When the UFC purchased Strikeforce in 2011, it was simultaneously good and bad for the sport. The UFC had swooped up its primary competition, which meant there would be no threat to the most dominant and successful MMA company in the world.
The UFC attempted to operate Strikeforce as an independent talent, but it raided the roster of most of its big stars, and injuries plagued the ones who remained. Zuffa LLC, the UFC’s parent company, finally closed the promotion in 2012.
The ending meant new beginnings for some of those talented fighters. Daniel Cormier, Josh Thomson, and Robbie Lawler have become breakout stars in the UFC. All three are in title contention in the UFC.
Others, however, appear lost in the shuffle. Strikeforce featured skilled fighters that for a variety of reasons ended up in the San Jose, California-based promotion instead of the UFC. In some cases, they were just as talented, but their paths led them to the Hexagon instead of the Octagon. Since the acquisition, some of those great fighters have languished. Here’s a look at three Strikeforce fighters who have yet to show the world what they are made of in the UFC.
1. Luke Rockhold
So everyone is hot on Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza these days. The former Strikeforce fighter has disposed of Chris Camozzi and Yushin Okami since arriving in the UFC. He hasn’t lost since 2005. Guess who he last lost to? Rockhold is the former Strikeforce middleweight champion. He was a guy who some observers believed could be the heir to Anderson Silva’s throne in the UFC middleweight division. The six-foot-three, Santa Cruz, California surfer who trains out of San Jose’s American Kickboxing Academy is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and one of the best all-around big men in the sport.
Rockhold defeated Souza by unanimous decision in 2011 to win the middleweight championship. Two fighters later he defeated Tim Kennedy by unanimous decision to defend his title. Rockhold has dynamic striking, great youthful quickness and instincts, and a heart of a champion. In his UFC debut he was knocked out by Vitor Belfort, an event that at the time seemed stunning, but less so no since Belfort has knocked out three top guys in recent fights. The thing about Rockhold is that he’s only 29 and has a record of 10-2. He still has a long way to go in the sport and his potential is great. Even though he was knocked out by Belfort, Rockhold should be thought of in the same light as a guy like Chris Weidman. Rockhold is a once and future star that will surprise a lot of UFC fans one day.
Rockhold has faced several injuries in his career, but he will get his next chance to prove himself to the UFC audience on Jan. 15, when he fights Constantinos Philippou UFC Fight Night 35.
2. Ovince St. Preux
There’s “GSP,” but get ready for “OSP.” Ovince St. Preux, has fought twice in the UFC, both times victorious, but that’s only been a taste of what the Haitian-American, former Tennessee Volunteer is capable of. St-Preux is one of those fighters who can fight, and who is a great athlete in other sports too. When it comes to stamina and endurance, expect OSP to be one of the last men standing.
Look at his impressive feat: In Strikeforce, St. Preux (14-5) fought seven times in 321 days, winning every one of those fighters. In a span of seven weeks, he defeated Benji Radach, Abongo Humphrey, and Antwain Britt.
St-Preux was a college football and high school wrestling star. He was on his way to big things in the UFC before he ran into Gegard Mousasi in 2011 and lost a unanimous decision. That fight illustrated more that greatness of Mousasi than a weakness of St-Preux.
OSP is 2-0 in the UFC. He was expected to fight at UFC Fight Night 35 against Thiago Silva, but Silva pulled out and a replacement has not been named. It’s likely not long before OSP arrives on the main event scene at the big UFC shows.
1. Gegard Mousasi
Think about this: Mousasi was scheduled to fight Alexander Gustafsson on March 6 of this year. Gustafsson cut his eye training a week before the fight and wasn’t allowed to compete. Instead, Mousasi took on Gustafsson’s overmatched training partner Ilir Latifi and beat him by unanimous decision. What would have happened if Mousasi faced Gustafsson that night? It’s quite possible that Mousasi would have upset Gustafsson and we never would have seen Gustafsson nearly defeat Jon Jones earlier this year.
Mousasi (34-3) has lost only one-time since 2006, to Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal, in a strange fight where Mousasi had difficultly stopping Lawal’s takedowns.
Mousasi. a former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion, has wicked striking power with his feet and his hands. He’s fast, agile, and fights from awkward angles. He doesn’t waste a lot of energy in his fights, and he doesn’t get hit very often. He’s never been knocked out. He is scheduled to fight Lyoto Machida at UFC Fight Night 36. If Mousasi can stay healthy, he’s likely to be a threat in the UFC’s middleweight division and immediately emerge into title contention.