Strikeforce returns on Saturday night with an event headlined by middleweight champ Luke Rockhold, who will be defending his title against Keith Jardine. This matchup moves me not at all. In fact, for an organization that could just as easily be a carcass lying putrid and rotten on the side of the highway of MMA, picked clean of its meat by Zuffa and left unburied out in the sun by Showtime, a Rockhold/Jardine pairing is a slap in the face to all the fans who rejoiced at Strikeforce’s second lease on life. Sure, Scott Coker and his baby are beholden to their masters, and as such, the UFC has now laid claim to all of the Strikeforce heavyweights plus assorted other top talent. But gosh darn it, when Lorenzo Fertitta and company ponied up the cheddar and bought the whole thing, the number two MMA organization in the world was something to behold. Rockhold vs. Jardine is whole ‘lotta “not so much”. So what, then, does Strikeforce need to be great? I am glad you asked…
-Lots of Female Fights – In 2011, there were sixteen Strikeforce events broadcasting a total of 76 main card bouts on television. Of those main cards bouts, a mere eight featured females. While some of that bespeaks of a more shallow talent pool for the fairer sex, it also points towards an oversight by the Matchmaking Powers That Be. For there are plenty of skilled and capable female mixed martial artists out there throughout the world, wondering if all the hours they’ve devoted to the sport will ever amount to a decent paycheck (or even just a paycheck). Some of them are in Brazil, some are in Japan, some are in Canada and the States. Strikeforce, meanwhile, is sitting on one rising star in Ronda Rousey, two underutilized champs in Miesha Tate and Cris “Cyborg” Santos, and a number of ladies they recycle as if Coker owes them favors. Leaving the other femme fatales of the world untouched goes beyond the label of “wasted talent”. No, that treads more towards the realm of “folly”. Strikeforce, you need more females!
-More Relevant Matchups – The Strikeforce middleweight champ faces “The Dean of Mean” on Saturday night because… because why? Because Jardine has a pulse? It wasn’t too long ago that the TUF 2 veteran flamed out on a five-fight losing streak – a streak he only broke when he began facing low-level competitors in smalltime shows in the Dominican Republic and New Mexico (and if I recall correctly, he wasn’t even paid for his fight in the Dominican Republic!). The man’s recent Strikeforce debut even ended in a draw. Again, why does he get a shot at the belt? Strikeforce needs to be a least a little more relevant in their matchmaking. Otherwise, people like me hear these maddening matchups announced and in fits of rage we kick our dog.
-More Freakshow Matchups – At first blush, this runs contrary to the above “relevancy” suggestion. But whenever I think of Dan Henderson’s mauling of Fedor Emelianenko on a Strikeforce installment from this past July, my mouth starts watering. That matchup had zero relevancy to anything, yet it was delicious – delicious when it was announced and yummy as all hell when it transpired. Japan elevated freakshow matchups into an art form (remember when CroCop fought a Silverback gorilla? No? Well if the fans had wanted it, you better believe it would’ve happened.). Strikeforce tapped into that by having Henderson and Fedor scrap. More of the same would do wonders. (And Rockhold/Jardine is not a freakshow matchup. It’s just sad.)
-A Tournament That Bears Fruit – When the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix was announced, I was gleeful. Now it’s eleven months after the opening quarterfinal bracket and there’s still no resolution to it, and when the two finalists do eventually meet, the winner (and every other heavyweight on the Strikeforce roster) gets to go directly to the UFC. Can you say “worst tournament ever”? A tournament should bear fruit. Bellator seems to have no problem making them work. Besides, who would you rather see face Gilbert Melendez next? Some unworthy mook sure to get slaughtered, or some badass who fought his way through a field of eight lightweights to earn the honor of standing in the cage against Melendez? The fruit from a 155-pound tournament such as that would taste sweet.
-Cast a Wider Net for Prospects – Right now Bellator is killing it in terms of rustling up prospects, culling experienced guys from fight circuits in Brazil and the States like nobody’s business. With Strikeforce prelims set to air live on Showtime Extreme, that’s a lot of televised slots for up-and-comers to vie for, and ample opportunity for Strikeforce to take the best from nearly every major regional promotion out there and give them some love. The organization just needs to do the legwork. As Bellator can attest to, it will pay off in the long run.