport.
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- Janette Cantu on Washington Sportsjam MMA Pound-for-Pound Rankings:April 2012 Edition
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