So that’s that then. Strikeforce is no more. Saturday night saw the final MMA event ever by the former kickboxing promotion-turned-MMA powerhouse, and while most of the outcomes on the night were predictable, the main event didn’t disappoint. With defending welterweight champion and UFC veteran Nate Marquardt facing off against Strikeforce Challengers alum Tarec Saffiediene, the result reminded us of some of the magic that Strikeforce has brought to our screens over the years. So what better time than now to look back through the archives at some of the promotion’s biggest and best fights. Here’s our top ten…
#10 Jake Shields vs. Dan Henderson
This fight was one of many examples in Strikeforce’s storied history where one fighter forgot to read the script. UFC and PRIDE veteran Henderson, upon leaving the UFC due to contractual issues, signed with the San José promotion to much furor and excitement, and was immediately granted a title shot against then middleweight champion Shields. Most expected “Hendo” to easily handle Shields and win the 185-pound title, and things were going according to plan in the first round, with Henderson dropping Shields on more than one occasion. But Shields wasn’t to be deterred, and went on to dominate Henderson over the next four rounds, easily handling the former two-time PRIDE champion on the ground. What this fight will perhaps be remembered for most though is the brawl between Jason “Mayhem” Miller and the entire Cesar Gracie fight team afterwards.
#9 Frank Shamrock vs. Nick Diaz
The former King of Pancrase and first-ever UFC middleweight champion Shamrock was a pioneer of the sport, and was one of the first true well-rounded fighters in the game. The storyline to this bout was that of a young, brash and hugely talented Diaz attempting to ascend to the throne that Shamrock had been perched on for so long. At a catchweight of 179 lbs., the match-up was the curtain call on Shamrock’s glittering MMA career. The fight itself was a very entertaining affair, with Diaz’s in-fight trash-talking in full effect while he dominated the veteran everywhere the fight went. It was Diaz’s impressive boxing and huge volume of punches that were to be Shamrock’s downfall, with Diaz winning the fight via second round TKO. Shamrock subsequently retired a year later. Diaz went on to be the most dominant fighter in Strikeforce history.
#8 Gilbert Melendez vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri
As one of the few fighters in Strikeforce that has been there since the beginning, Melendez – much like his teammate Diaz – has dominated his division for years now. The lightweight champion is regarded by most as one of the top three best lightweight fighters on the planet. In this fight, Melendez welcomed DREAM lightweight contender Kawajiri from Japan, but he need not have bothered showing up, as a relentless “El Nino” blitzed the veteran with vicious elbows from inside the guard en route to one of the most impressive victories of that year. What made this fight so impressive was not its competitiveness, but how it showcased the talents of one of the organizations best fighters against one of the then-best fighters in the lightweight division.
#7 Daniel Cormier vs. Josh Barnett
There were many stories to come from the ill-fated Strikeforce World Grand Prix Heavyweight Tournament, and not all of them were positive. From the shock downfall of Fedor Emelianenko to Alistair Overeem controversially dropping out of the tournament, the tournament seemed cursed from the offset. However, if one good thing came out of it all, it was the emergence of the talented Cormier as a wildcard pick, who defeated Jeff Monson and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva en route to a final appearance against veteran fighter-for-hire Barnett. The fight was excellent, with both men opting to stand and bang rather than take the fight to ground where both men excel. Cormier’s relentless pace and hand speed were the keys to his victory, with Barnett avoiding being finished but otherwise dominated everywhere the fight went in all five rounds. Cormier won and was crowned the Strikeforce World Grand Prix Heavyweight Champion.
#6 Gina Carano vs. Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos
Carano was the face of women’s MMA during her time in both EliteXC and Strikeforce. Santos was (and arguably still is) the most feared female fighter in the world, and when the two agreed to fight each other in August of 2009, the world was captivated at the prospect of the first ever major MMA event to be headlined by female fighters. The fight itself, much like the Shamrock vs. Diaz bout, isn’t on this list for its competitiveness, but is for the sheer scale and significance of the match-up, which escalated women’s MMA to a whole new level. Carano was dominated, losing by TKO in the first round, but despite that, this fight remains the biggest fight in women’s MMA – at least until Ronda Rousey faces Liz Carmouche in the UFC in February.
#5 Nick Diaz vs. Paul Daley
What a fight this was! Fans of action were treated to a back-and-forth brawl between the then Strikforce Welterweight Champion Diaz and the heavy-hitting former UFC contender Paul “Semtex” Daley. The bout came not long after Daley was fired from the UFC for despicably punching Josh Koscheck after their fight had concluded, which understandably left the Strikeforce faithful under no illusions as to whom they were rooting for in his fight against Diaz. It began as standard Diaz fare, with the champion lowering his hands and taunting Daley, yet this only served to fire the Englishman up as he landed blow after blow before dropping Diaz. The Daley unable to finish, the fight returned to the feet, where Diaz began to get a foothold and execute some excellent jabs and body shots. However, Daley was going nowhere, and dropped and almost finished Diaz inside the last minute of the first round… only for Diaz to regroup and stop him with less than ten seconds remaining.
#4 Fedor Emelianenko vs. Dan Henderson
This was a real “what if?” fight between two legends that actually came to be, and it didn’t disappoint in the slightest. After having lost to Bigfoot in his previous fight, Fedor had announced he was retiring from the sport. But he was enticed back into the cage when offered to fight the Strikeforce Light-Heavyweight Champion in Henderson. Many thought Fedor’s significant size advantage would prove too much for Hendo, but that wasn’t the case, as both men exchanged fists in an action-packed first round. Henderson flew out of the traps, signalling his intent early on, before pressing Fedor against the cage in the clinch. When they returned to the center, Fedor began to find Hendo’s chin, dropped the veteran to the canvas and swarmed him. What happened next shocked everyone, as Henderson transitioned to Fedor’s back and knocked the “Last Emperor” out with a flurry of right hands, forcing referee Herb Dean to call a stop to the fight.
#3 Cung Le vs. Scott Smith 1
This was a fight between one of Strikeforce’s biggest stars and most exciting fighters in Le and perennial journeyman and almost-ran UFC veteran Smith. Le’s vast arsenal of spinning heel-kicks, wheel-kicks, spinning back-punches and side-kicks threatened to completely overwhelm a seemingly out of his depth Smith throughout the first two and a half rounds, and Smith came close to being finished on more than one occasion. With Smith looking more and more like an exhibition opponent for Le, and a violent finish to the fight looking more and more imminent, Smith pulled one out of the bag and shocked the world by dropping Le twice before swarming him with punches, leading to an unexpected and brilliant comeback victory. He wasn’t so successful in the rematch however.
#2 Robbie Lawler vs. Melvin Manhoef
This fight was very similar to the Cung Le/Scott Smith fight in that one man dominated the entire fight before letting his guard down and winding up on the receiving end of a vicious comeback knockout. Dutch kickboxer Manhoef was clearly up for this fight, as he wasted no time in targeting Lawler’s lead right leg with some of the most vicious leg-kicks you’ll see in any mixed martial arts fight. Setting a relentless pace, Manhoef continued to cripple Lawler’s movement, moving in to land some painful combinations to Lawler’s body and legs. With Lawler offering little in the way of an answer to this domination, a Manhoef finish seemed imminent. Nobody told Lawler this, however, as the veteran, one leg and all, landed a powerful right hand flush onto an oncoming Manhoef, knocking him out clean to end the fight inside the first round. This was an unbelievable example of perseverance and how you should never write anybody off in this sport.
#1 Fedor Emelianenko vs. Brett Rogers
One of the most significant moments in Strikeforce’s history was when they signed up the greatest heavyweight of all time – a man on many people’s pound-for-pound best fighter on the planet, the Russian legend Fedor. Doing what the UFC had repeatedly failed to do over the years, Strikeforce showed they were ready to go toe-to-toe with the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Fedor’s debut fight was against up-and-coming talent Rogers, who himself had just come off of an impressive KO win over former UFC Heavyweight Champion Andrei Arlovski. The fight started with Rogers jabbing Emelianenko’s nose, causing the Russian to bleed profusely. From there, Rogers’ size advantage was evident as he took Fedor to the mat, utilizing some vicious ground and pound, almost finishing “The Last Emperor” inside the first. But the Russian proved that if you don’t finish him when you have the chance you’ll pay dearly, as he landed a huge right-handed haymaker, dropping Rogers to the canvas and forcing “Big” John McCarthy to stop the fight and save a cowering Rogers from more punishment. This was a huge victory for Emelianenko, for M-1 Global (his management), and more importantly for Strikeforce.