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Monday, November 12, 2012
Predicting SF champs' success in the UFC

By Brett Okamoto

During this entire Strikeforce mess that’s consumed the past 20 months, we still haven’t seen one of its champions fight for a UFC belt.

That’s kind of crazy, isn’t it? Remember when Zuffa purchased Strikeforce last year and we were all like, "Yay, now we get to see all the fights we want"? Those were happy times.

Some strange and frustrating events have taken place since. You can’t make up what’s happened with Strikeforce champions in the UFC so far.

Nick Diaz beat up a lightweight, lost to a welterweight, awkwardly retired, failed a drug test and was suspended. Alistair Overeem beat up a semi-retired Brock Lesnar, literally ran away from a random drug test in Nevada, failed it and was suspended.

Dana White went from expecting a large role in Strikeforce to completely washing his hands of it, seemingly overnight. Rumors of a dreaded "List" swirled, which contained names of Strikeforce fighters the UFC couldn’t legally touch.

In the meantime you, the fan, were like Jonah Hill in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," -- told there were legitimate reasons why things could not be a certain way, but not feeling any better about it. You just wanted to buy the shoes.

With Strikeforce reportedly closing its doors following a final event in January, the sun is finally shining on these matchups again. Everyone, it seems, is about to be under one roof.

So, let the fantasy matchmaking recommence. Here’s a guess as to how each Strikeforce champ will fare in the UFC.

Lightweight: Gilbert Melendez (21-2)
Gilbert Melendez and Josh Thomson
For years, fight fans have speculated how Gilbert Melendez would fare in the UFC.

I asked the Twittersphere which Strikeforce fighter it was most amped about and Melendez is still No. 1, although not by much. Opinions on Melendez range from a definite UFC champ to most overrated lightweight in the world.

I’m somewhere in the middle. He looked ordinary in wins over Jorge Masvidal and Josh Thomson, but I attended both, and competing in front of low-energy, small-sized crowds in everything-to-lose situations had to be tough.

Melendez is entering the UFC’s deepest division, so it definitely pays off being as well-rounded as he is. He can stand with a Muay Thai specialist and go to the ground with a Division I wrestler.

Prediction: "El Nino" will be a constant in the top-10 ranks, but will come up short of UFC gold.

Welterweight: Nate Marquardt (32-10-2)
Nate Marquardt
Nate Marquardt's return to the UFC would have an immediate impact on the welterweight ranks.

Ask yourself a question: Would you pick Marquardt in fights over Johny Hendricks and Martin Kampmann? Even if you say no, you had to at least think about it, right? Those two are at the top of the welterweight heap right now, and I’d be tempted to favor Marquardt over either of them.

There’s less mystique around Marquardt because he’s more of a UFC fighter serving detention than a true member of the Strikeforce family. He’s a scary addition to 170, though, which has gotten deeper but is still wide open to a fighter who can string a few wins together.

Prediction: Marquardt beats Tarec Saffiedine in January, then fights a rejuvenated Dan Hardy later in 2013.

Middleweight: Luke Rockhold (10-1)
Luke Rockhold
Luke Rockhold has the right mix of size and strength to make things interesting in the UFC.

Look at the theme going on with UFC champions. With the exception of flyweight and heavyweight, every division has a physically imposing title-holder. Jose Aldo has a tough cut. Ben Henderson is enormous. Look at the length of Anderson Silva, Jon Jones.

Rockhold brings that type of size and athleticism to the cage. It helps him dictate range, defend takedowns and neutralize submission specialists on the ground. He’s got a good work ethic and time on his side (he's only 28). There’s a lot to like here.

Prediction: If Rockhold were in the UFC, he’d be getting the same attention of a Chris Weidman. He’s still raw right now, but unless Anderson Silva fights until he’s 50 (probably not, but who knows?) Rockhold will win a UFC belt in his career.

Heavyweight: Daniel Cormier (10-0)
Daniel Cormier
Tall order: Daniel Cormier might have a tough time handling the taller UFC heavyweights.

Until the win over Josh Barnett, it was still too early for me to jump on the Cormier bandwagon. He had knocked out Antonio Silva, but Silva gets hit a lot. He’s got the Olympic wrestling pedigree, but he’s undersized and got into the game so late.

The win over Barnett infected me with DC fever just like everyone else. His wrestling is second to none and he’s incorporated it well into his new sport. He’s an even better athlete than you expect with surprising speed and he’s proved he has sufficient knockout power one needs in the heavyweight division.

Prediction: As good as Cormier is, I still don’t see him beating Junior dos Santos and he won’t fight teammate Cain Velasquez. Those two things significantly lower his chances at the heavyweight belt. He’s talked of a move to 205, but that gets to be dicey as we don’t know how the weight cut would go, and Jon Jones is a tough matchup.