Strikeforce is no more.
Saturday night, the kickboxing organization-turned-mixed martial arts promotion closed out their run with a solid show from the Chesapeake Energy Center in Oklahoma City.
In the main event, Tarec Saffiedine battered Nate Marquardt with leg kicks to claim the welterweight title, while Daniel Cormier maintained his unbeaten record by steamrolling overmatched Dutch heavyweight Dion Staring.
With their cage now packed in boxes and put away for good, it’s time to forecast what comes next for the winners.
Here are the match-ups I’d make for last night’s winners once they arrive in the Octagon.
Tarec Saffiedine vs. Mike Pierce
Saffiedine upset Nate Marquardt to win the welterweight title and punch his ticket to the UFC, jacking up Marquardt’s leg with a steady diet of leg kicks. The precise, technical striker now moves to the deep 170-pound ranks in the UFC, where he’ll need to prove himself all over again.
Pierce is a great measuring stick. The Portland, Oregon-based fighter is an offence-stifling wrestler who has won three straight, and his only losses in the UFC have come against Josh Koscheck, Johny Hendricks, and Jon Fitch.
Beating a grinder like Pierce would prove Saffiedine is worthy of sharing the cage with some of the division’s elite.
Daniel Cormier vs. Frank Mir
Cormier called out the former UFC heavyweight champ following his one-sided throttling of Dion Staring on Saturday. Having signed his UFC contract, Cormier said he’d like the match with Mir to take place on April 20 when the company heads to San Jose for the next UFC on FOX show.
I don’t know that it’s the right match-up, since Mir is coming off a loss and Cormier’s career is on the upswing, but I’m pretty sure Mir will be the one to welcome the unbeaten heavyweight standout to the UFC cage.
Josh Barnett vs. Roy Nelson
I’m not certain that Barnett makes the move back into the UFC, even though he’s a top-15 fighter and could be an entertaining addition to the heavyweight division. He and UFC president Dana White have a shaky history, and the boss has been noncommittal about bringing “The Warmaster” back into the fold.
If he does return to the Octagon, why not pair him with Nelson, another heavyweight White has had issues with in the past. Barnett doesn’t strike me as the type to come over to fight low-level competition, and a fight with Nelson would be a sure main card contest.
Plus, I think it would be a pretty entertaining tussle.
Gegard Mousasi vs. Ryan Jimmo/James Te-Huna winner
Not the most glamourous debut bout for the former Strikeforce light-heavyweight champion, but I just can’t see the UFC throwing him into the deep end of the pool at this point. There are already enough contenders and former champions jockeying for position, so rushing Mousasi into that mix is pointless.
Facing the winner of the upcoming Jimmo/Te Huna tilt would introduce the 27-year-old Dutch fighter an introduction to the UFC audience, and a win would move him up the rankings. He’s immensely talented, and an intriguing addition to a division that is currently under construction.
Ronaldo (Jacare) Souza vs. Costa Philippou
Souza ran through UFC vet Ed Herman on Saturday night, and should enter the organization on the fringes of contention in the middleweight division. While Philippou could probably score a more high-profile pairing after his win over Tim Boetsch, I think matching him with the former Strikeforce champ makes more sense.
The winner lands on the short list of contenders in the 185-pound ranks, a win or two away from fighting for the title, depending on how things shake out in the next few months.
Ryan Couture vs. as yet unsigned lightweight
After being gifted a decision win on Saturday night, I’m certain Couture will get a shot in the UFC. After all, his last name is Couture. He’ll be starting from the shallow end of the talent pool, and I think the UFC will actually do what they can to allow him to develop. As such, facing an incoming lightweight with no UFC experience will probably be how the second generation Couture makes his debut.
K.J. Noons vs. Joe Lauzon
Tell me this fight doesn’t excite you? Noons is tough to put away, and almost always entertaining, while Lauzon is pound-for-pound the most entertaining fighter in the sport today. Yes, I’m including Anderson Silva and Jon Jones in that race; Lauzon beats them both in terms of sheer excitement. Great way to introduce Noons to the UFC, and a great fight to kick off a pay-per-view or FOX card because you’re guaranteed to get action.
Tim Kennedy vs. Jake Shields
Kennedy was on his way to an uninspiring decision win Saturday night against Trevor Smith before catching him in a choke midway through the third. The two-time Strikeforce middleweight title challenger should make the move to the UFC, but he won’t have an easy road in front of him if he does, as the division continues to grow deeper. A bout with Shields would answer a bunch of questions about where each fighter stands.
Pat Healy vs. Gleison Tibau
Healy became a sympathetic figure heading into the Strikeforce finale, as he was apparently fighting for his job despite a carrying a five-fight winning streak into Saturday’s show. He earned a decision win over Kurt Holobaugh, and should get his opportunity in the UFC, where a meeting with a veteran grappler like Tibau makes sense to me. The Brazilian is the low-end gatekeeper in the lightweight ranks; beat him and we can talk about bigger fights.
Roger Gracie vs. previously unsigned Brazilian middleweight
While his name will get him recognition, I actually think Roger Gracie has some upside in the middleweight division. Champion? No, but he matched Demian Maia’s trajectory before Maia fell in love with his hands. That being said, the UFC would be smart to coddle him a little, and use him in favourable situations, like beating patsies on cards in Rio or Sao Paulo. His grappling is unbelievable, but his hands still need work, so bringing him along slowly makes perfect sense.