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Strikeforce: The MMA World's Purgatorio

  • Written by Dave Walsh

In the realm of Mixed Martial Arts, there are some clear levels, much like Dante Alighieri wrote in his epic La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy). For Dante, there was a clear progression as he toiled through the afterlife, he was first led through Hell, then he was led through Purgatory before finally having a glimpse at Heaven. If you wanted to compare it to MMA, the smaller, regional promotions are the veritable Hell. Low pay, bad attendance, poorly organized and promoted, but for most fighters, a necessity to move on to the “big leagues.” For many fighters, the biggest achievement is to be accepted into the UFC, to walk amongst the gods themselves beyond the steel gates of the Octagon. For fighters, the UFC is Heaven.

For a promotion like Strikeforce, though, there is a sense of being left-behind, like a middle child. Strikeforce finds itself not a containing the same rigors and lack of pay like the small minor leagues, but does not include the perks and the money that comes with fighting for the UFC. Instead, it is a virtual Purgatory for fighters. Fighters are left to reflect on their careers and see that they aren’t deemed as good enough to be called into the UFC, but are beyond the toiling in the reigional promotions.

Last night proved to be the first bigger Strikeforce event since the Showtime deal was re-negotiated, and something about the show did not come off as planned. On paper, the card was exciting and showed a lot of promise, but in execution it was a mess. If a fighter is competing within a promotion that stands on its own, there is something for them to achieve, but when the promotion is a feeder league with parallel divisions, the whole scope of the game changes. Part of what helped with Strikeforce’s charm was the attitude and identity of the promotion. It felt like a spiritual successor to some of the bigger Japanese events, with a focus on entertainment and promoting the fighters, not just the brand.

Continue Reading about the Harrowing of Strikeforce...

Now fighters look at being in Strikeforce as being “second-rate,” or almost as an insult. For the women, the decision to continue promoting women’s MMA is a win, but for the men competing in divisions that already exist in the UFC, the messages are mixed. Gegard Mousasi vs. Ovince St. Preoux at Light Heavyweight has no real value, as both men are at different points in their careers. Mousasi is trying to prove that he belongs within the elite, most likely in the UFC, and OSP is trying to show that he is no longer a prospect, but a fully-realized fighter. Mousasi was able to defeat OSP via decision, showing improved wrestling and his usual stand up skills, but did not put an exclamation point on the fight. Post-fight there were mixed messages as Mauro Ranallo implied that Mousasi would fight the winner of the King Mo Lawal and Lorenz Larkin battle for the vacant Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Championship, while panning to the crowd where Dan Henderson, the man who vacated the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Championship to move to the UFC, sat with his children.

Dan Henderson was good enough to move to the UFC, but the four men mentioned above will apparently continue to meddle in Strikeforce fighting for a lesser title with no value anymore. Recent news has focused on the Strikeforce Heavyweight GP, which will apparently see a finish at some point when Daniel Cormier and Josh Barnett meet. The catch is that both men will be moved over to the UFC as Strikeforce’s Heavyweight division will be eliminated. In the main event, a man who has been surrounded by a lot of hype as one of the best Lightweights in the world, Gilbert Melendez defended his Strikeforce Lightweight Championship against Jorge Masvidal in a rather lackluster affair. It appears that Melendez will continue to fight in Strikeforce’s hexagon, as post-fight he called out the winner of Ben Henderson and Frankie Edgar.

If the UFC was really looking into bringing Melendez into the UFC or unifying the titles, Edgar would have been in attendance at this Strikeforce event, instead he was in Atlantic City for the finals of the Super Six Boxing Classic between Carl Froch and Andre Ward. Strikeforce has effectively become the MMA equivalent of “The Other Guys.” It does not matter how Strikeforce fighters perform or what they accomplish, as long as the UFC looms overhead as the true place for the superstars and where the real competition is, the legitimate fighters housed in Strikeforce are kept in limbo on UFC’s feeder show as to ensure there are fighters to book in future Strikeforce shows. Of course the irony is that with the UFC’s bloated roster a lot of the lower-level fighters could be moved over to Strikeforce and the men in the Strikeforce title picture could be moved over to the UFC. Instead, fighters are left wondering if being a talented Strikeforce fighter at the top of the heap in Strikeforce is simply a further punishment for signing with one of the UFC’s main rivals as opposed to with them, while younger, less-established fighters can call themselves UFC fighters.

Strikeforce has effectively become purgatory for these fighters; not quite Hell, not quite Heaven. Instead, they are left reflecting on their decisions and wondering how long, if ever, they will be able to escape Purgatory. The question remains if fighters can make their way from Strikeforce into the UFC, or if Scott Coker will serve as their Virgil; serving as a guide but not being able to move into Heaven as a punishment for his sins of being one of the rival promoters to challenge the UFC’s power. Yes, in this situation Dana White would serve as Beatrice, the guide through Heaven who orchestrates said fighter’s career. Ouch.

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