Tonight may be UFC 143, but there is never a bad time to talk about the debate over the placement of Strikeforce fighters relative to their UFC counterparts. In a recent article at Sports Illustrated, Loretta Hunt covers a variety of reasons people may underrate Strikeforce fighters and talks to guys like Luke Rockhold and Tim Kennedy about the stigma that comes with fighting in the "B promotion."
From the article:
UFC fighters haven't exactly helped that cause. Answering a challenge made by Strikeforce light heavyweight Mohammed "King Mo" Lawal earlier this month, former UFC champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson said fighting in Strikeforce would be a "step down" in his career. In another interview, UFC middleweight Michael Bisping feigned ignorance when asked about critical comments Strikeforce's Kennedy had recently made about him.
"Who's he?" asked Bisping. "I've never heard of him."
"Between Jacare, Luke and myself, I think that we could take on seven out of the top 10 guys in the UFC in our respective weight class, but almost all of the media and the fans disagree with us," said Kennedy, who's won back-to-back fights in Strikeforce. "I've said it my entire career that I just want to fight the best guys. Now I add the caveat that now I want to fight the guys that everyone else thinks are the best fighters."
Kennedy said it was frustrating to watch Demian Maia (15-4), who's been recognized on all three rankings lists in the past, lose to unranked newcomer Chris Weidman during the UFC's second FOX broadcast last Saturday. Weidman took the bout on 11 days notice and cut a whopping 30 pounds to make weight for it. Kennedy, who said he's been training to fight at Strikeforce's next event on March 3 should an opening arise, vigorously campaigned for the vacancy and was disappointed that he was "never seriously considered" for it.
Depth is always going to be the issue that holds a fighter back from being elevated too highly in the eyes of many. When Rockhold is having to defend his title against a guy who has never fought at middleweight and has lost every fight of any note recently, it's hard to think of Strikeforce as having the depth to really elevate a fighter. That leaves fans and the media to try to judge relative abilities and we can see that a guy like Rockhold is talented. But, of course, it's difficult to consider him an absolute top tier talent until we see how he fares against other guys on that level.
It is interesting to see Kennedy say that he was campaigning for the shot on Fox against Maia. I have to think he'd have put a hurting on Demian given how bad he looked that night.