In the last couple of years, the prospect of another MMA promotion putting on a better overall product than the UFC was downright ludicrous. Many MMA sites (ahem) have even done away with "Promotion of the Year" from their year-end awards.
Generally speaking, and correctly assumed, MMA promotions simply don't have the talent, organization, finances, structure, and media outlets as the UFC to field a competitive product. Sure, we all love Bellator and JMMA will always hold a special place to The Night Crew and Shark Fights has become a nifty little regional, but they're not the Ultimate Fighting Championships.
But after the debacle that was Strikeforce: Nashville on all fronts, something started happening for the San Jose promotion that could....
......Slowly, but surely, Strikeforce started to build something. Overeem returned, Werdum defeated Fedor, Challengers was consistently showing us hungry prospects putting on fun fights, Hendo and his right hand rose from the ashes, Feijao and Jacare won wars to claim championships, Diaz got his revenge on Noons, and these crazy off-the-wall rumors about a PRIDE-style tournament in either the Middleweight or Heavyweight division started circulating.
Before you knew it, at the end of 2010, Strikeforce had put together a fun, action-packed seven months of fights that came with the dreaded, yet endearing "Guilty Pleasure" tag.
So that takes us to the present. We're about halfway through the calendar year to a "T". Can't you make a case for Strikeforce? They had the sack to put on a goddamned Heavyweight Grand Prix, and not only has it gone off without a hitch, to the bewilderment of everyone, but it's been great to watch. 75% of the fights ended in stoppages. Strikeforce's champions were incredible. Gilbert Melendez continued his one-man Enola Gay mission to destroy everything that is Japanese, Nick Diaz punched through challengers like there was Cadbury cream filling inside their heads, Jacare did what Jacare does, Hendo proved that his right hand can provide a blanket we can all sleep under at night, Marloes should really be tested for arachnid genes, seeing as how she seemingly grows limbs to submit women, and Overeem, finally, is a Strikeforce staple.
You like drama? How about Dan Henderson reclaiming his spot on the mountain at age 40. The Liz Carmouche vs. Marloes Coenen fight being a female replica of Silva-Sonnen, as the upstart challenger lays everything she has at the champion, but the wiley veteran reaches into her bag of tricks at her most vulnerable to slap on a triangle for the win and.......STILL champion. Lorenz Larkin going from last-minute sub to diehard fan-favorite. Former college player Ovince St. Preux becoming OSP! Herschel Walker not backing down and keeping on, Aoki's rebirth, the return of Keith Jardine and showing outstanding heart, literally giving everything he had just to salvage a good showing for Zuffa.
Granted, I started writing this before the Brett Rogers incident, however, as of tonight, he was dealt with quickly and severely. Before Rogers, what I was going to say was that, even outside the ring, Strikeforce was hanging its head higher than UFC. Dana had his hands full with Nate, Chael, Brock, Rumble, Edgar, Maynard, Thiago Silva, Rashad, Ortiz, etc... and those are just main-card fighters pulling out for health reasons, commision reasons, or misc. reasons. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Strikeforce cards go on without a hitch. For fuck's sake, they got Josh Barnett licensed.
As far as prospect development goes, I would take Strikeforce Challengers over TUF any damned day of the week. Strikeforce is actually giving prospects a play to flourish without all the bullshit "Real World" situations. While TUF fighters are getting heated over who drank the last Diet Mountain Dew, Strikeforce fighters are on Showtime putting on a show in front of a live crowd. Guys like Justin Wilcox, Tyron Woodley, Luke Rockhold, and Ovince St. Preux have made names of themselves in the Challengers series. The TUF series is dated and lame.
While the UFC was wrestlefucking every exciting card into the ground, Strikeforce went out of their way to assure that wouldn't happen. The "fun fights" motto of Coker proved strong even until the day they were bought out and beyond. We watched UFC to see how the superstars fared against each other, but we watched Strikeforce to see some fucking fights.
I'm not saying the UFC doesn't end up winning Best MMA Promotion for 2011, but for the first time in years, we have a solid contender.
Strikeforce Never Die.