PHOENIX - AUGUST 13: Miesha Tate celebrates after defeating Hitomi Akano of Japan in the Strikeforce Women's Welterweight Tournament Championship bout at Dodge Theater on August 13 2010 in Phoenix Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
At the start of Miesha Tate's beef with Ronda Rousey, Tate said something that made no sense to me when she insisted that women's MMA doesn't need a "face" to thrive. That's an incredible detachment from the reality of combat sports. I'd actually argue that it's much more "unhealthy" to not have one or two superstars who can bring extra attention to the sport and whose starpower can rub off somewhat when someone beats them.
Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, Manny Pacquiao, Chuck Liddell, Brock Lesnar, Georges St. Pierre...etc. Those men were all the face of their sport at one time or another and without them that sport would have been profoundly less healthy.
This isn't specific to just a discussion on WMMA or MMA in general. Strikeforce will need one or two fighters who emerge as their top draws. Previously we saw Gina Carano, Fedor Emelianenko and Nick Diaz serve as the top drawing stars in the promotion. They were more than simply fighters, Gina was a rare combination of skills and mass appeal, Fedor had a tremendous run and incredible mystique, Diaz is one of the most exciting fighters on earth to watch and is such a loose cannon that it makes it hard to watch to see what happens.
So, knowing that the promotion isn't going anywhere any time soon, what happens now?
Despite Stephen Espinoza claiming Gina will return, it looks somewhat unlikely. And even if she does, it's unlikely to be a full-time return. Diaz has been poached by the UFC, same with Alistair Overeem. And Fedor is off in M-1.
After the jump we'll look through the current options to be the face of Strikeforce...
Gilbert Melendez - Melendez is a guy they seem to be positioning as the promotion's top star. He's the #2 lightweight in the world (according to the USA Today / SB Nation Consensus Rankings) and having that level of talent makes him a natural choice. Unfortunately, there isn't exactly a line of challengers that can create much buzz for a Melendez fight. A third fight with Josh Thomson may happen down the road, tonight's fight with Jorge Masvidal represents the only Strikeforce top 25 fighter that Melendez hasn't yet beat. Melendez vs. KJ Noons may be a fight down the road that could get a little attention since Noons can talk a little bit, but I have my doubts about Gil emerging as a superstar.
Cristiane Santos - "Cyborg" was expected to emerge as a big star following her dismantling of Gina Carano. Unfortunately, Strikeforce has only been able to find her three fights in the almost 28 months since that win. There is no depth at 145 pounds, especially if Rousey drops to 135 as expected. It's hard to have Cyborg get any bigger as a star without fights to make it happen.
Miesha Tate - If she's more worried about facing challengers she feels have "earned it" than taking fights that people want to see? I don't know how far she can go. Still, she has a look that gets her attention and the skills to deliver the goods in the cage. I have my doubts, but she could eventually turn into a real star.
Ronda Rousey - I hate pointing this out, but Ronda was on two of the three least watched Strikeforce events in the history of the Showtime deal. She's going to need some very good positioning on the 2012 cards to break out into the mainstream. It'll take a lot of effort an more than putting her on the Showtime Extreme undercard broadcasts.
Luke Rockhold - Now we're talkin'. Rockhold has skills and charisma to spare, he fights a fairly exciting style and, in a rematch with Jacare or a fight with Tim Kennedy, has a pair of legitimate fights that can be made. Unfortunately, he has to face Keith Jardine first. Maybe beating a former UFC fighter will do him some good, but it still feels like a waste of time. Still, Rockhold has a good chance of being a breakout star for the promotion.
Muhammad Lawal - Lawal has the flash, the skills the willingness to be special and the ability to talk a big game. Should he work his way back to the light heavyweight title, he is probably the guy (along with Rockhold) to be something more than "just another guy" on the Strikeforce roster.
2012 will be an interesting year for Strikeforce and the ability to create stars may be the make or break factor for their long time future.
Update: Since Miesha saw fit to call me an idiot on Twitter and claim that she never said WMMA didn't need a face. I'll just throw these up: