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Rockhold & Co. face uphill battle in SF

Mixed martial arts in the new year began Saturday in Las Vegas with Strikeforce's first attempt to make good on Dana White's promise that it will deliver the same quality fans have come to expect from the UFC. That's a high hill to climb considering no one believes it can happen, not even the fighters. The point was made painfully clear in the cage when exciting Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold essentially said he didn't want to be there. Welcome to Gilbert Melendez's world, Luke.

Strikeforce is edging toward zombie territory, and descriptions like "empty" and "soulless" could define the organization in 2012. On television, Saturday's card resembled a bizarro-WEC, which was all about soul before Zuffa folded it into the UFC ranks 12 months ago.

That notion can shift fast, though. Much depends on the talent Strikeforce brings into the fold and how it's marketed, which is going to be a yearlong battle for the promotion and its network partner Showtime. Even if that happens and compelling fights are booked, Strikeforce may not get a fair shake from fans and media. It's simply not the UFC, or UFC Lite, and while this attitude stinks, it's nonetheless pervasive.

From A to F, here's how the fighters looked:

Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.