Following Ronda Rousey’s dominant title defense on Saturday, Aug. 18, Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker was asked numerous questions about who the women’s 135-pound would face next. However, it is not only Rousey who is need of an opponent, as welterweight champ Nate Marquardt and middleweight kingpin Luke Rockhold are also without announced opponents.

At the post-fight press conference in San Diego, Coker was noncommittal on the path forward for any of his current champions. Other than lightweight title-holder Gilbert Melendez—who faces Pat Healy on Sept. 29—Coker would not reveal who was next for any of his roster.

With the promotion suddenly holding monthly events, the depth of its roster is something that is going to have to be juggled carefully by Coker and matchmaker Sean Shelby. After the initial purchase of the promotion by Zuffa, events were far less frequent. While the new push is great from a fighter’s perspective, because they can stay active, can the promotion find true contenders in each division without numerous rematches or bringing in fighters from outside the organization?

The promotion is already dissolving the heavyweight division following its October headliner between Daniel Cormier and UFC-crossover Frank Mir. And its light heavyweight division is largely in shambles following Dan Henderson’s departure to the UFC, Muhammed Lawal’s exodus to Bellator, Rafael Cavalcante’s suspension and Gegard Mousasi’s knee surgery.  But even if you look at the promotion’s other divisions, there is doubt about who is at the top of the ladder.

Rousey was quick to call out former featherweight Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos after her win, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t want to see that fight. After all, despite the increasing talent pool in women’s MMA, there is no clear-cut challenger for Rousey’s belt.

The same can be said for Strikeforce’s welterweight division. Following a decision win over Roger Bowling, Tarec Saffiedine begged for a crack at the newly-crowned champ Marquardt. Yet, when Coker was asked about the match-up at the post-fight press conference, he opted for a “we’ll have to see” response.

Coker’s unwillingness to commit to an opponent for Marquardt may stem from something unrelated to Saffiedine. While speaking with The MMA Corner at both the San Diego and Portland events over the past two months, Coker has repeatedly mentioned an outside signing that has yet to become official. Until the ink is signed, it’s unclear who it could be, but that may be a factor in why Saffiedine’s 6-1 record with the promotion is being passed over at this time. Whether that is the right approach is something that only time will tell.

The same could be said about the middleweight division, where Luke Rockhold’s next challenger is yet to be revealed. Rockhold acknowledged after defeating Tim Kennedy in Portland that a rematch with Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza made sense. After Jacare’s 41-second knockout of Derek Brunson in San Diego, the Brazilian appears to be in the driver’s seat for a chance at revenge against the man who took his belt. Even Coker appeared to favor the fight while speaking to the media, but he was not prepared to announce it without further discussions with the fighters’ management teams.

By no means is Coker’s approach wrong, but with the increase in events and only four fighters holding championship belts, the curiosity about what’s next for each fighter is only natural. Coker’s “wait and see” methodology is quite the contrast from UFC President Dana White, who has been much more transparent with title bouts and No. 1 contender fights of late. And until Coker follows suit, the speculation and uncertainty surrounding his champions will only continue to grow. Thus, for the time being, any guesses as to the identities of the top contenders are as good as the next.

Photo: Strikeforce welterweight champion Nate Marquardt (L) with Scott Coker (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)

  • peter

    I find it unbelieveble that Gegard Mousasi (32-3) who is just 26-year old doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. I’m mesmerized by his level of talent combined with the smooth style & calm composure he exhibits in the midst of combat. His stand-up is the best in the whole light heavy-weight division. He talked about improving his TDD and working on his stamina. . It wasn’t all that long ago that Gegard was this young, uber-talented fighter with seemingly unlimited potential, but now all of a sudden he’s a guy rehabbing a serious injury, under lengthy contract with SF, who might be pushing 30 by the time he breaks free to the UFC. Ugh, what a waste of talent