Strikeforce imports doing just fine in UFC

February, 3, 2012
2/03/12
1:11
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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Cung Le attempted to beat Wanderlei Silva at UFC 139 with an unlikely game plan -- that of fighting like Cung Le.

It nearly worked. Le tried to kick Silva’s liver through his spine, but in the end he was downed with a barrage of strikes that left his nose in crescent form. The scrap was good enough to be a candidate for "fight of the year" but was unfortunate enough to be only the third-most exciting bout of the night. That was the same evening Michael Chandler won a back-and-forth battle with lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez in Bellator, and Dan Henderson outlasted Mauricio Rua in a five-round grind.

But the immediate reports back seem to be that Strikeforce fighters like Le are faring pretty well in the UFC. These were supposed to be the B models, slogging it out in a nice regional show. They weren’t supposed to be able to compete with the elite of the world. At least that’s what we heard from carnival barkers whenever somebody had the audacity to compare a Strikeforce fighter with a UFC fighter.

Yet, since the Zuffa purchase of Strikeforce and the great integration, it looks like Strikeforce had its share of equals and betters. This weekend Nick Diaz will fight for the interim welterweight belt against Carlos Condit after belting B.J. Penn at UFC 137. Win it, and he gets his long-awaited shot at Georges St. Pierre. Meanwhile, Fabricio Werdum takes on Roy Nelson in a fight with very loose title connections in the heavyweight division. Should Diaz and Werdum win -- and Vegas thinks they should -- it will continue a trend that makes Scott Coker look vindicated for something deep inside that could use some vindication. It also diversifies things for matchmaker Joe Silva.

Last weekend, Lavar Johnson scored a knockout of the night against Joey Beltran in Johnson's UFC debut. Former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Henderson came back and beat Rua and is now patiently waiting in line for the Jon Jones-Rashad Evans winner. Strikeforce titlist and linear champion Alistair Overeem kicked Brock Lesnar into retirement, and next faces Junior dos Santos for the UFC heavyweight strap. Other Strikeforce fighters (not named Gilbert Melendez) are making their way from the hexagon to the Octagon, too. In fact, just about anybody who’s anybody in the clearance of Strikeforce heavyweights will soon be in the UFC: Antonio Silva, Chad Griggs, Daniel Cormier, Josh Barnett, et al.

The floodgates are open.
[+] EnlargeBrock Lesnar, Alistair Overeem
Donald Miralle/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesAlistair Overeem came roaring out of the gates in his UFC debut.

Granted, some of the Strikeforce fighters coming over are UFC retreads. But in the early returns the worst you can say is that Jake Shields, who jumped ship to the UFC before the acquisition, hasn’t lived up to billing. Most Strikeforce fighters are having a happier time of it than when the UFC/Pride partition came down, and the Pride fighters faltered. Same with the WEC, given the potential of Condit and Ben Henderson. Yet most of the WEC’s talent competed in the bantamweight and featherweight divisions, which didn’t exist in the UFC until the beginning of 2011, so it’s hard to make a full spectrum comparison.

But think about it -- in mid-to-late 2012, as many as three reigning Strikeforce champions could be wearing UFC gold (Diaz, Henderson and Overeem). If Melendez was ever released from exile, he could challenge for the lightweight belt, too.

What does it all mean? Maybe nothing. Or maybe it’s something that we’ve always suspected and debated about. While the best fighters in the world are generally thought to be in the UFC at all times, there are fighters dying for the chance to be brought in for no other reason than to prove them wrong.

And knowing just how short the fight society’s attention span can be, the UFC is only too happy to be wrong when they do.

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