With Strikeforce’s recent deal with CBS and Showtime, the promotion has grown and acquired a fair amount of talent. With this influx of talent, the title pictures for each division have become a lot more interesting.
In the heavyweight division, the current champion is Alistair Overeem. After winning the inaugural belt in 2007, Overeem has not defended his belt once due to a lack of challengers and injuries. But that’s in the past. With the recent appearances of Fedor Emelianenko, Brett Rogers, Fabricio Werdum and Antonio Silva, Overeem will have his hands full. The most likely course of events is a match-up between Emelianenko and Werdum to either fight for the number one contender slot or for an interim title due to Overeem’s absence.
In the light heavyweight division, things became interesting earlier than the other divisions when Bobby Southworth, the then champion, lost his belt to Renato “Babalu” Sobral, who has been in and out of the top-ten list for a while. When Sobral then lost his belt to up and comer Gegard Mousasi, things got even better.
Recently, Mousasi fought for Strikeforce in a non-title bout against Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou. The fight was originally scheduled under the Dream banner as part of the Super Hulk Grand Prix tournament, until Mousasi was injured.
The light heavyweight division is among Strikeforce’s weaker divisions, but their next event will feature a bout between Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal and Mike Whitehead, which is sure to generate a challenger for the belt.
Moving down to the middleweight division, things have gotten even livelier. Due to Cung Le’s Hollywood commitments, he recently vacated his title, which saw Jake Shields battle it out with Jason Miller for the belt. Shields won the bout by decision after five rounds, and is feeling comfortable in his new division &- this being only his second fight at 185lbs.
As for the list of challengers, the pool is fairly deep. Strikeforce has recently acquired Ronaldo Souza, who will be making his debut on Dec. 19 against Matt Lindland. Also on the card will be Scott Smith and Robbie Lawler, who slugged it out on two separate occasions for the now defunct EliteXC middleweight title. But this time, they won’t be fighting each other. Lawler’s opponent is currently unknown and Smith will be facing Le! That’s right, just after his title was taken from him; the Kung-Fu fighter has decided to return to MMA during a gap in his filming schedules. With all of these middleweights on tap for fights in the near future, you can be sure that the crowd will thin out into a clear title picture &- either a challenger, based on an exciting and dominant performance, or a defacto tournament.
The welterweight division has been a lonely place for Strikeforce; as they have never had a champion. When Shields signed up with the promotion, most fans saw him as an obvious choice to challenge for the vacant belt, but alas, Shields decided to test the waters at 185lbs and being the champion, hasn’t looked back. Shields has stated his desire to fight for the title, but only once a champion is already established. So who are the viable contenders to start the history of the Strikeforce welterweight world championship?
In a recent attempt to establish a kingpin at 170lbs, many names were shuffled in and out. Nick Diaz was the obvious choice but he failed to be cleared by the California State Athletic Commission. Beyond him was Joe Riggs and Jay Hieron, the last champion of the IFL. Riggs soon fell out of the picture and Hieron was left with the Ultimate Fighter cast-off Jesse Taylor in a one-sided affair. Now, set for Jan. 30, the Hieron and Diaz bout is back on, but any title implication has yet to be announced.
With the recent signing of Dream’s welterweight champion Marius Zaromskis, and the recent success of up-and-coming Tyron Woodley, it seems Shields will have to wait in line.
As for the lightweight championship, it seems to be an ongoing dialogue between Josh Thomson and Gilbert Melendez. Melendez was once the champion, but lost his belt to his friend and sometimes-training partner Thomson. With few challengers, the two were set to meet again until Thomson broke his ankle in training and was forced out of action for over a year. Melendez then fought for an interim title against Rodrigo Damm and has since defended it against Mitsuhiro Ishida. Now, after over a year-long wait, the Melendez and Thomson rematch is set to take place at Strikeforce: Evolution.
Beyond these two fighters, a recent bout between Jorge Gurgel and Mike Aina saw Aina win by a controversial split-decision, determined the first challenger after the title unification. And beyond this, Takanori Gomi recently left Japan to strike a deal with the UFC, but has indicated that if negotiations fall through &- which is not unlikely &- then he will seek a contract with Strikeforce and will be an obvious contender.
As for the featherweight and bantamweight divisions, Strikeforce has made few attempts acquire top talent and the emergence of a belt in either division won’t happen for sometime.
All that leaves us with is the Women’s Lightweight championship, currently held by Christiane Santos, who is rumoured to be facing Marloes Coenen for her first defence. After her quick dispatch of Gina Carano for the vacant title, it is doubtful that she will be the next challenger and beyond her, the most likely candidate is Kerry Vera &- the wife of UFC fighter Brandon Vera &- who recently defeated Kim Couture &- the wife of UFC fighter Randy Couture, a match that was somewhat of a parody of UFC 105, which saw their husbands fight in the main event only six days prior.
With the growing interest of Strikeforce, the talent pools will only continue to grow. In fact, Dan Henderson, the former middle and light heavyweight champion of now defunct Pride has been in negotiations with the promotion after completing his stint with the UFC and could be seen in both divisions’ title pictures. But for now the lists are already long enough.