Esther Lin for Strikeforce
Once considered the second best mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion on the planet, Strikeforce will close up shop for good after the New Year. Here's a look back at the little engine that could, from its rebirth in 2006 to its acquisition by Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in 2011.
Finally, and somewhat, sadly, the demise of Strikeforce is near.
Like a long-overdue breakup, everyone knew the organization was on its last legs, but first all sides involved in the relationship needed to figure out how they were going to part ways.
On Thursday evening, two major announcements rocked the mixed martial arts (MMA) world. First, it was revealed that the organization's final show is scheduled to take place on Jan. 12, 2013, featuring three title fights along with the return of Heavyweight Grand Prix winner Daniel Cormier. Second, and perhaps equally as significant, Strikeforce women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey will lead the unprecedented charge of women joining the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) roster.
One part of the announcement is the end of an era, while the other is a new beginning with limitless possibilities.
Everyone can agree that when Scott Coker and Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment sold the Strikeforce brand to Zuffa (the parent company of the UFC) in March 2011, the organization was never the same. Prior to the purchase, there was something about the way Strikeforce did business that was encouraging for fans of the sport looking for an alternative viewing option outside of the Octagon.
After years of being a kickboxing promotion, Strikeforce's first-ever MMA event was a co-promotion with the now-defunct Elite XC in March 2006. Headlined by a middleweight bout between former UFC champion Frank Shamrock and Cesar Gracie (best known as coach of the Diaz brothers), the promotion's first show was solid, at the time breaking the North American gate for an MMA event at 18,265.
From that moment forward, that's what Strikeforce could really be bes described as: a solid promotion.
In an MMA landscape that is dominated by the UFC, Strikeforce found a place. The organization never tried to thump its chest and say it was going to overtake the UFC or any crazy talk we've heard from promoters in the past. It was a happy No. 2.
There were many significant moments for Strikeforce MMA, with the most recent standout being the 2011-2012 Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix. Like many tournaments, the Grand Prix suffered from a number of hitches because of injuries and scheduling conflicts; however, the eight-man field of competitors featured some of the best heavyweights in the world.
Indeed, at the inception of the tournament, Strikeforce's heavyweight division was deeper than the UFC, something no promotion aside from Pride FC in its heyday can brag about.
With fighters like Nick Diaz, Cung Le, Alistair Overeem, Gilbert Melendez and Fedor Emelianenko on the roster, Strikeforce, in its prime, had enough names to garner fan interest for at least one fight per event.
The organization also featured something the UFC did not in female MMA.
Back when UFC President Dana White was saying women would never, ever fight in the UFC, Strikeforce was attracting 576,000 viewers on Showtime by putting Gina Carano and Cris 'Cyborg' Santos in the main event of one of its events on Showtime.
Carano teed up the ball for women's MMA in 2009, however, it was Olympic Bronze medalist Ronda Rousey who knocked the ball out of the park.
The UFC president is smitten over Rousey and it goes without saying White's fondness for "Rowdy" is 99 percent of the reason female fighters are going to step inside the Octagon for the first time ever in 2013. Rousey is a star who can transcend barriers few other fighters can and it only makes sense for White to want someone like that in his promotion.
How viable is female MMA without Rousey? Who knows. And the fact the UFC is willing to bring in a women's division on the back of the 25-year-old shows its confidence in her ability.
There's really no telling what impact women's MMA is going to have on the UFC if any. The debates of how a woman punching another woman on national television is a turnoff or how the move will bring in a new set of viewers can go on all day. However, none of that information can truly be determined until after the fact.
Historically, when the UFC introduces a new division it takes a long time for fans to become comfortable with it and generate interest. While the comfort level isn't there for many people, the division of female MMA already has a star in Rousey with which many viewers are already familiar.
What's most important is female fighters train just as hard as men and sacrifice just as much, so it's only fair they are provided with the same opportunities and exposure as their male counterparts.
While details regarding the end of Strikeforce beyond women coming to the UFC are unknown, the organization will be remembered for its strong cards, promotion of women's MMA, ability to showcase up-and-coming talent and a place where high-level fighters could make a respectable living outside of the UFC.
Unfortunately, with two of its final three events canceled, Strikeforce's latter years may not be remembered as such, but prior to being purchased by Zuffa, the company was one of few to stand on its own as something special.
Strikeforce may be dead in just a few months time, but through the stars it created and female MMA, the memory of the organization as well as its contribution to the sport will never be forgotten.