Strikeforce executive vice president Scott Coker said this week he believes Saturday’s card has the potential to be the best show his organization has ever done. Meanwhile, the rest of us stand around whispering about how long the embattled fight promotion can even survive.
In that regard, maybe it’s fitting that the future of several of this weekend’s competitors appears inexorably tied to the prospects of Strikeforce itself. With the fate of fighters like Fedor Emelianenko, Dan Henderson and Paul Daley -- not to mention the entire women’s division -- looking more and more unstable as Strikeforce trends closer to an assumed eventual absorption into UFC, it goes without saying that a lot could be on the line Saturday.
Here’s a glance at who has the most to gain and the most to lose at Strikeforce: Fedor versus Henderson:
Most to gain:
1. Miesha Tate: As noted earlier this week, Tate appears to have all the makings of a breakout star in a Strikeforce women’s division hurt by the absence of its two biggest stars -- Gina Carano and Cristiane Santos. To fulfill that promise, she’ll have to beat Marloes Coenen for the 135-pound title. Tate and Coenen have said they hope their performance goes a long way to showing Zuffa brass that female MMA can be a valuable future part of the company. That, along with an opponent whose submission ability could pose a threat to Tate’s takedown-oriented style, seems like a lot to heap on a 24-year-old who hasn’t fought in almost a year. It’ll be pretty impressive if she can pull it off.
2. Tyron Woodley: Imagine how Woodley’s career might have been different had he not reportedly been one of the final cuts prior to filming season nine of “The Ultimate Fighter.” Instead, James Wilks won that season’s welterweight crown and has since put up an underwhelming 2-2 record in the Octagon. Meanwhile, Woodley has had to build his reputation without a ton of help, netting six straight victories in Strikeforce dating to June 2009. With the welterweight championship vacant after Nick Diaz became the first to cross (back) over to the UFC, a win over Daley could do double-duty -- providing his career its first real signature moment while also putting him on the doorstep of a title shot.
3. Dan Henderson: Henderson could just as easily fall into the “most to lose” category if things get ugly for him against Emelianenko. Especially considering those troubling reports that Zuffa might cut him loose from his bloated contract if he doesn't come out on top. Still, the rewards might outweigh the risks for Hendo against a former heavyweight great considered by most to be in rapid decline. Even with our doubts about Fedor’s future in the sport, moving up a weight class and capturing a win over him would still look great on Henderson’s already extensive resume. Considering the victory would give him three in a row after back-to-back knockouts over Renato Sobral and Rafael Cavalcante, it would also put a good bit of distance between him and his loss to Jake Shields in April 2010, when it looked like Henderson didn’t really want to fight any longer than five minutes.
Most to lose:
1. Fedor Emelianenko: It won’t be unexpected if Fedor loses to Henderson, then retires, but it’ll still be sad. After going nearly 10 years and 28 fights without a loss, Emelianenko built an almost mythic reputation in a sport where he is still arguably the greatest all time. Without overstatement, if this weekend is the last time we see him in the cage, it’ll mark the end of an era in the hearts and minds of longtime fans. Just goes to show, the adage is true: Time, too much ice cream and a complete refusal to ever alter your approach even as the rest of your industry passes you by will make a fool out of all of us.
2. Paul Daley: Daley is 8-2 in his past 10 fights, but you still get the feeling Zuffa is just waiting around to fire the guy, don't you? Since severely limiting his career options by punching Josh Koscheck after the bell at UFC 113, each of the 28-year-old Daley’s moves takes on added significance. The fight against Woodley could mean the difference between a shot at the Strikeforce 170-pound title and having the only thing in his future to look forward to be an as-yet unscheduled BAMMA main event against Nate Marquardt. If those are Daley’s options, he better hope he’s got the wherewithal to choose the former.
3. Robbie Lawler and Scott Smith (tie): It seems like a lifetime since a rematch between these two drew an estimated 2.6 million viewers to EliteXC’s second show on CBS almost exactly three years ago. Lawler won the doomed company’s middleweight strap that night but has since gone 2-3 and faces what amounts to a must-win against the very tough Tim Kennedy on Saturday. Likewise, Smith has lost three of his past four and conceded this week he likely won’t have a job with Strikeforce if he can’t get past 24-year-old prospect Tarec Saffiedine. It'd be a shame to see these guys hit the unemployment line, but that could be the reality if either suffers another loss.