Future issues about high-level MMA fighters not squaring off anytime soon were quieted a bit today by the UFC's purchase of Strikeforce.
This afternoon, Dana White announced that Zuffa bought its top competitor in the U.S. He made a point of saying, with fighters contracts and a Showtime television deal in place, Strikeforce will operate under a "business as usual" header for the time being. How long that lasts is anyone's guess. UFC is planning on revealing more details to the media during a Monday teleconference.
The purchase should certainly excite fight fans. A deeper overall roster should eliminate the possibility of the best in the world being kept out of the same cage because of promotional issues.
Who are you most excited to see in the UFC? Here's a list of the top 15 fighters based on ability, mixed with the existing hurdles that could prevent them for stepping into the Octagon.
1. Nick Diaz, Welterweight (23-7, 5-0 Strikeforce, 6-4 UFC)
Outside the cage, the former UFC fighter is a wild man, but White is the first to admit he's a talented kid. The current Strikeforce welterweight champion hasn't lost since 2007. He's also one of the only welterweights outside of the UFC that fans would love to see take on Georges St. Pierre. In less than a month at Strikeforce's next scheduled event in San Diego on Apr. 9, he defends his title against Paul Daley. His brother Nate is currently fighting at 170 pounds in the UFC.
2. Gilbert Melendez, Lightweight (18-2, 8-1 Strikeforce)
He wasn't the first name on the lips of many MMA fans, but he probably should be. He's the most legitimate threat to any of the UFC title holders. Melendez's mix of wrestling, striking, strategy and stamina puts him immediately in the mix with Gray Maynard and Anthony Pettis to challenge for Frank Edgar's title. Just as important, he wants to fight the best and is an easy guy to manage.
3. Dan Henderson. Light heavyweight (27-8, Strikeforce 2-1, UFC 5-2)
With just one fight left on his deal, Henderson could be the first Strikeforce star to crossover. His 2009 exit from the UFC was more about ancillary concerns than his performance in the cage.
With his win last weekend over Strikeforce light heavyweight champ Rafael Cavalcante, the 40-year-old proved again that he's a top 10 fighter at light heavyweight. He could also go back down to middleweight if he wants to and the UFC thought that was the best spot.
Henderson told MMAWeekly it's a shocking move, but he's open to fighting for anyone.
"I don't know what to feel about it, I don't necessarily think, it might not be the best thing for the sport. But then again you're going to start being able to see all these match-ups that everyone wants to see. Who knows," Henderson said. "I had no plans of leaving, but I don't know what this is going to do those plans, but I have one fight left on my deal and we'll see what happens,"
Henderson is cool with White.
"I've never said anything bad about them. I always appreciated everything they've done for me and for the sport. It's just I was paid more money to go elsewhere, and that's what I did. Dana's the type that needs to talk a little smack if he doesn't get his way, but I've got no hard feelings about anything."
Strikeforce paid Hendo a healthy salary and allowed him to promote his clothing line, Clinch Gear. Hopefully, this time around the Clinch Gear issue can be resolved so we can see Henderson face the likes of Mauricio Rua, Rashad Evans, Quinton Jackson, Jon Jones and Lyoto Machida.
4. Alistair Overeem, Heavyweight (34-11, 3-0 Strikeforce)
If everything is cool on the pre-fight drug testing front, Overeem would be an awesome addition to the UFC heavyweight division. His pure power, look and striking is very promotable. An Overeem fight against Cain Velasquez, Brock Lesnar, Junior dos Santos, Frank Mir or Shane Carwin would be a seat-filler. That said, he'll have to drop the desire to compete in K-1 competitions.
5. Antonio Silva, Heavyweight (16-2, 3-1 Strikeforce)
This seems high, right? That's how good Silva is now and can be down the road. "Big Foot" is one of the biggest heavyweights in the world and is quickly developing one of the more well-rounded games in the division. His size overwhelmed Fedor Emelianenko and now that he's better managing the weight cut, he's got his stamina up to snuff.
6. Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal, Light heavyweight (7-1, 2-1 Strikeforce)
From a selling standpoint, King Mo has as much potential as anyone on the Strikeforce roster. His amateur wrestling background makes him competitive with any 205-pounder in the world. Once he cleans up his striking and learns how to manage his gas tank, sky's the limit. His personality and willingness to bond with the fans and haters alike, makes him a promotional dream.
7. Tim Kennedy, Middleweight (13-3, 4-1 Strikeforce)
Strikeforce is onto something here with Kennedy. Think Brian Stann, but a lot better in most facets of the game. The Army Special Forces veteran wants to fight all the time and he's a great role model to push to casual and non-MMA fans. More than any other division, the UFC's middleweight class is in need a new blood. Kennedy is a great pickup.
8. Fedor Emelianenko, Heavyweight (31-3, Strikeforce 1-2)
I'd love to have Fedor on top of this list, but the relationship is so frayed between M-1, his management team and White, it's difficult to imagine seeing him the Octagon anytime soon. He also needs to win some fights to rebuild his brand and reputation.
In his first comments about Fedor, White didn't seem optomistic:
"I don't see any irony in that," White told Yahoo!'s Kevin Iole, chuckling. "Even though Fedor is now under contract with Zuffa, I still have a hard time imagining he'll ever fight in the UFC. We'll see, but that's my bet right now."
"You know me," White said. "I'm as big a fan of this as anybody and I love making the fights that everyone wants to see. At the end of the day, it's all about making great fights and the fights the people want to see. That's what we're doing."
9. Jason Miller, Middleweight (24-7, 1-1 Strikeforce, 0-1 UFC)
Miller is far from the best fighter on this list, but he's the most media savvy. His MTV show "Bully Beatdown" and appearances all over satellite radio give him exposure more MMA fighters can't even sniff. He fought for the UFC back in 2005 against GSP, but simply wasn't ready for that level and was draining himself way down at 170 pounds.
10. Gegard Mousasi, Light heavyweight (30-3, 2-1 Strikeforce)
I'm still a backer of Mousasi. His calculated style and killer instinct makes him an attractive addition. He just needs to strategize a little more against top level fighters and must shore up his takedown defense. Don't sleep on the Armenian's future. UFC may talk to him about going back down to middleweight. An Anderson Silva-Mousasi fight would be dynamite.
11. Fabricio Werdum, Heavyweight (14-4, 3-0 Strikeforce)
We're still not sure what went down when Werdum was sent packing by the UFC back in 2009. His talent is undeniable. Werdum is a huge dude at 6-5, 245 and his jiu-jitsu is some of the best in the world for the weight class. The win over Fedor was no fluke and don't forget he avoided dangerous situations in getting the win over Antonio Silva too. Grappling matchups against Lesnar, Mir, Carwin and even Roy Nelson would be awesome.
The villain of all villians. Whether Daley should've been cut from the UFC is still debatable. His questionable attitude is not. We all have bosses and sometimes have to swallow our pride to co-exist. Daley was supposedly posting today on the Underground Forum today that he needs to "think" about fighting for the UFC and making money for White. Frankly, it's not his decision. It's also pretty stupid to push for your options to only include Japan's DREAM, BAMMA, Shark Fights, Titan Fighting, Bellator and MFC.
13. Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, Middleweight (14-2, 4-0 Strikeforce)
Jacare is very intriguing. His submission game is off the charts and would be a great anti-dote against the UFC's wrestlers/grapplers like Chael Sonnen and Yushin Okami. As the Strikeforce middleweight champ, he controls his own destiny. If he keeps winning under the "business as usual" operation, he'll force the hand of the UFC to put him in the mix with the big company.
14. Rafael Cavalcante, Light heavyweight (10-3, 3-2 Strikeforce)
"Feijao" lost to Henderson, but it's just one fight. The guy comes to bang and has an excellent ground game. The UFC could certainly find a home for another huge, well-rounded light heavyweight.
15. Robbie Lawler, Middleweight (18-7, 2-3 Strikeforce, 4-3 UFC)
It would be shocking to see Lawler on the outside looking in. He's a favorite of White's. His style is exactly what fans and the promotion latch onto. Lawler's one-punch knockout power makes him a more talented version of Chris Lytle and we know he's got a job for life with the promotion as long as he remains around .500.
Others possibly in the mix: Josh Thomson, *Shinya Aoki, *Tatsuya Kawajiri, Shane del Rosario, Daniel Cormier.
*Not under contract with Strikeforce. Co-promotional deals with DREAM.