The Rise and Fall of Strikeforce

In early November 2012, after the cancellation of back-to-back events, Strikeforce announced their plans for a star studded return to the cage on January 12, 2013, at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.

Before the day was out, rumors circulated that the action-packed event would be the company’s last.

With the final curtain expected to fall on the organization, we look back at the one-time kickboxing promotion that became a major player in the world of mixed martial arts before suffering a similar fate to all those who have tried to go blow-for-blow with the UFC.

MARCH 10, 2006: SHAMROCK VS. GRACIE

The company’s first foray into MMA drew a then-record 18,265 people to the HP Pavilion in San Jose to watch former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Frank Shamrock score a first-round TKO over Cesar Gracie.

Cung Le, who had previously competed under the Strikeforce banner in their kickboxing days, made his MMA debut on the card with a first-round win over Mike Altman, while current UFC feath- erweight fan favorite Clay Guida defeated Josh Thomson to capture the organization’s Lightweight Title. Current Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez pushed his record to 10-0 with a win over Harris Sarmiento, while Nathan Diaz earned a TKO over Tony Juares.

JUNE 9, 2006: STRIKEFORCE REVENGE

If you want proof of how far MMA has come in the last seven years, look no further than Strikeforce’s sophomore effort. Alistair Overeem made his North American debut against Vitor Belfort, earning a unanimous decision over “The Phenom.” Gilbert Melendez defeated Clay Guida to become the Strikeforce Lightweight Champion, while Cung Le earned his second consecutive first-round stoppage victory. Stick those five fighters on a card today and you’ve got the makings of pay-per-view gold.

OCTOBER 7, 2006: TANK VS. BUENTELLO

Cain Velasquez made his MMA debut with a first-round TKO win over Jesse Fujarczyk on the undercard at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, California.

DECEMBER 8, 2006: STRIKEFORCE TRIPLE THREAT

Gina Carano made her Strikeforce debut with a unanimous decision victory over Elaina Maxwell.

JUNE 22, 2007: SHAMROCK VS. BARONI

In an event co-promoted by EliteXC, Frank Shamrock defeated Phil Baroni to become Strikeforce Middleweight Champion. The 14-fight card at the HP Pavilion also featured Murilo “Ninja” Rua winning the EliteXC Middleweight Title with a win over Joey Villasenor.

SEPTEMBER 29, 2007: PLAYBOY MANSION

Combining two of the favorite pastimes of the male population, this “invitation-only” affair featured Bobby Southworth, Jorge Masvidal, Joe Riggs, and Gilbert Melendez, with the main card streaming live on Yahoo.

NOVEMBER 16, 2007: 4 MEN ENTER, 1 MAN SURVIVES

Alistair Overeem became the inaugural Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion with a second-round TKO over Paul Buentello. Cung Le continued his undefeated march toward stardom with a win over Sammy Morgan, and former UFC veteran Jorge Santiago defeated Sean Salmon and Trevor Prangley to win the one-night, four-man Strikeforce Middleweight Grand Prix.

FEBRUARY 1, 2008: YOUNG GUNS II

Luke Rockhold marked his Strikeforce debut with a first-round win over Josh Neal.

FEBRUARY 23, 2008: AT THE DOME
In his North American debut, Bob “The Beast” Sapp lost to Jan Nortje in the main event in Tacoma, Washington—Strikeforce’s first event held outside of its home state of California.

MARCH 27, 2008: NBC PARTNERSHIP
Strikeforce announced a broadcast partnership with NBC. Strikeforce on NBC premiered on April 12, airing after NBC’s successful Poker After Dark series. More infomercial than anything else, the early morning programming never really amounted to much in the end.

MARCH 29, 2008: SHAMROCK VS. LE

Another co-promotion with EliteXC, this was the first Strike- force event to air on Show time. The main event Strikeforce Middleweight Title. Le emerged victorious when Shamrock was unable to continue after suffering a broken arm. In drawing more than 16,000 fans to the “The Shark Tank” (HP Pavilion) in San Jose, CA, this event continued to show the potential of the organization as a haven for talent being showcased to an appreciative audience.

JUNE 27, 2008: MELENDEZ VS. THOMPSON
Gilbert Melendez and Josh Thomson met for the first time in a battle for the Lightweight Championship. “The Punk” came away with the belt after scoring a unanimous decision over “El Nino.”

FEBRUARY 5, 2009: ELITE XC PURCHASE

Strikeforce purchased the assets of their former co-promotion partners, EliteXC. Included in the deal were the contracts of a number of fighters who would go on to have great success inside the Strikeforce hexagonal cage like Nick Diaz, Jake Shields, Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos, and Robbie Lawler.

A few days later, Strikeforce announced a broadcasting partnership with Showtime, where the premium cable network would feature up to 16 events per year, including the newly created Strikeforce Challengers series of events which would feature up-and-coming talent the same way the network had done with EliteXC and their ShoBox series in the past.

Strikeforce also announced a broadcast deal with CBS.

APRIL 11, 2009: SHAMROCK VS. DIAZ

This was a passing of the torch from the first major star of the organization to the volatile newcomer who would help carr y the brand moving for ward. After Diaz flipped off “The Legend” as he walked out to square off with Shamrock at the pre-fight press conference, the Stockton native dominated the one sided bout. The fight positioned Diaz as one of the biggest stars on the Strikeforce roster, and it ultimately serve as the final bout in Shamrock’s impressive MMA career.

JUNE 6, 2009: LAWLER VS. SHIELDS

Jake Shields made his Strikeforce debut with an impressive first round submission win over Robbie Lawler.

Brett Rogers announced his presence in the heavyweight division with a 22-second demolition of former UFC champ Andrei Arlovski.

Nick Diaz got his first of many wins under the Strikeforce banner by submitting veteran Scott Smith.

AUGUST 3, 2009: FEDOR ARRIVES

On July 23, Affliction pulled the plug on their third fight card and their organization as a whole, making Fedor Emelianenko the most sought after free agent in mixed martial arts. Everyone assumed that if “The Last Emperor” was going to sign with a North American promotion, it would be the UFC. Everyone was wrong. Strikeforce announced they signed Emelianenko to a three-fight contract, as well as agreeing to a co-promotion agreement with his management company M-1 Global. The move was a coup for Strikeforce and stands as the starting point of their push to be a major player in the MMA world.

AUGUST 15, 2009: CARANO VS. CYBORG

For the first time in history, two female fighters headlined a major MMA event. While Gina Carano was the media darling dubbed the “Face of Women’s MMA” during her successful tenure in EliteXC, Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos was the more devastating competitor inside the cage, and it showed when the two squared off. Cyborg dominated Carano to win the Strikeforce Women’s Featherweight Title, earning the stoppage with one second remaining in the opening round. Despite the loss, Carano’s popularity continued to soar, as she went on to grace the cover of ESPN the Magazine: The Body Issue and heed the call of Hollywood.

NOVEMBER 7, 2009: FEDOR VS. ROGERS

Officially promoted as Strikeforce/M-1 Global: Fedor vs. Rogers, the event marked the debut of Fedor Emelianenko in the Strikeforce cage, and the organization’s first appearance on CBS. The four-fight main card drew an average audience of 4.04M viewers for the Saturday night event, registering a peak of 5.06M viewers during the main event.

After a competitive first round, Emelianenko earned a knockout victory over the previously unbeaten Rogers. In the co-main event, Jake Shields won the vacant middleweight title with a unanimous decision win over Jason “Mayhem” Miller, while light heavyweight champion

Gegard Mousasi and Fabricio Werdum each picked up victories.

DECEMBER 5, 2009: HENDO SIGNING

Dan Henderson signed a four-fight deal with the promotion. Unable to come to terms with the UFC on a new deal, the former two-division Pride Champion crossed over to join the competition.

DECEMBER 19, 2009: STRIKEFORCE EVOLUTION

Interim Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez unified the Strike- force Lightweight Title and evened the score at one win apiece with a victory over Josh Thomson in the co-main event. The main event featured the return of former Middleweight Champion Cung Le from a Hollywood hiatus. However, what was supposed to be a triumphant return to action turned into a highlight-reel upset, as veteran Scott Smith earned a TKO at 3:25 of the third round. This event also marked the organizational debut of Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal.

JANUARY 30, 2010: MIAMI

Nick Diaz won the Strikeforce Welter weight Title with a first- round TKO over Marius Zaromskis in the main event. Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos defended her Women’s Feather weight Title with a third-round stoppage over Marloes Coenen in the co-main event. This event, held at the Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise, FL, marked the organizational debut of former W WE star Bobby Lashley and the MMA debut of former NFL running back and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker—both men earned stoppage victories.

FEBRUARY 26, 2010: STRIKEFORCE CHALLENGERS

Sarah Kaufman defeated Takayo Hashi by unanimous decision in the main event of a Challengers Series event to become the first Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Champion.

APRIL 17, 2010: STRIKEFORCE: NASHVILLE

This event marked the beginning of the end for Strikeforce. Broadcast on CBS, the event featured three title fights that didn’t produce a lot of action. “King Mo” Lawal used a wrestling-heavy approach to capture the Light Heavyweight Title from Gegard Mousasi, and Gilbert Melendez successfully de- fended the Lightweight Title against DREAM Champion Shinya Aoki in an uneventful five-round affair. The main event was expected to be a changing of the guard, with outgoing champion Jake Shields taking on the company’s newest acquisition, Dan Henderson. After a first round that almost saw Shields get knocked out, he regained his composure and dominated Henderson on the mat for four rounds to earn a unanimous decision. The real fireworks of the card came following the main event when Jason “Mayhem” Miller entered the cage, and interrupted Shields’ post-fight interview to ask for a rematch. All hell broke loose as Shields’ fellow Skrap Pack teammates, including Nick and Nathan Diaz, swarmed Miller in the cage, leading to a brawl breaking out live on national television. It would be the last time Strikeforce aired on CBS.

MAY 15, 2010: STRIKEFORCE HEAVY ARTILLERY

Returning to Strikeforce for the first time since winning the Heavy- weight Title in November 2007, Alistair Overeem—now a physical specimen in the midst of an impressive winning streak over subpar competition—defended his title by steamrolling Brett Rogers in the main event.

JUNE 26, 2010: FEDOR VS. WERDUM

Fabricio Werdum handed Fedor Emelianenko the first non-con- troversial loss of his career after forcing “The Last Emperor” to tap to a combination triangle choke/armbar at 1:09 of the first round. Emelianenko’s only previous loss had come in the Rings King of Kings tournament when Tsuyoshi Kohsaka was awarded a victory over the iconic Russian after their bout was stopped due to a cut.

In addition to Werdum’s historic win over Emelianenko, the main card also featured Cung Le earning a measure of revenge against Scott Smith, and Women’s Featherweight Champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos bludgeoned sacrificial challenger Jan Finney to defend her title.

JULY 23, 2010: STRIKEFORCE CHALLENGERS

Women’s Bantamweight Champion Sarah Kaufman landed on ESPN’s SportsCenter thanks to her third-round powerbomb knockout win over Roxanne Modafferi. The bout served as the co-main event.

AUGUST 21, 2010: STRIKEFORCE HOUSTON

Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante became the new Light Heavyweight Champion with a third-round TKO over previously unbeaten champion Muhammed Lawal, while fellow Brazilian Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza edged out Tim Kennedy to claim the vacant Middleweight Title. Additionally, the Bobby Lashley hype train was derailed when the former professional wrestler gassed out in a loss to mutton-chopped Chad Griggs.

OCTOBER 9, 2010: DIAZ VS. NOONS II

Nick Diaz successfully defended his Welterweight Title against his former EliteXC rival K.J. Noons. Marloes Coenen submitted Sarah Kaufman in the third round to become the new Women’s Bantam- weight Champion.

DECEMBER 4, 2010: HENDERSON VS. BABALU II

After an unsuccessful debut in the middleweight division, Dan Henderson earned his first victory under the Strikeforce banner with a knockout over Renato “Babalu” Sobral.

JANUARY 4, 2011: WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT GRAND PRIX ANNOUNCEMENT

The tournament field was comprised of Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum, Josh Barnett, Andrei Ar lovski, Sergei Kharitonov, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, and Brett Rogers (Daniel Cormier was a reserve fighter).

JANUARY 29, 2011: DIAZ VS. CYBORG

Nick Diaz defeated Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos via armbar at 4:50 of the second round to retain the Strikeforce Welterweight Title. In the co-main event, Middleweight Champ Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza earned his first successful title defense with a third-round submission win over Robbie Lawler. In what proved to be his final appearance inside the cage, Herschel Walker scored a first-round TKO against Scott Carson.

FEBRUARY 12, 2011: FEDOR VS. SILVA

The World Heavyweight Grand Prix kicks off at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva manhandles Fedor Emelianenko, battering the Russian heavyweight to the point that the ringside physician called a stop to the fight after the second round. In the other quarterfinal contest, Sergei Kharitonov knocks out former UFC champ Andrei Arlovski, while Shane Del Rosario, Chad Griggs, and Valentijn Overeem all earn victories in tournament reserve bouts.

MARCH 5, 2011: FEIJAO VS. HENDERSON

Dan Henderson knocked out Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante 50 seconds into the third round to become the Light Heavyweight Champion.

MARCH 12, 2011: STRIKEFORCE SOLD

Strikeforce is purchased by Forza LLC, a subsidiary of Zuffa LLC, the parent company of the UFC. In an interview with Ariel Helwani of MMAFighting.com, UFC president Dana White said it would be “business as usual” for the promotion moving forward.

APRIL 9, 2011: DIAZ VS. DALEY

Nick Diaz stopped Paul Daley to retain the Welterweight Title in the main event of Strikeforce’s first major event following its sale. It would be the last time the Stockton native would compete under the Strikeforce banner. Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez successfully defended his title against Tatsuya Kawajiri in the co-main event.

JUNE 1, 2011: DIAZ LEAVES

Nick Diaz signed to a UFC contract, ending his time on the Strike- force roster.

JUNE 18, 2011: OVEREEM VS. WERDUM

In the second set of quarter final fights in the World Heavyweight Grand Prix, Alistair Overeem earned a unanimous decision over Fabricio Werdum in a tepid affair, while Josh Barnett collected a second-round submission win over Brett Rogers.

JULY 17, 2011: CORMIER IN

Alistair Overeem is removed from the World Heavyweight Grand Prix due to an injury, and replaced by unbeaten former Olympian Daniel Cormier.

JULY 29, 2011: OVEREEM OUSTED

Overeem is released from his Strikeforce contract.

JULY 31, 2011: FEDOR VS. HENDERSON

Dan Henderson handed Fedor Emelianenko his third consecutive loss, stopping “The Last Emperor” at 4:12 of the opening round. The loss pushed Emelianenko’s record under the Strikeforce banner to 1-3. In the co-main event, Miesha Tate submitted Marloes Coenen to become the new Women’s Bantamweight Champion.

AUGUST 12, 2011: STRIKEFORCE CHALLENGERS

Olympic bronze medalist Ronda Rousey made her Strikeforce debut with a first-round submission win over Sarah D’Alelio.

SEPTEMBER 10, 2011: BARNETT VS. KHARITONOV

Josh Barnett and Daniel Cormier advanced to the finals of the World Heavyweight Grand Prix with wins over Sergei Kharitonov and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, respectively.

Luke Rockhold, a graduate of the Strikeforce Challengers series, defeated Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza to win the middleweight championship.

NOVEMBER 18, 2011: STRIKEFORCE CHALLENGERS

Strikeforce held their last Challengers series event. Ronda Rousey defeated Julia Budd by armbar in the first round.

DECEMBER 17, 2011: MELENDEZ VS. MASVIDAL

Gilbert Melendez successfully defended his Lightweight Title against Jorge Masvidal. Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos needed just 16 seconds to defeat Hiroko Yamanaka and defend her Women’s Featherweight Title. The Brazilian wrecking machine tested positive for Stanozolol, resulting in the bout being ruled a no contest. She was stripped of her title and subsequently suspended for one year.

JANUARY 7, 2012: ROCKHOLD VS. JARDINE

Luke Rockhold stopped Keith Jardine to defend his Middleweight Title. The event is marred by poor attendance, and it suffered another blow when former Light Heavyweight Champion Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal tested positive for Drostanolone. His win over Lorenz Larkin is overturned, and Lawal is eventually released after making disparaging comments about NSAC official Pat Lundvall.

MARCH 3, 2012: TATE VS. ROUSEY

Ronda Rousey continued her impressive run of dominance, earning her fifth consecutive first-round submission win to become Women’s Bantamweight Champion.

MAY 19, 2012: BARNETT VS. CORMIER

The World Heavy weight Grand Prix finally came to an end, 15 months after it started, as Daniel Cormier earned a unanimous decision win over Josh Barnett in the finals. In the co-main event, Gilbert Melendez and Josh Thomson squared off in a rubber match, with Melendez retaining his Lightweight Title with a split decision win.

JULY 14, 2012: ROCKHOLD VS. KENNEDY

Luke Rockhold defeated Tim Kennedy to retain the Strikeforce Middleweight Title, while Nate Marquardt earned the vacant Welterweight Title with a win over previously unbeaten Tyron Woodley.

AUGUST 18, 2012: ROUSEY VS. KAUFMAN

Ronda Rousey’s arrival as a superstar in the sport was in full swing, as the champion earned another first-round submission win over former champion Sarah Kaufman. The bout received the “All Access” treatment from Showtime, and Rousey appeared on Conan and on the cover of ESPN the Magazine: The Body Issue.

SEPTEMBER 23, 2012: STRIKE ONE

Strikeforce was forced to cancel their event planned for September 29 when Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez suffered an injury while preparing for his title defense against Pat Healy. With an under whelming undercard, Show time opted not to air the event, leaving the company to pull the plug on the show as a whole.

OCTOBER 12, 2012: STRIKE TWO

The organization canceled its second consecutive event following injuries to Middleweight Champion Luke Rockhold and former UFC Heavyweight Champion Frank Mir, who was expected to face Daniel Cormier in the main event.

NOVEMBER 8, 2012: STRIKE THREE

TMZ reported that Women’s Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey will move to the UFC and that the Strikeforce event scheduled for January 12 in Oklahoma City would be the company’s last.

Copyright © 2013 FIGHT! Magazine | Contact Us