This weekend marks the death of Strikeforce, and after the promotion’s final event most of the fighters are expected to make their way over to the UFC. I say most and not all because there are many who are fighting for their jobs with Zuffa this weekend, but there have already been a few who have been assured that they will move over to the UFC win or lose on Saturday night in Oklahoma City.
The promotion’s four world champions are amongst those who have been assured of their entry into the UFC.
Below, I’ll discuss how I think each of these four men will do in the UFC, and if any of them have a chance to unify the titles.
Gilbert Melendez has nearly been assured of an immediate UFC lightweight title shot by UFC president Dana White, and I think he presents a very interesting matchup for the current champ, Benson Henderson. Both guys are terrific wrestlers and strikers, both are well-rounded, both come from great camps and both are experienced. Although Henderson has been unbeatable in the UFC thus far going a perfect 6-0, Melendez is possibly the best lightweight out there and it’s possible he just needs that one chance to prove it by getting his crack at Henderson and the lightweight belt.
Even if Melendez doesn’t get the immediate title shot, there’s no doubting he’s only one win away from a crack at the belt. Maybe he fights Gray Maynard or Eddie Alvarez in a No. 1 contender’s matchup if Anthony Pettis defeats Donald Cerrone and the UFC elects to go with him for the title shot instead. But just from everything that’s been said already it seems like Melendez is the next guy who’s going to fight for the UFC lightweight title, and I for one can’t wait to see him and Henderson hook up. It’ll be a great fight.
Assuming Nate Marquardt defeats Tarec Saffiedine this Saturday night — and the fight is by no means a gimme, as the Belgian is a very underrated fighter and a tough out for anyone in the division — then he’ll move into the UFC’s welterweight division and he’ll immediately be a title contender. Although I don’t believe he’ll fight the winner of Georges St-Pierre vs. Nick Diaz for the UFC welterweight title right off the bat — I think Johny Hendricks is a lock to fight for the belt next should he get by Jake Ellenberger — I think the UFC is going to match up Marquardt in a No. 1 contender fight with either the winner of Jon Fitch vs. Demian Maia or Carlos Condit vs. Rory MacDonald, and if he wins that fight then he’ll get a title shot.
Marquardt was already a middleweight title contender in the UFC before he was unceremoniously let go in June 2011 so there’s no reason to think he can’t be a serious contender for the UFC welterweight crown. He looked amazing in his last outing against Tyron Woodley, and if he looks good again this weekend against Saffiedine in his second welterweight bout, he’ll have a ton of momentum behind him as he gets a second chance to fight the best in the world in the UFC.
Luke Rockhold was set to fight at the Stirkeforce finale this weekend but an injury prevented him from putting his belt on the line against Lorenz Larkin. And therein lies the problem with Rockhold — yes, he’s an incredible athlete and a fantastic fighter, but he’s also very injury prone, and we all know that you have to stay active and keep fighting if you’re to get a shot at a title in the UFC, because one injury puts you right at the back of the line (just ask Erik Koch or Rashad Evans about that). Still, Rockhold’s clearly one of the best middleweights in the world when he’s healthy, and he’ll likely have a lot of success in the UFC.
I don’t believe that Rockhold could defeat UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, nor do I believe he could beat Chris Weidman, but I think he could get by Michael Bisping, Alan Belcher, Tim Boestsch, and Mark Munoz. And that’s still pretty good. I think Rockhold is going to do well in the UFC. He’s going to be a perennial top-10 middleweight, but ultimately I think he comes up short of the belt, although he may eventually get his shot at it. However, I don’t see him getting an immediate title shot in his first UFC fight.
Daniel Cormier won the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix and after he beats journeyman Dion Staring into a pulp on Saturday night, he’ll cross over to the UFC an make an immediate impact in the heavyweight division. Cormier has already expressed an interested in fighting former champ Frank Mir at the UFC on FOX 7 show in his native San Jose this April, so if Mir is healthy by then this fight makes perfect sense. Should Cormier defeat Mir in impressive fashion, there’s no doubting that he’ll be ready for a shot at the UFC heavyweight title. Yes, it’s presently owned by his teammate at AKA Cain Velasquez, but there’s no guarantee that Velasquez holds the belt six months from now, because he has Alistair Overeem waiting in the wings as a challenger, as well as a possible trilogy fight against Junior dos Santos should Overeem fall to Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva at UFC 156.
With his incredible wrestling, speed and power, Cormier is a stylistic matchup nightmare for anyone at heavyweight in the UFC. Yes, he’s not the tallest guy for the division, but he makes up for his lack of size by being fast and super athletic, and if he drops to light heavyweight like he’s said he’s been contemplating, I’m afraid that the weight cut would take too much of a toll on him and he won’t be as effective. Either way, of all the Stirkeforce champs, I believe that Cormier has the best chance to win a UFC title, and even if he doesn’t, he’ll beat most guys in the top 10 of the heavyweight division.