The UFC is the premier Mixed Martial Arts organization in the sport today and is home to some of the best fighters on the planet including Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre, Jose Aldo and Jon Jones. Just as important as big names are to the company’s success is the depth of the divisions in which the superstars rule over.
At any one time in any given division you have the champ, a #1 contender, 3-4 fighters on the brink of a title shot, a couple veterans that can make things interesting, and a group of young guys that are the future of division. Quickly taking a look at the UFC’s Middleweight division we can play this theory out:
The depth of this division and others like it give Dana White and Joe Silva multiple options going forward when it comes to putting events together and creating interest amongst the fans.
When Zuffa purchased the second biggest MMA company in the World, Strikeforce, it was expected that the promotion would be folded and the best fighters would then be transfer over and make their Octagon debuts in the months ahead. After some minor changes, including the dissolution of the Heavyweight division and a handful of elite fighters moving to the UFC, a deal was struck that would keep Strikeforce as a separate entity. Strikeforce boast a decent, but shallow talent pool of fighters to build their events on which has resulted in a lack of interested in the #2 promotion in the world. For example, the Middleweight division has three elite fighters on top; Champion Luke Rockhold, former Champ Ronaldo Souza and top contender Tim Kennedy. Robbie Lawler adds veteran depth along with Keith Jardine and a handful of decent young fighters rounding out the top 10.
If Zuffa wishes to maintain Strikeforce as a legitimate and profitable #2 company it’s be time to open the purse strings and bring in some talent to create both new matchup opportunities and interest amongst its waning fan base. I’ve compiled a list of potential additions for the four male division and what role they could play upon signing with the company.
*The UFC is most likely to sign top end talent like Hector Lombard and Eddie Alvarez when they eventually become free agents so I have excluded them from the list.
Light Heavyweight Division:
Jimi Manuwa (11-0-0)– (pictured) The 32 year old undefeated British banger made his BAMMA debut in late 2011 earning his seventh straight win by knockout or TKO. He has stopped all 11 of his opponents before the end of the second round, but has yet to be tested against top level competition. He would need to prove himself early with win but in a division lacking a champion he could become an immediate contender. Proposed 1stFight: vs Marcos De Lima, with a win: vs Ovince St. Pruex
Vinny Magaleas (9-5-0)– The former Ultimate Fighter finalist doesn’t boast the most extensive record when compared to others on the list, but has been on a pretty decent role of late with 5 straight wins all by submission or TKO. In that span the 2nd degree BJJ Black belt captured the vacant M-1 Global Light Heavyweight Championship and then was successful in his first title defence. His current status as M-1 Champ should warrant him an early opportunity on the main card, potentially battling in a title eliminator bout. With King Mo out of action, Gegard Mousasi and Rafael Feijao should be given the first crack at the vacant champion, leaving Mike Kyle without an opponent. Proposed 1st Fight: vs Mike Kyle #1 contender bout, with a win: Title Shot vs Mousasi/Feijao winner
Anthony Johnson (10-4-0)– With the Nate Marquardt signing, the possibility of Johnson getting a chance inside the Hexagon has become a real possibility. Johnson is a talented fighter that would still be with the UFC if it weren’t for his weight cutting issues. Most likely he will need at least one fight away from Zuffa before getting the call to prove he can get his weight issues under control, but with the lack of legitimate challengers in the division this is certainly a real possibility. Johnson could even garner himself a title shot in his first fight, remember Keith Jardine got a shot in his Middleweight debut, but let’s give him a warm up fight first. Proposed 1st Fight: vs Nate James, with a win vs Luke Rockhold or current champ
Mamed Khalidov (24-4-1)-(pictured) with 23 of 24 wins by submission or knockout Khalidov is a proven finisher. In his last 3 fights he has submission wins over former UFC fighters Matt Lindland, Jesse Taylor, and James Irvin along with a knockout win over Jorge Santiago back in 2009. Khalidov has the talent and could get the call to the UFC, but a year fighting for Strikeforce would certainly help to build his reputation with North American Fight fans. Like Johnson, Khalidov could find himself fighting for the title within months of making his promotional debut, but he’d have to wait for the Rockhold vs Kennedy and most like Jacare getting the winner. Proposed 1stFight: vs Adlan Amagov, with a win vs Derek Brunson
Gerald Harris (20-4-0) & Patrick Cote (16-7-0)– Cote and Harris are UFC castoffs, but they have the potential to bring excitement and depth to the division. Since being cut, both have won 3 fights in a row and should be given an opportunity to return to the big stage, but with the UFC’s roster size at an all-time high Strikeforce is a perfect destination. The possibility of either fighter earning a shot at the title would most likely require at least 2 wins and at the very least they would provide name opponents for other title contenders. Proposed 1st Fights: Harris vs Lumumba Sayers & Cote vs Robbie Lawler, with a win: Harris vs Jacare Souza (if not champ) & Cote vs Tim Kennedy (if not Champ)
Jay Hieron (22-5-0)– Another former Strikeforce competitor, his first stay with the promotion came to an end as the result of a contract dispute. Hieron wanted a title shot against then Champion Nick Diaz, and with the current state of the division Hieron would be moved right to the top of the list of contenders. Hieron is still a member of Bellator, but after winning the Welterweight tournament and then losing a close and controversial decision to champ Ben Askren there is potential for Hieron making the move to avoid waiting for another shot. It is expected that Tyron Woodley and Nate Marquardt will matchup for the title, but the division will need title challengers and Hieron is a perfect candidate for that. Proposed 1st Fight: vs Tarec Saffiedine, with a win vs winner of Woodley/Marquardt
John Howard (15-7-0)– Howard is another real possibility as he currently doesn’t have permanent employment, having only fought once since losing his UFC roster spot. Howard started his Octagon career with 4 straight wins but then ran into a buzz saw in Jake Ellenberger, dropped a tough decision to Thiago Alves, and then struggle against veteran Matt Brown. Doomsday is an entertaining fighter who has a lot to offer the division and should garner main card status from the start with his aggressive non-stop style. Proposed 1st Fight: vs Evangelista Santos, with a win vs Paul Daley
Dan Hornbuckle (22-5-0)– (pictured) After dropping back to back Bellator Quarter Final matchups, Hornbuckle was dropped from the company. Hornbuckle has won 20 of 22 fights by submission or knockout and has wins over some decent names including Nick Thompson and current Strikeforce fighters Justin Wilcox and Tyler Stinson. Defeats in 3 of his last 4 isn’t the greatest resume to make your Strikeforce debut on, but an opportunity at on the big stage and a fresh start should serve to refocus him. Proposed 1stFight: Nah-Shon Burrell, with a win vs Kazuo Misaki
Dan Lauzon (16-4-0)– Lauzon has big fight experience with 2 fights in the UFC and a win over Bobby Green while fighting under the Affliction banner and he is only 23 years old. He had a lot of personal issues that impacted in his in cage performance, but he has since re-focused and picked up 4 impressive 4 win since being cut from the UFC. Lauzon has a tonne of potential and sharing a name with older brother Joe will help him to earn some fan recognition. Fighting a division with a dominant champ, Lauzon would be given the opportunity to work his way up the rank and potentially contend for a title shot in the not to distance future. Probable 1st fight: vs Ryan Couture, with a win vs JZ Cavalcante
Jamie Varner (19-6-2)– (pictured) the former WEC Champ has gone through a minor resurgence since being dropped when WEC was absorbed into the UFC. Winning 3 of his last 4 Varner may not be ready to return to the elite level, potentially never returning, but Strikeforce would be an excellent proving ground for the veteran fighter. Varner is not that far removed from a memorable set of fights with Donald Cerrone and a WEC unification bout with now UFC Champ Ben Henderson. If Varner finds success upon his return to the big stage he adds a solid name to the ranks and if not he will help to build future title contenders. Probable 1st fight: vs Billy Evangelista, with a win vs Caros Fodor
Alexander Sarnavskiy (18-0-0)– Sarnavskiy is not the most recognizable name for North American fight fans but he would bring an interesting dynamic to the division. Currently fighting for M-1 Global Sarnavskiy has fought twice State side so if he were to make the jump it wouldn’t be a totally new experience. Similar to Lauzon, Sarnavskiy is young, 23, and could move to the UFC after a couple years of fighting for Strikeforce has provided him with valuable experience and exposure. With a perfect record, but lacking familiarity he would probably require at least a pair of impressive wins to get a title shot but the scenario isn’t totally unrealistic. Probable 1st fight: Bobby Green, with a win vs Justin Wilcox
It is always fun to play General Manager and this exercise is nothing more than that. Most of the fighters on the list are already committed to other organizations and with the possibility that Strikeforce could be shut down upon the completion of their deal with Showtime the likelihood of Zuffa investing too much money into the company is limited. Dana White’s early testament to ‘business as usual’ was nothing more than an attempt to quell the early excitement and anticipation arising from the Strikeforce acquisition. Based on the recent struggles of recent events to draw significant number in this writer’s personal opinion, Strikeforce will most likely be merged into the UFC at the first opportunity. That being said that doesn’t mean we won’t a few fighter acquisition as demonstrated with the Marquardt signing, maybe even a few from this list. Only time will tell how everything will play out, but at least for now we can speculate and have a little fun.