One year ago, Strikeforce was a company who looked to be on the verge of something big. After growing from an extremely popular regional show into a national player in the MMA scene, they seemed poised to make a huge impact in 2011 with their Heavyweight Grand Prix. A year later, that Grand Prix is finally ready to wrap up next weekend with the big Josh Barnett vs. Daniel Cormier final. And for Strikeforce, what a difference that year has made.
Since the Zuffa buyout in 2011, it's been a rocky time for Strikeforce. They've seen their champions moved to the UFC, the Grand Prix limp along, big names forced to the sidelines for various reasons - it's been tough. But with this show, they look to remind fans that they are still a viable force in the MMA landscape.
Heading into the show, I spoke to longtime Strikeforce announcer Mauro Ranallo about Barnett vs. Cormier, the changes since the Zuffa buyout, and how Strikeforce can succeed in the future.
On the state of Strikeforce a year ago:
Mauro: There was a palpable buzz about Strikeforce, especially the Heavyweight division compared to the UFC and it seemed like it was beginning to pick up momentum. But with the Fedor costs, I think they [owners Silicon Valley Entertainment] were more in interested in bringing an NBA franchise to San Jose and they just didn't want to cut the checks anymore, so they were forced to sell.
On how things have changed since the buyout:
Mauro: The UFC being the parent company, they've been able to purloin some of the major names like Nick Diaz, Jake Shields, and we know what happened with Alistair Overeem. But the fact is with Strikeforce there aren't as many events this year. I know that all of us probably would like to see more Strikeforce events. All of us want to keep working and the fighters want to fight. There's a roster of fighters that are just biding their time right now and there aren't enough events, but it's better than nothing. So the biggest change has been less events. Now with losing King Mo and Cyborg to the drug tests and whatnot it's not maybe as much of a buzz with the fans as it was a year ago, but when you watch Strikeforce for what it is, the quality of the fights I would put up against anything in the sport.
More in the complete entry.
On the future of Strikeforce:
Mauro: Strikeforce wants to maintain its own identity, but it's hard to do with fewer events and the fact that a lot of the top tier talent has gone to the UFC. That doesn't mean there's not a lot of amazing talent still in Strikeforce because there is, and I just think like anything else it's all about promoting the events and getting the word out there that this is still high quality MMA and for as long as its on Showtime I know the commitment is there to putting on the best cards possible.
The UFC brand is omnipotent, but at the end of the day it is about the sport of mixed martial arts and there are some great athletes all over the world. The biggest congregation of them find themselves under the UFC banner, but I truly believe in a perfect world, and I know there may be some contractual roadblocks because of the deal with Fox, but if the UFC was really serious about keeping Strikeforce as a vibrant brand, they would send guys who were maybe just a step below where they used to be to give Strikeforce a bit of a shot in the arm in terms of talent. But I don't see that happening because of contracts. Strikeforce has now acquired Nate Marquardt, but we need to have more injection of prospects and talent and try to maintain the fact that Strikeforce and the UFC are on an even keel in terms of the quality of fighters.
If you got the best of the rest so to speak - the top tier prospects - and focused on the women and focused on the weight classes that may need a shot in the arm overall, I think Strikeforce can really put itself on the map.
On the idea of bringing Strikeforce champions into the UFC:
Mauro: A guy like Gilbert Melendez has earned the right to fight for the best championship in the world, whatever that may be. Maybe it's the Strikeforce title.
Mauro: It comes down to the amount of experience Josh Barnett brings to the table, but you contrast that with the hunger and the natural ability that Daniel Cormier has shown as a world class wrestler and two time Olympian really sharpening his striking skills at American Kickboxing Academy. Josh Barnett is one of the only people I think who has tested positive 3 times for steroids and yet is still a commodity and someone who I think is one of the top 5 Heavyweights in the world. When you break it down it probably tends to favor Barnett, but Cormier is not showing up on May 19 just to be an opponent. I think he has his designs set on not only winning the Grand Prix, but going to the UFC with a big bang. And despite the past with Zuffa, Dana, and Josh Barnett, I think a great showing by both athletes means an opportunity to get into the UFC.
In addition to serving as commentator for Strikeforce and numerous other organizations, Mauro Ranallo is the host of the MMA Show. He is also currently working on recording the audiobook version of MMA memoir Caged by Cameron Conaway. More on all of his projects at MauroRanallo.com.