Every fight card is filled top down with fights that are important to the fighters involved. The difference between a win and a loss is huge in almost every fighter's career. Still, Saturday's Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley has a rare level of importance in every fight, largely based on the Zuffa purchase of Strikeforce. Let's run down the card to see exactly what I'm talking about.
Shinya Aoki vs. Lyle Beerbohm - Aoki continues to sit at #4 in the USA Today / SB Nation lightweight rankings as he makes his way back to the Strikeforce cage. While a highly ranked fighter is always only one fight away from tumbling down the rankings, Aoki was so badly exposed against Gilbert Melendez in his last fight in a cage that he's at double risk. A loss to Beerbohm would frame Aoki as a man who can't compete at a high level in the cage under unified rules. Like it or not, that is the standard for high level MMA in 2010. Showing that he can't be successful in that environment against a mid-level prospect is going to be much more damaging than the loss to an elite fighter like Melendez.
Gegard Mousasi vs. Keith Jardine - Mousasi's loss to Muhammad Lawal derailed a lot of talk of him as someone who may eventually become an elite light heavyweight. He ran through the somewhat unimpressive DREAM Light Heavyweight Grand Prix to close out his 2010 campaign. In Keith Jardine he faces a late replacement with tons of experience under the brightest lights and a man who holds impressive wins over some of MMA's biggest stars. Mousasi remains an appropriately heavy (-360) favorite for the bout. But his entire future hinges on this fight. A win and he gets a title shot against Dan Henderson, a loss and he becomes a much more disposable commodity in the eventual merging of the Strikeforce and UFC rosters. Light heavyweight is simply too deep to be proven not among the best in Strikeforce (a not very deep LHW roster), let alone the UFC (an incredibly deep LHW roster).
Gilbert Melendez vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri - Melendez and Kawajiri did battle in 2006 in an epic war that needs to be watched and appreciated by every MMA fan. They rematch now with Melendez as a consensus top three lightweight. Melendez has long talked about his desire to be the number one fighter in the world. With the Zuffa purchase of Strikeforce his opportunity is on the horizon. That is, if he can get past a very stiff test in Kawajiri. A loss to "Crusher" means that Melendez is no longer biding his time to get in the UFC and get a crack at the title, he'll be in rebuild mode. Kawajiri is not a well known fighter in America which can lead to even more damage to Gilbert's reputation among the fans.
Nick Diaz vs. Paul Daley - Let's start with Daley. Obviously his unwillingness to back down from defending himself to make nice with the UFC has him in an incredibly tough position. A loss to Diaz and he loses all leverage to make the big paydays and force his way back into the UFC. A win and it becomes near impossible for any sort of eventual merger to not include Daley. It's hard to think of many times that a fighter has had so much riding on a win or a loss in a single fight.
As for Diaz, a win doesn't answer the concern that many fans have about him (how he would do against wrestlers). But the UFC does want Nick if he learns to "play the game" better. Losing to Daley may hit Diaz in the wallet down the road, but he did recently sign a nice extension with Strikeforce that should get him by for the time being, win or lose.