Into the Night

I remember it like it was yesterday— not because I’ve been mega-dos- ing nootropics, but because it just happened last month. I logged on to Twitter, and there it was. Strikeforce, the company that has promoted 62 MMA events since March 2006, would have one last hurrah on January 12 and then go the way of Pride FC and World Extreme Cagefighting.

I’d love to tell you that my initial reaction was one of nostalgia or remorse, but my New Year’s resolution of telling the truth forbids that. I wasn’t happy. I was thrilled! I might have spontaneously uttered the words, “Thank God” or “It’s about friggin’ time.” Why? Because it is critical to the fur- ther mainstreaming of MMA that the high- est possible percentage of the world’s best fighters be in the same promotion and com- pete. Period. The best basketball players in the world are in the NBA. The best football players are in the NFL. The best fighters must be in the UFC for media and fans alike to confidently define true champions— the best of the best and who’s better than who—without resorting to the ridiculous fantasy match-up arguments we’ve endured for most of MMA’s history.

It wasn’t that long ago that common wis- dom declared that many of the mainstays of Pride would walk through their UFC coun- terparts. While some successfully navigated the shark infested waters of the Octagon and captured UFC gold—Anderson Silva, Rampage Jackson, Shogun Rua, and Big Nog—others such as Mirko Cro Cop, Wan- derlei Silva, Akihiro Gono, Marcus Aurelio, and Denis Kang found those waters too choppy, all posting losing records. Contrast that to the widely held belief that WEC light- weights would simply be punching bags for the UFC’s 155-pounders. Don’t look now, but former WEC fighter Benson Henderson cap- tured the UFC Lightweight Championship, while Anthony Pettis and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone are fighting for what many believe is the number one contender position in the division. Those three “sacrificial lambs” have a combined 13-2 UFC record and have scored nine post-fight bonuses. But that’s the point: the best athletes in their given sport have to compete against one another to ever really know how good they are. The rest is just fodder for media types to write about and fans to argue about without ever getting an answer.

Now, we will get the answers. Is Gilbert Melendez really a top lightweight, or will he struggle against the best in the world? Can Luke Rockhold make an impact at 185 pounds, or was Michael Bisping accurate when he proclaimed himself the uncrowned Strikeforce Middleweight Champion after their sparring session? And perhaps the most fascinating Strikeforce import, Daniel Cormier, could instantly become the most interesting matchup for the world’s most dominant fighter, UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones, or he could become a force in the UFC’s heavyweight division. Or not. But we’re going to find out. At the end of the day, that’s what Cormier and ev- ery high-level athlete want to find out. And it’s what every fan wants. When Strikeforce closes its hallowed doors, we move closer to definitive answers learned with punch- es, kicks, takedowns, submissions, sweat, blood, and determination, not guessed at or argued about with your buddies.

Before we rejoice in Strikeforce’s farewell, let’s remember the gifts that this incredible promotion gave all of us. When company founder and CEO Scott Coker put on their very first show on March 10, 2006, it was California’s first regulated MMA event and set the North American attendance record at that time, as 18,265 fans saw Frank Shamrock knock out Cesar Gracie in 20 seconds. As the promotion gets ready to put on event 63 this month, who can forget the litany of incredible fights, fighters, and moments Strikeforce has given us? The Melendez/Thompson trilogy (I still say Josh won the third fight); Jake Shields beating Dan Henderson to defend the Middleweight Title; Scott Smith doing his best Rocky impression with shocking comeback knockouts; Nick Diaz picking Frank Shamrock up after finishing him in the second round of what would be Sham- rock’s last MMA fight; and signing Fedor, only to see the Russian legend get sub- mitted by Fabricio Werdum and go 1-3 in the promotion. The list could fill pages of this magazine (actually, it does, starting on page 64).

While you could argue that all of these fighters were or ultimately would have been in the UFC, Strikeforce will be able to take credit for the first women’s MMA fight to take place in the UFC by keeping WMMA alive and introducing us to mega-stars named Carano, Cyborg, and Rousey.

Thank you, Scott Coker and everyone at Strikeforce, from those behind the scenes to every fighter who left it all in the cage for us to enjoy. Thanks for the memories, the drama, the stars, and all that free MMA you gave us. And thank you, MMA gods, for knowing that it was necessary for the promotion to say goodbye for the good of the sport, its athletes, and the fans. Now, we can all know—not guess—how the best fighters in the world compare to one another in the cage.

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