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History in the making: Strikeforce beats UFC for MMA attendance record with 'Shamrock vs. Gracie'

Strikeforce probably had high expectations for its cagefighting debut, considering it was also the first mixed martial arts (MMA) event ever sanctioned in California. Turns out, they probably weren't high enough.


On January 12, 2013, Strikeforce will broadcast its final mixed martial arts (MMA) event with "Marquardt vs. Saffeidine," which emanates live via the Showtime network from the Chesapeake Energy Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

The promotion, once considered a major player in combat sports and arguably the number two MMA organization in the world, will limp across the finish line with a tattered fight card -- originally titled "Champions" -- but now cobbled together with whatever spare parts were still operational (and within easy reach).

Injuries, in addition to greener pastures under the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) banner, saw to that.

Long before Strikeforce was absorbed by its Las Vegas rivals, the fight game's little engine that could, did, by delivering consistently entertaining telecasts and cementing its place in the annals of cagefighting history by beating UFC to the punch when it came to industry "firsts."

Like signing Fedor Emelianenko.

But long before the "Last Emperor" crowned himself king of San Jose, Strikeforce was doing things ZUFFA could not (or would not) do, despite its massive operating budget and slow but steady mainstream acceptance. There was a time when the Hexagon was the only place female fighters like Gina Carano could compete on a national level.

Co-promotions with EliteXC, DREAM and M-1 Global? Yeah, they did that too.

But despite everything Strikeforce accomplished, there is perhaps one achievement that not even UFC President Dana White and his faithful followers could spin. And there's no question it's the one that may have bugged him for years to come.

Strikeforce sold out. Literally.

On March 10, 2006, "Shamrock vs. Gracie" broke the all-time attendance record for an MMA fight card in North America, packing 18,265 fans into San Jose's HP Pavilion in California, easily besting the previous record of 14,562 set the year before by UFC 52: "Liddell vs. Couture 2" at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

When all was said and done, Strikeforce sold 17,465 tickets, a record that still stands for indoor MMA events in the United States.

Future cards like UFC 68: "Uprising" would eclipse the total attendance record (19,079), but still fell short in tickets sold with 17,358. The North American record is held by UFC 129: "St. Pierre vs. Shields" in Toronto, which drew an astounding 55,724 fight fans.

But what makes the Strikeforce number so special?

It was not only the promotion's debut in cagefighting (originally doing work as a kickboxing organization), it was the first-ever sanctioned MMA event in California. It also marked the first appearance of Frank Shamrock in nearly three years, who at the time was on an 11-0-1 tear.

Here's what the Strikeforce: "Shamrock vs. Gracie" fight card looked like:

Frank Shamrock def. Cesar Gracie via knockout (punch)
Cung Le def. Mike Altman via knockout (punch)
Clay Guida def. Josh Thomson via unanimous decision
Eugene Jackson def. Jorge Ortiz via unanimous decision
Mike Kyle vs. Krzysztof Soszynski ended in a technical draw (thumb to Soszynski's eye)
Brian Ebersole def. Matt Horwich via unanimous decision
Daniel Puder def. Jesse Fujarczyk via submission (rear-naked choke)
Gilbert Melendez def. Harris Sarmiento via submission (punches)
Crafton Wallace def. Ray Routh via knockout (Knee)
Nate Diaz def. Tony Juares via technical knockout (punches)
Scott Graham def. Chris Yee via submission (rear-naked choke)

Shamrock would smash Gracie in just 21 seconds, setting up a feud that culminated in a middleweight fight opposite Gracie's star student, Nick Diaz, a few years later. Several of the participating fighters, including Clay Guida and Nate Diaz, among others, would find success within the ranks of UFC later in their respective careers.

What a long, strange trip it's been.

The upcoming Strikeforce: "Marquardt vs. Saffeidine" event (more on that here) won't be setting any records, attendance or otherwise, but will be historic in its own right, joining EliteXC, PRIDE, Affliction and WEC in the UFC cemetery.

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