During last Saturday’s Strikeforce show, I was more than a little surprised to hear play-by-play announcer Mauro Ranallo talk about the possibility of Strikeforce’s best facing the UFC’s champs. The sentiment was repeated in a more emphatic fashion later on by Gilbert Melendez, who held onto his title by dominating Tatsuya Kawajiri. Considering that everything we’ve heard from Zuffa since the purchase of Strikeforce has revolved around everything being “business as usual”, it was strange, to say the least.
Has something suddenly changed? It seems unlikely that Ranallo would be so uninformed that he would not realize that Dana White had said there would be no “superfights” between the two promotions. It also seems unlikely that Strikeforce would incite the fans with a poll asking whether they want to see the two organization’s champs face one another if that wasn’t a possibility. As with the Pride purchase, we seem to be entering “all bets are off” time here, as it’s hard to say what the future holds. We can debate whether Strikeforce’s champs should face their UFC counterparts all day long, though.
Do I think these fights should happen? In short, no. If Strikeforce is truly going to continue running as a separate promotion, what sense would it make for their champions to fight for titles in another organization? Even worse, what sense would it make for the champs in the UFC to possibly lose to their Strikeforce counterparts, especially since the UFC is and always will be Zuffa’s crown jewel?
In particular, it’s better if Nick Diaz stays put and keeps doing his thing. Does anyone really want to see him go to the UFC and be held down by the top wrestlers in the division? I don’t. I’m having too much fun watching Diaz fearlessly take on elite strikers as the Strikeforce champ. I think he’s certainly one of the very best in the world, but those who are better- Georges St. Pierre and Jon Fitch, for example- are going to be able to take him down and avoid submissions while staying active enough to win round after round. Again, not a fight I’m really jonesing to see.
With Gilbert Melendez, the prospect is a more exciting one. Fights between Melendez and the UFC’s top lightweights would be great to see, and Melendez has all of the tools to back up his talk of being the best 155-pounder in the world. Still, though: where does that leave Strikeforce? I don’t want to see another Melendez-Thomson fight any more than anyone else does, but what else can you do? I suppose you could have Melendez go to the UFC and just have Thomson fight someone for the vacated title, but that sets a bad precedent for Strikeforce of having their best talent get “called up” to the UFC, which doesn’t make sense if they are to continue running as a separate promotion.
The other champs are more hit and miss. Who wouldn’t want to see Alistair Overeem against any of the UFC’s top heavyweights? Besides Melendez, he’s the Strikeforce champ that would seem to match up best against the UFC’s offerings. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Dan Henderson don’t bring the appeal that the other champs do to a crossover matchup; Jacare isn’t well-known enough at this point among many fans and Henderson was just in the UFC not all that long ago. However, the relative lack of depth of their respective contender pools in the middleweight and light heavyweight divisions do make a case for some kind of cooperation between the two promotions, even if it doesn’t mean a champion vs. champion matchup.
What does make sense is to use the UFC’s deep roster to supplement the Strikeforce ranks, especially since they are becoming thin just about everywhere but at heavyweight. The UFC can’t find enough fights for many of their competitors and, they are constantly cutting talented fighters. Why not send those guys to Strikeforce? It’s not about Strikeforce getting the UFC’s “cast-offs”, but about giving guys that have hit a ceiling in the UFC a chance to shine elsewhere and give Strikeforce some fresh talent. Someone like Kenny Florian would have been a great example, had he not dropped to featherweight. I’m talking about fighters who are legitimate talents, but can’t seem to crack the upper echelon of their divisions. Rich Franklin is another good example, though I doubt the UFC would want to move any former champions over.
In other words, it is still quite unclear what Zuffa will do, if anything, when it comes to sharing talent between the two promotions. I do know one thing- I’m extremely skeptical about any kind of champion vs. champion matchups happening. There’s simply too much at risk for both promotions. Also, if Zuffa starts using Strikeforce as a place to send fighters that haven’t been able to cut it in the UFC, Strikeforce starts looking like a minor league. The UFC certainly wouldn’t accept anyone who hasn’t been able to ascend the ladder in Strikeforce, for that matter.
So what’s the solution? Short of co-promoting or having crossover fights between contenders (say, a fight between Robbie Lawler and Michael Bisping, for example), I don’t know what it could be. My best idea would be to trade talent in cases where a fighter has hit a glass ceiling or matchups are starting to exhaust themselves. For example, why not send someone like Jon Fitch to Strikeforce? When there’s a logjam at the top, as there is at welterweight and middleweight in the UFC, and you have guys just treading water because there doesn’t appear to be enough interest in seeing them rematch the champion, move them to Strikeforce for awhile.
Of course, there’s a lot of contractual crap that probably prevents that from happening, but then again, wouldn’t the same problems get in the way of champion vs. champion fights? To make a long story short, the best way to go is probably to keep things separate as long as Strikeforce continues to exist as a separate organization, and simply have fighters change organizations when necessary for fresh matchups. Anything else might be good for short-term entertainment, but not so good for business.