Article by Dave Walsh
Strikeforce was, in its own way, a very special promotion. It began as a small, regional promotion that was bringing MMA to California for the first time in a big way after head Scott Coker saw success using the Strikeforce banner to promote Kickboxing events. From there it blossomed and grew into the little engine that could in California until that fateful day came when EliteXC/ProElite went belly-up and EliteXC’s assets were scooped up by Coker and his business partners at Silicon Valley Sports and Entertainment. They were now in the national MMA business.
All of a sudden Strikeforce was the #2 promotion in the world and Dana White had competition, albeit not on the level that would concern him or the UFC. Things continued until SVSE decided that it was a good time to get out of the MMA business and to sell Strikeforce to Zuffa. From there the charm that we knew in Strikeforce seemed to disappear as it became annexed by the UFC and became a feeder league that no one was quite sure why it existed. There was some top talent there, but many doubted their quality because of the apparent lack of competition.
Strikeforce has been gone for a while now and we’ve seen Strikeforce veterans enter the UFC and not only do well, but do exceedingly well. Can the same be said for Luke Rockhold, though? Luke Rockhold was a guy that most weren’t paying a lot of attention to, he was a guy that fought on Strikeforce: Challengers cards and was winning his fights, but no one really knew what that meant. When he stepped into the cage with Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza for the Strikeforce Middleweight Championship there were groans about Jacare fighting a “can” that he would clearly, easily defeat. Then something magical happened, something that Strikeforce excelled at; Rockhold took the fight to Jacare and walked away as the champion.
Rockhold’s first title defense had a bit of controversy surrounding it as it featured former UFC Light Heavyweight Keith Jardine dropping down to Middleweight. All it took for Jardine to get that fight was to go to a Draw with Gegard Mousasi due to being fouled and many scoffed at Jardine getting a shot proving how shallow Strikeforce was and how poor their fighters were. Rockhold leveled Jardine, doing his best to silence critics. His next fight was considered to be legitimate, against Tim Kennedy, which turned out to be a war of a battle, with Rockhold walking away victorious.
The pressure is on Rockhold going into his bout with Vitor Belfort this weekend as Belfort is a UFC legend with nothing to lose at this point, while Rockhold has a lot to prove coming into this bout as a former Strikeforce Champion who never lost his title. If Rockhold gets defeated here this weekend it will prove the naysayers right, leaving Rockhold and Strikeforce’s collective legacies in a state of ruin, but if he wins, he can do just a little bit more to show that he is the real deal and should be taken seriously.