Strikeforce stars still doing the limbo

The more things change, the more they must feel the same for King Mo Lawal. Ross Dettman for ESPN.com

It was just four months ago that Muhammed Lawal made the most unfortunate verbal gaffe of his young career, comparing Strikeforce to a “cancer patient” and saying that fighters mired in what everyone thought were the organization’s last days were “just waiting for it to die.”

As one of MMA’s most intelligent and analytical fighters, Lawal must have regretted the choice of words immediately. He’s since apologized and backed off the original statement, even though -- aside from the dreadful phrasing -- the underlying sentiment was one most people shared at the time. For much of 2011, we all assumed that Strikeforce was just playing out the string, that it would vanish at year’s end and that up-and-coming stars like Lawal would be absorbed into the UFC.

Approximately 120 days later, things look at lot different and, frankly, even more unclear.

With an extended broadcast deal reportedly struck with Showtime, Strikeforce enjoys an unexpectedly bright future as it prepares for its first show of 2012 on Saturday night. While that’s great news for the brand itself, it has to be sort of unsettling for fighters the caliber of Lawal, who is slated to fight undefeated prospect Lorenz Larkin on this weekend’s televised card.

At least back when it seemed like Strikeforce was about to go the way of the dinosaur, fighters knew where they were headed -- either to the Octagon or the independent circuit.

Now that SF will reportedly live out this year, guys like Lawal, Luke Rockhold and Tyron Woodley must feel condemned to continued time in limbo. Indefinitely confined to an organization that has seen its end date extended, but has yet to feel any more vital or relevant than it did in September, when Lawal initially pronounced it terminally ill.

Dana White has promised change, a worthwhile working environment for fighters and a positive experience for fans. That change could well still be coming, but at least on paper, Strikeforce’s first offering of 2012 doesn’t feel any different.

There are some interesting matchups -- Lawal versus Larkin and Woodley’s bout with Jordan Mein probably chief among them -- but Rockhold’s middleweight title defense against Keith Jardine feels downright nonsensical as a main event and there has been typically little promotional buildup. Stuck as it is between last weekend’s UFC 141 and next weekend’s UFC 142, this event threatens to get totally lost in the shuffle. Especially with Zuffa planning a show every weekend during January.

For now, fighters and executives alike are putting a brave face on things. If there’s one constant in fight sports, it’s that you can count on everyone involved in a bad and frustrating situation to insist it’s neither bad, nor frustrating until after the fact. Especially when that seems like the best way to continue getting paid.

But if change is truly coming to Strikeforce, well, it needs to hurry up and get here. If it doesn’t, it might be tempting to think the organization is still just playing out the string.

A much, much longer but similar looking string.