At Saturday's Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Kennedy show, two Strikeforce titles were on the line. At the end of the night, Luke Rockhold walked away still the Strikeforce Middleweight champion, while Nate Marquardt claimed the vacant Strikeforce Welterweight title. Both men turned in solid performances, defeating respectable opposition. But only Marquardt walked away a true winner.
Against Tyron Woodley, Nate Marquardt managed to not only put together a winning performance, he also put on an exciting fight that ended in a spectacular, highlight reel KO. It was the kind of performance that gets people talking and makes those who missed it try to track down the fight. In short, it was the kind of performance that makes a fighter matter.
Luke Rockhold's outing was no less dominant, and, in fact, was probably a more technically impressive showing than Marquardt's. But it also lacked that extra spark of excitement. It was technically sound for sure. It was also kind of boring. And for Rockhold, that's a problem.
Strikeforce suffers greatly from being Zuffa's #2 promotion. Like the WEC before it, it's easy to view Strikeforce as a company of UFC cast-offs, or those not good enough for the big stage. But the WEC had the advantage of two divisions not featured in the UFC, and they wisely chose to focus heavily on those divisions, getting rid of the higher weight classes over the years. Strikeforce has it's women's divisions, but for the men, there will always be a perception that these are the "not good enough for the UFC" fighters.
To shake that perception, fighters need to do more than win - they need to show that they matter. And that is absolutely possible. Gilbert Melendez has done it. Before him, Nick Diaz, Alistair Overeem, and Jake Shields all used Strikeforce gold to make their transition into the UFC a big deal. Saturday, Nate Marquardt showed that he can move past that perception as well. Despite being in a shallow division, if he keeps winning like he did against Woodley, he'll quickly find himself considered a top level Welterweight, and one who fans want to see come to the UFC.
As for Rockhold? He showed that he was technically skilled and a potentially strong prospect for the future. But he didn't make anyone stand up and say "He belongs in the UFC." Instead, he looked like a perfectly fine champion for a weak division in the #2 company. Which is fair, since that's what he is. But in the game of marketing yourself and your brand, you can't let people see that. They need to see you as something more. Marquardt showed them more. Next time out, let's see if Rockhold can learn from his fellow champion.