At the conclusion of his Strikeforce contract, middleweight champion Jake Shields opted to vacate his title to explore greener pastures under the Zuffa banner.
The move would hardly be considered surprising, which is why Strikeforce officials had already begun discussions about a possible 185-pound tournament to crown his successor. Preliminary talk about the long term goals for the division followed Cung Le's victory over Scott Smith at Strikeforce: "Fedor vs. Werdum " back in June.
Except Le wanted no part of it.
No matter. Plans were soon in place to hold a four-man tournament at the upcoming "Houston" event on August 21 with Tim Kennedy, Ronaldo Souza, Robbie Lawler and Matt Lindland participating.
Then on July 10, the promotion announced "Kennedy vs Souza" for the vacant division title. Just like that the tournament was kaput with no explanation. Fans and media speculated that perhaps Strikeforce just didn't have enough talent to fill the brackets.
According to some sleuthing by Matt Erickson at MMA Fighting, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) ultimately put the kibosh on any tournament plans for the Toyota Center.
From TDLR administrator Greg Alvarez:
"[Strikeforce] asked if it was possible and I told them that when Tough Man was outlawed, the state also did away with tournaments back in 2001."
The promotion could have opted to utilize their DREAM relationship to execute an elimination tournament at an overseas event, but it's understandable that getting the belt around someone's waist is a high priority.
In fact, having the tournament nixed may have been a blessing in disguise, since it would be tough to sell Robbie Lawler and Matt Lindland, who are both 1-2 in their past three fights, as credible division champions.
Perhaps that's why the most obvious choice is Kennedy vs. Souza.
And the winner will face...