Since its kickboxing start in 1985, Strikeforce and elite mixed martial arts have been almost one in the same, but that comes to an end when the San Jose-based promotion hosts its final event this Saturday in Oklahoma City.
Behind Scott Coker, Strikeforce grew to the No. 2 MMA promotion in the world. With fighters Frank Shamrock, Cung Le, Nick Diaz, Jake Shields, Ronda Rousey, Fedor Emelianenko and many others, the company exploded in popularity in 2006. The company has consistently put on exciting fights filled with unstoppable action since its MMA debut. Less than seven years later it ends.
After being purchased by Zuffa in March 2011, many thought it was a forgone conclusion that Strikeforce would be closing their doors, the question was when. The company will shutter its octagon for the final time Jan. 12. It's been five months since their last event, with two being cancelled since then due to injuries to main event participants. Even the magnitude of the final card, which originally had champions Luke Rockhold and Gilbert Melendez defending their titles, is being downplayed as less than significant.
However, the fighters on the card give the feeling that this event will reach epic proportions. Headlined by a welterweight title bout between champion Nate Marquadt and challenger Tarec Saffiedine, "Strikeforce: Marquadt vs. Saffiedine" is stacked from top to bottom with MMA veterans anxious to put on a show for the final time.
Representing San Jose-based AKA, are heavyweight Grand Prix Champion Daniel Cormier and light-heavyweight Mike Kyle. Kyle is one of the many Strikeforce fighters who might be stuck in limbo after Saturday night. Many mid-level fighters find a spot on the UFC’s roster. Champions or main event quality fighters are often welcome by Dana White and for such fighters, that might mean an automatic title shot.
Strikeforce Heavyweight Daniel Cormier, who was supposed to take on Frank Mir on the cancelled November card, will be taking on Dion Staring, who's fighting in the U.S. for the first time in his career.
It might be what happens after Saturday night that interests fans even more. Cormier is expected to drop down to light-heavyweight after this bout and join UFC’s light-heavyweight division. With fellow AKA heavyweight and UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez regaining his title at UFC 155, Cormier has favored dropping to 205 and making a run at current UFC Light-Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones. That run might include an automatic title shot, as stated by White after UFC 155.
Whatever happens after Saturday is of no concern to the 22 fighters on Strikeforce’s final card, yet. What matters is doing what they do best, which is put on a final night of unforgettable fights and leave fans with nothing but great memories of what was.
Nitesh Dutt is a Production Assistant at Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter @NiteshDutt.