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Friday, December 16, 2011
SF roundup: The pros, cons and buzzkill

By Chuck Mindenhall

Dana White alluded to the new Strikeforce/Showtime deal in the past couple of weeks with a sense of giddiness. He talked about it like it would knock our socks off just as soon as he was finally able to reveal the nature of the thing. This sort of teasing made for fun gossip.

Well, yesterday, along with Strikeforce’s Scott Coker and Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza, he finally dished what’s been burbling behind the scenes between a Ken Herschman-less Showtime and the UFC and Strikeforce and all the contents therein.

What was it? Let’s just say it was the right kind of stuff to make our socks remain snug on our feet.

The gist was this: Strikeforce lives. Nobody’s absorbing anything. There will be six to eight Strikeforce events airing on Showtime in 2012, to go along with the fat bank of 32 UFC events that, if slapped on a two-page spread, would look like a United Airlines destination map. This kicks off Jan. 7 with a middleweight title tilt between Luke Rockhold and Keith Jardine. As for the belt vacancies in other weight classes? You’ll have to stay tuned.

Strikeforce not only lives, but it will operate as a non-feeder league. Viable on its own. A second port for the industry’s best. The women’s division will remain intact (in fact, will be glorified). Miesha Tate, Ronda Rousey, Cristiane Santos, Gina Carano (presumably) -- these are the network stars. And the rest of Strikeforce will stay pursuant of the top global talent, so long as you cut a reasonably lean figure.
Miesha Tate
Female fighters like Miesha Tate, left, will be front and center in the "new" Strikeforce.

That’s because the heavyweight division will be disbanded after Josh Barnett and Daniel Cormier sign off on the heavyweight grand prix, and of all the participants to that tournament, none of them will assuredly graduate to the UFC (though some surely will). Rather, the Barnett/Cormier winner will have one more fight in the heavyweight division, a cryptic prelude to something up somebody’s sleeve. Otherwise, there was no satisfactory answer as to why the heavyweight division will be phased out. Yet the hunch is that the UFC will deepen its heavyweight division by integrating its strongest pieces. Let’s face it, even if the Strikeforce/UFC heavies are consolidated, it’s a division that still lacks depth. But it’ll be a lot deeper than it is now.

As for lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez? He remains an island. A totally stoked, rich, tourist-unfriendly island just off the coast of the archipelago islands known as the Coveted Elite. Who will he face? Jorge Masvidal this weekend, then some opponents who, we are assured, will keep him happy for something like forever. The details on Melendez grow vague from there so, as is the common refrain from Dana White, “we’ll have to see what happens.”
Josh Barnett
The UFC heavyweight division would get a shot in the arm if Josh Barnett graduates there.

The light heavyweight division -- arguably the strongest in Strikeforce with the most thievable pieces -- will rev along as is. That means Gegard Mousasi, Rafael Cavalcante, Muhammed Lawal and Ovince St. Preux are still the bedrock. Lorenz Larkin will be knocking. This is the lushest patch in the Strikeforce garden.

And all the rest is still being determined. The bottom line is there will be 40 weekends in 2012 with Zuffa cards. This is good news for MMA volumists, those who can’t get enough. This is horrific news for Sean Shelby, who as a matchmaker in both organizations will spend the heft of 2012 staring out an airplane window wondering about home.

But in the end, the news was that Strikeforce will go on, and Showtime will harbor it.

As for all the speculative matchmaking between Strikeforce’s hemmed-in best and those in the UFC? Not going to happen, which couldn’t help but make these new revelations a little bittersweet.