These are my top ten picks for the Strikeforce fighters who should be picked up by the UFC and possess the skills and marketability to thrive in the worlds most visible promotion.
10 – Alexis Davis (13-5) – Bantamweight
While never yet really touted as a potential challenger to Ronda Rousey, Alexis Davis is in my eyes one of the most complete and compelling fighters in the WMMA 135lb division. She’s currently sitting on a 5-1 run including wins over some of the biggest names in WMMA including Shayna Baszler, Amanda Nunes and Julie Kedzie. Her only blip over that time is a majority decision loss to top ranked Sarah Kaufman which is nothing to be ashamed of.
Given that she’s never yet faced (and thus, not lost to) Rousey, I think Davis has to be on the UFC’s short list of girls to bring in. I’m also pretty convinced that Davis’ likeable and soft spoken Canadian character makes a compelling promotional dissonance with Rousey’s status as the unofficial Diaz sister.
Oh, she’s also never been submitted in the cage. Just saying.
9 – Tyron Woodley (10-1) – Welterweight
The man with the least imaginative nickname in MMA, ‘T-Wood’ has already secured his passage to the UFC as he is set to face veteran Jay Hieron at UFC 156.
How Woodley will succeed in the UFC remains to be seen, but he possesses one of the key skills to thrive in the 170lb division – the ability to grind out an insanely dull decision against almost anyone. Of course, that’s no rare thing in the UFC 170lb ranks and well see exactly how good Woodley is against fellow grinder Hieron.
8 – Josh “the Punk” Thomson (19-5) – Lightweight
Thomson may only have a record of 1-2 in his last three, but given that one loss was to Tatsuya Kawajiri IN JAPAN and the other was a split decision loss (which I think he won) against Gilbert Melendez, it’s not as if he’s dropping bad losses to cans.
Long one of the most charismatic and compelling submission artists at 155lbs, Thomson also bears the accolade of being the last person to officially defeat Melendez as well as wins over the likes of Pat Healy, Gesias Cavalcante and Duane Ludwig.
It may be that Thomson needs to look at cutting to Featherweight (if that’s possible) to secure a UFC contract but I really think “the Punk” deserves a chance.
7 – Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (16-3) – Middleweight
One of the slickest BJJ artists in MMA, ‘Jacare’ was the man to pick up the baton of SF Middleweight champion following Jake Shields move to the UFC. Despite losing that strap to Luke Rockhold he has rebounded with two stoppage wins to add to his career tally, including victories over Alexander Shlemenko, Tim Kennedy, Jason Miller and Robbie Lawler.
In fact, given that Rousimar Palhares has gone and earned himself a drugs suspension there is a slot opened up in the UFC 185lb division for a submission happy Brazilian that Souza could step right into.
6 – Nate Marquardt (32-10-2) – Welterweight Champion
Nate “the Great” has been there before. He’s challenged for the UFC belt, headlined pay per views and even been King of Pancrase. He’s also felt the sharp end of Dana White’s tongue following his TRT mishap that saw him drop out of a UFC main event the day before the fight.
Marquardt has already been assured of a UFC contract by White, all sins apparently forgiven since his renaissance at Welterweight and it will be very interesting to see if Nate can mount a title challenge as EASILY one of the biggest 170lbers out there.
5 – Miesha Tate (13-3) – Bantamweight
“Cupcake” may already have felt the pain of a Ronda Rousey armbar but she remains one of the most well rounded, charismatic and marketable talents in the division.
The fact that she lasted longer against Rousey than all her professional opponents to date, combined with her willingness to speak her mind and the fact she hails from one of the UFC’s favoured camps (Team Alpha Male) make her an ideal gatekeeper for Rousey and with another win or two, by no means out of the running for a rematch.
4 – Gegard Mousasi (32-3-2) – Light Heavyweight
A 37 fight veteran at only 27 years old Mousasi has won most of his fights via stoppage and held gold over two weight classes in three promotions (Strikeforce Light Heavyweight, DREAM Middleweight & Light Heavyweight and Cage Warriors Middleweight) which makes him easily one of the most compelling targets for a UFC Light Heavyweight division which is in the midst of a generational shift.
He’s also 19-1-1 since 2006, beating Jacare Souza, Mark Hunt and Hector Lombard along the way. Bottom line, “the Dreamcatcher” is a top line talent and I can’t wait to see him tangling with the likes of Alexander Gustafsson and Jon Jones.
3 – Daniel Cormier (10-0) – Heavyweight Grand Prix Winner
Until 2011, DC was one of the hottest prospects in MMA but wins over Devin Cole and Jeff Monson led to him becoming Alistair Overeem’s replacement in the Heavyweight Grand Prix and Cormier followed up with victories over Antonio Silva and Josh Barnett to win the Grand Prix and announce his arrival at the top of the heavyweight division.
There are only two things I can see stunting Cormier’s opportunities in the UFC. The first is that his teammate Cain Velasquez has regained the UFC Heavyweight title and the pair aren’t keen to fight. Thus, Cormier has to fight his friend, accept a role as gatekeeper and wait for someone else to dethrone Cain or try a cut to Light Heavyweight.
That cut to LHW is compelling as he fought at that weight during his wrestling career (where he was so highly regarded he captained the US Olympic team in 2008) and has already had a war of words with Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
While it would be very compelling for Jones to face someone he couldn’t out wrestle, didn’t outweigh and also possesses knockout power, it’s worth remembering that when Cormier tried to cut weight for the 2008 Olympics, his kidneys shut down. From the standpoint of being concerned for Cormier’s long term health, do we really want him to try and cut to Light Heavy?
2 – Gilbert Melendez (21-2) – Lightweight Champion
“El Niño” has long been regarded as the top lightweight not contracted to the UFC and must have felt like the spare tool in the box when almost every other Strikeforce champion was transferred to Vegas in 2011.
Riding a seven fight win streak, in which he avenged both of his career losses (to Josh Thomson and Mitsuhiro Ishida), Melendez is pretty much regarded as worthy of an automatic shot at the UFC 155lb belt. I think that he should have a tune up fight in the UFC (it’s not like Jake Shields, Nick Diaz, Dan Henderson, Alistair Overeem or Hector Lombard have been given title shots off the bat after signing) especially considering that his win streak hasn’t exactly come against any top five rated opposition but he’s definitely in the conversation.
1- Luke Rockhold (10-1) – Middleweight Champion
Rockhold may seem a strange choice as my #1 pick, ahead of Cormier and Melendez but I think he’s got the biggest chance of massive success in the UFC, partly because the obstacles in his way are more surmountable. Cormier has to contend with his training partner as the champion and Melendez goes into the deepest division in combat sports.
Of course, Rockhold’s ultimate target is a certain guy called Anderson Silva who is likely to be around for a while yet as he’s just signed a 10 fight deal. That said, I think Rockhold has the skills to earn a shot at the Spider and as good a chance as anyone of unseating him.
A natural and exciting kickboxer, Rockhold actually has more wins by submission than TKO and combines a phobia of decisions with a tendency to speak his mind. He’s already entered into a war of words with Michael Bisping, Lorenz Larkin and the whole of Jackson’s MMA so he should have no problem slipping into the most ‘I’m calling you out, boy’ division in the sport.
While I think Rockhold needs a win or two to be in line for a shot against Silva, I can’t wait to see him face off with Chris Weidman, Hector Lombard and all the other sharks circling for a shot at the Spider.
That’s it for my picks as to which Strikeforce talent could and should make it in the UFC. It’s now time to stop picking over the bones of this promotion and look to the future. One more for the road, and then were done…