Saturday night we close the book on Strikeforce, a promotion that has had its fair share of ups and downs since it began holding mixed martial arts events in 2006.
You can criticize how Strikeforce was run, certain matchups they put together and other aspects of the business, but you can’t deny that it put on some extremely entertaining events, a plethora of memorable fights, as well as having some of the best talent in all of MMA.
For example, the following list is comprised of popular or successful fighters that have competed in Strikeforce at one point or another but didn’t necessarily make a name for themselves there:
Cain Velasquez, Nate Diaz, Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem, Nate Marquardt, Michael Chandler, Josh Barnett, Andrei Arlovski, Clay Guida, Krzysztof Soszynski, Frank Shamrock, Mike Pyle, Paul Daley, Frank Trigg, Yves Edwards, Andrei Arlovski, Phil Baroni, Renato Sobral, Gegard Mousasi, Scott Smith, Keith Jardine, Jay Hieron, Tyson Griffin, Robbie Lawler, Jason (Mayhem) Miller, Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou, Matt Lindland, Shinya Aoki, Robbie Lawler and Jordan Mein to name a few (or a lot).
Even NFL Hall of Famer Herschel Walker fought for Strikeforce twice (going 2-0) for goodness sake!
None of the fighters above are known as “Strikeforce fighters” necessarily though because they had more success in other promotions (or sports) either before or after their appearances in Strikeforce.
The current, and what is ultimately the final, Strikeforce roster boasts many fighters that will likely go on to have success in the UFC and other promotions.
With that in mind here’s a look back at the best fighters in Strikeforce history.
1. Gilbert Melendez (Strikeforce record 11-1)
For the past few years Melendez really has become the face of the organization. As other top stars like his teammates Nick Diaz and Jake Shields moved on to the UFC, Melendez remained a Strikeforce staple.
He made his Strikeforce debut at the promotion’s first event and went on to win, then lose, then win back the lightweight title, while becoming one of the best 155-pound fighters in the sport — some even believe he’s the best in the division.
He defeated the likes of Clay Guida, Shinya Aoki, Tatsuya Kawajiri and avenged his lone promotional loss to Josh Thomson (twice in fact) during his time in the organization.
When you think Strikeforce, you should think Gilbert Melendez.
2. Ronda Rousey (Strikeforce record 4-0)
Before she became the first ever female signed to the UFC and the first UFC women’s bantamweight champion, Rousey made a name for herself in Strikeforce. Although she only had four fights in the promotion, her impact was undeniable.
She started out on the Strikeforce Challengers circuit beating Sarah D’Alelio and Canadian Julia Budd before she earned a title shot. Her televised, main card bouts against Miesha Tate and Sarah Kaufman cemented her spot as a superstar.
3. Luke Rockhold (Strikeforce record 9-0)
Rockhold made a slow climb up the ranks during his time in Strikeforce and when all was said and done he ended up as the fighter with the most impressive undefeated record in Strikeforce history. His wins over Ronaldo Souza, Keith Jardine and Tim Kennedy displayed his well-rounded skill set and showed that he should be able to hang with the best middleweights in the UFC in 2013.
4. Nick Diaz (Strikeforce record 6-0)
No fighter was more fun to watch and no fighter got the fans going like Diaz. During his six fights in the promotion we saw Diaz take his striking to a new level. He won the welterweight title and defended it three times before earning his way back to the UFC.
5. Cung Le (Strikeforce record 7-1)
Crazy kicks, knockout power and an unconventional, aggressive style made Le a star rather quickly. The notoriety he garnered while in Strikeforce led to him becoming the type of star that drew non-MMA fans to the sport. All seven of his wins came by knockout or TKO, many of which were of the highlight-reel variety.
Other notable fighters that have made a name for themselves in Strikeforce include:
Ronaldo Souza (6-1, former middleweight champ), Daniel Cormier (4-0, Heavyweight GP champ), Jake Shields (3-0, former middleweight champ), Josh Thomson (10-3, former lightweight champ), Cristiane Santos (4-0, 1 NC, former women’s featherweight champ), Antonio Silva (3-2), Pat Healy (6-1), Tyron Woodley (8-1), Rafael Cavalcante and Muhammed Lawal (both 3-1, 1 NC, former light-heavyweight champs), Sarah Kaufman (6-2, former women’s bantamweight champ).