With Strikeforce’s final event imminent, we thought we’d put ourselves in the shoes of the Strikeforce contracted talent, not to mention Joe Silva and Sean Shelby by considering which of the roster are likely to be offered a (second in some cases) crack at the big time in the UFC after tomorrow.
As these fighters are looking to ‘go to Vegas’ so to speak, I’ve split my selection into two lists of ten fighters, with my outsider picks on Black and my sure fire picks on Red.
This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive, it just represents the list of fighters I think have the highest chance of making it in the Octagon – there are a few guys unlisted who could well perform their way into UFC deals on Saturday…
Lets get on with my less certain picks for Octagon success, and we’ll come
20 – Pat “Bam Bam” Healy (28-16) – Lightweight
Healy was supposed to fight for the Strikeforce Lightweight title on Saturday, and as such he should get a UFC shot anyway, but will likely seal the deal with a win over Kurt Holobaugh. A former Weltweight, Healy had amassed a 5-0 streak based on dominating his usually smaller opponents with a stifling ground game en route to a decision or submission victory.
It’s unfair to label him a grinder though and it’s worth remembering that recent submission wins over the likes of Maximo Blanco and Caros Fodor show up alongside older wins over the likes of Carlos Condit, Paul Daley and Dan Hardy.
Heading into his 45th pro fight at the age of 29, Pat has earned a second crack at the UFC. How well he fares in the über-competitive 155lb division remains to be seen.
19 – Roger Gracie (5-1) – Middleweight
The leading light of the Gracie clan has yet to show his true mettle as a mixed martial artist. His jiujitsu skills are beyond reproach, but following four almost perfunctory submission wins, his lack of a more developed game was cruelly exposed by Muhammed Lawal in 2011 with a first round KO loss.
Rallying to an uninspiring decision win over veteran Keith Jardine in July, Gracie still has a lot to prove to create an MMA mythos of his own to go alongside his esteemed relatives. A win over Anthony Smith on Saturday should rubber stamp a UFC call up, indeed the Gracie name and his BJJ acumen may get him a shot even if he should lose.
18 – Sarah Kaufman (15-2) – Bantamweight
Without doubt, Sarah is one of the top 135lb female fighters on the planet and that fact alone puts her on the UFC’s radar. However, with the UFC’s focus on challengers for Ronda Rousey and not a whole lot else, the fact that she’s already fallen to Rousey within a minute and BOTH of her career losses are by armbar might make her signature less of a priority to the UFC.
Already slated to appear at Invicta 5 in April, Kaufman is unlikely to be picked up by the UFC before getting a win elsewhere, so were going to need to wait till summer at least to see where he future pans out.
17 – KJ Noons (11-5) – Lightweight
Noons has the advantage of being a popular and entertaining fighter and the UFC is always looking for guys who are as much likely to provide cheers as wins. However, a loss to Ryan Couture on Saturday would drop Noons to 1-4 in his last five bouts and his six fight win streak between 2007 and 2010 seems like a distant memory. That is not UFC call up form…
As a sometime welterweight pushing six feet tall, Noons is unlikely to have the option of dropping to Featherweight to increase his chances. It really is win or start looking elsewhere for “King”.
16 – Tarec Saffiedine (13-3) – Welterweight
“Sponge” is in the main event of the last Strikeforce card and could well end up being the last ever Strikeforce champion. That’s pretty cool and an accolade to be proud of, but…
…well, he’s not the most compelling fighter. Despite being primarily a striker, he’s won most of his fights by decision and for all that he’s 6-1 since 2010, defeating the likes of Scott Smith along the way, he’s still ‘that guy Nate Marquardt is fighting on Saturday.’
A big win over Marquardt could be everything Saffiedine needs, but I remain unconvinced of his credentials for challenging for gold in the very deep waters of the UFC Welterweight division.
15 – Mike Kyle (19-8) – Light Heavyweight
It would be a disservice to call Mike Kyle a journeyman, but he’s been around a bit in the course of his fight career. That’s nothing to be ashamed of in a sport as fractured as MMA and as a knockout artist who’s last two defeats (in a 6-2, 2NC run going back to 2009) have come to top ten ranked Heavyweights, Fabricio Werdum and Antonio Silva and as such he’s a compelling prospect for any promoter.
At 32 and bearing the scars of more than a few wars, time isn’t on Kyle’s side and I’d like to see him get the chance to improve on his existing 2-1 record in the UFC.
14 – Sara McMann (6-0) – Bantamweight
Undefeated, female Olympic medallist fighting at 135lbs. I’ve heard that before somewhere? Despite never actually fighting for Strikeforce, Sara McMann did sign with the promotion (and thus, Zuffa) in autumn 2012 and for many she was the obvious choice to face Ronda Rousey in her UFC debut, but for reasons unknown she was never offered/refused the fight (depending who’s side of the story you believe.)
Her record and accolades make her one of the most compelling prospects in WMMA and I simply can’t see why the UFC wouldn’t snap her up. Unless they’re worried that an Olympic level wrestler might beat their golden haired Judoka?
13 – Tim Kennedy (14-4) – Middleweight
Decorated US Marine, fighting MMA at Middleweight, no not that one, this one. On the surface, Tim Kennedy bears a great resemblance to UFC star Brian Stann and that’s both a good and a bad thing. It’s a good thing because he has a history of finishing fights, and a legitimate service record is always a good marketing tool.
However, there is the possibility of the two being ostensibly too similar and Stann held a higher rank, had more medals, is a better interview and is a more consistently entertaining fighter.
That said, this isn’t WWE and gimmick infringement shouldn’t be a concern, so the fact that Kennedy has the skills should at least earn him a shot.
12 – Ryan Couture (5-1) – Lightweight
A 5-1 pro record, entirely earned in Strikeforce and with two of the wins by wafer thin decision is perhaps not the most compelling case for a UFC call up. With an already stacked Lightweight division and guys with far more impressive resumes knocking on the door from all around the world, the UFC might not be in a hell of a rush to sign up this Ryan kid. What was his last name again?
Suddenly, an unremarkable record becomes a compelling one as the inevitable marketing advantages to being a second generation fighter, son of a multi division champion and Hall of Famer become apparent. It’s perhaps unfair to tie Ryan’s career so tightly to his father’s but lets be realistic… it matters.
Of course Ryan has a positive record, seems to have his head screwed on straight and could well end up carving a memorable career all on his own.
11 – Josh “the Warmaster” Barnett (31-6) – Heavyweight
On competitive record alone, Josh Barnett is a lock for a UFC contract and a good bet to do well once in the Octagon. After all, he’s won the UFC belt before, and technically never lost it.
Therein lies the rub. After being stripped of the UFC title for failing a drug test, Barnett repeated the trick when set to headline an Affliction event. That second misdemeanour, exacerbated by the fact that it sank Affliction put him past redemption in the eyes of many.
UFC president Dana White has often held forth about how guys that fail steroid tests, especially in title/main event scenarios are beyond reproach and its been clear that he views Barnett as an unrepentant sinner.
However, it’s not like guys who have transgressed similarly in the UFC haven’t been given a second chance before – the likes of Tim Sylvia, Vitor Belfort, Sean Sherk and Chael Sonnen have previously failed drugs tests and been accepted back into the UFC fold, even to the point of being given title shots.
For my part, Barnett has tested clean throughout his 2-1 run in Strikeforce, is a clear top ten talent at heavyweight and is a GREAT interview, even if his penchant for pro wrestling style promos annoys some MMA purists.
He’s also a big advocate of heavy metal and I think we need more of that in MMA.
The bottom line is that I think Josh would be an asset to the UFC in terms of personality and in-cage skills. While the heavyweight division is more stacked than ever, it’s still not what you would call deep and I think the UFC would be foolish to hand another marketable star to the increasingly uppity Bellator.
That’s my ten fighters that could well make it in the UFC. Tomorrow, we’ll have ten fighters who SHOULD make it in the UFC.