One of the most successful MMA promotions closed its cage doors for the final time after Strikeforce: Marquardt vs. Saffiedine on January 12, 2013. Since its inception in front of a record-setting crowd on March 10, 2006, the San Jose-based promotion played a major role in defining MMA’s landscape by signing some of the biggest and best fighters in the world. After UFC parent company Zuffa bought Scott Coker’s show in 2011, one-by-one, the UFC began stripping the deep roster. Strikeforce staples Nick Diaz, Cung Le, and Alistair Overeem were lured away from the six-sided cage by the glitz and glamour of MMA’s top promotion. The cupboards are not completely bare, however. Here is the next—and final—influx of talent that’s invading the Octagon. Let the games begin.
Best Wins: Josh Thomson (2x), Tatsuya Kawajiri (2x), Shinya Aoki, Clay Guida
Next Fight: Benson Henderson, UFC on Fox 7: 4/20/13
The Strikeforce Lightweight Champion deserves the benefit of fighting in the UFC more than any other fighter. The top-five lightweight has spent the bulk of his career playing second fiddle to UFC lightweights, with the general public admonishing his “Strikeforce” status as inferior. The Cesar Gracie protégé has watched teammates Jake Shields, Nick Diaz, and Nate Diaz flourish under the Zuffa regime, and he is eager to earn the only accolade missing from the group of Bay Area badasses—UFC gold. He’ll get his chance in April.
Best Wins: Tim Kennedy, Keith Jardine, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza
Next Fight: Vitor Belfort, UFC on FX 8: 5/18/12
The final Strikeforce Middleweight Champion really got his career rolling in 2011 after a stint of injuries delayed his potential. Another AKA product, Rockhold showed off his high-level kickboxing and takedown defense by winning the belt from world champion grappler Jacare Souza. The middleweight division in Strikeforce was arguably their deepest, with the 28-year-old ruling the roost. With the UFC desperate for challengers against reigning champion Anderson Silva, don’t be surprised if the California surfer boy is pushed to the front of the pack.
Best Wins: Nate Marquardt, Roger Bowling, Scott Smith
Next Fight: TBD
Every member on this list was a shoo-in for a UFC contract, except for Saffiedine. He scored his golden ticket by battering UFC veteran Nate Marquardt for the Strikeforce Welterweight Title. He would have likely been left off the UFC roster if not for the biggest win of his young career. The Team Quest staple is one of the rare Strikeforce imports to work his way through the Challengers Series all the way up to championship status. Other big name fighters received immediate title shots with their Strikeforce contracts. Saffiedine did it the hard way. His kickboxing-centric style of fighting will be a welcome addition to a wrestling-heavy division. Looking at you Georges St-Pierre.
Best Wins: KJ Noons, Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante, Pat Healy, Gilbert Melendez
Next Fight: Nate Diaz, UFC on Fox 7: 4/20/13
The “other” lightweight staple of Strikeforce will re-enter the UFC after nearly nine years. Thomson was on the receiving end of a highlight-reel head kick courtesy of Yves Edwards in 2004 and is eager to remove that image from UFC fans’ brains. The American Kickboxing Academy veteran brings a wealth of experience to the UFC lightweight division and a well-rounded game bolstered by his kickboxing, D-I wrestling experience, and BJJ black belt. Still no word on whether that pink patch of hair on his head is making the move as well.
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza
Best Wins: Ed Herman, Robbie Lawler, Tim Kennedy, Matt Lindland
Next Fight: Costa Philippou, UFC on FX 8: 5/18/13
“Jacare” may be not only the best grappler in MMA, he may be the best grappler in the world. The two-time champion and four-time finalist of the prestigious ADCC World Championships recently added powerful striking to his arsenal of submissions and underrated takedowns. The former Strikeforce Champion possesses the prototypical wrestling/submission game that experts believe may be the best way to defeat the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world—Anderson Silva. Since they’ve spent time training together, we’ll either get the best stylistic world middleweight championship fight ever or another friends-fighting-friends episode.
Best Wins: Robbie Lawler, Melvin Manhoef, Trevor Prangley
Next Fight: TBD
Look out Brian Stann, there are TWO American war heroes in the UFC middleweight division now. The U.S. Army sniper helped fill out the star-studded weight class with his combination of wrestling, grappling, and fresh-out-of-boot-camp cardio. After two failed bids for Strikeforce gold, the Greg Jackson-trained fighter will get a chance to sharpen his tools inside the Octagon. The Staff Sergeant made a career of chasing big fights. In the UFC, big fights will likely chase him.
Best Wins: Josh Barnett, Antonio “Big Foot” Silva
Next Fight: Frank Mir, UFC on Fox 7: 4/20/13
No other fighter will have more eyeballs on him when making the move from Strikeforce. The wrestling Olympian is one of the few heavyweights spoken in the same breath as Alistair Overeem, Junior dos Santos, and teammate Cain Velasquez. After his date with former champion Frank Mir, the Oklahoma State Cowboy has his sights dead set on UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones. The man hasn’t even fought in the UFC yet and he already has two weight classes on notice.
Best Wins: Hidehiko Yoshida, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mark Hunt, Randy Couture
Next Fight: TBD
Will the prodigal son return? After more than a decade away from the UFC, Dana White stated that the hatchet is all but buried and negotiations are underway to bring the former UFC Champion back into the fold. His submission savvy makes him a unique opponent for anyone at the weight class. The catch wrestler brings more experience than any other Strikeforce fighter and is a welcome addition to an ever-improving heavyweight division.
Best Wins: Mark Hunt, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, Hector Lombard
Next Fight: Alexander Gustafsson, UFC on Fuel TV 9: 4/6/13
The Iranian-born Armenian, fighting out of the Netherlands, has lost only once in his last 22 fights. Perhaps no other fighter in history racked up as many international wins by 27 years old as “The Dreamcatcher” has, having fought all over Europe, Japan, and North America. The motivation, not the talent, of this young fighter will be the variable in his UFC success, as the former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion has flashed looks of disinterest during bouts.
Best Wins: Robbie Lawler, Gian Villante
Next Fight: Francis Carmont, UFC on FOX 7: 4/20/13
The Southern California product brings an exciting Muay Thai style of kickboxing to the cage and showed composure and creativity in his middleweight debut against veteran Robbie Lawler. Technically undefeated since his loss to King Mo was overturned due to a failed PED test, he would make a great match-up against other noted brawlers like Chris Leben or Tim Boetsch. First up for Larkin will be hard hitting Francis Carmont.
The journeyman-turned-contender is riding a six-fight win streak and nearly scored a title fight against Gilbert Melendez before everything in Strikeforce went to hell. He’ll face Jim Miller at UFC 159 on April 27.
Roger will become the fourth member of the Gracie clan to fight in the UFC, joining family members Royce, Renzo, and Rolles.
A loss to Saffiedine slowed his momentum, but another UFC castaway has been promised a home back in the UFC by bossman Dana White—this time at welterweight.