It was a long and torturous death, but Strikeforce is now all but buried, just another promotion overtaken by UFC parent company Zuffa and assimilated into the UFC machine.  Yet, unlike Pride FC, which was already a rotting corpse when Zuffa bought its assets and acquired its fighters, or the WEC, which maintained a strong and consistent run under Zuffa management right up until its official merger with the UFC, Strikeforce’s last year was a tale of a slowly sinking boat with a dark cloud of uncertainty hanging above it as numerous events were canceled and fighters grew restless.  While the boat might be coming to rest on the ocean floor, joining the carcasses of those that came before it, that cloud of uncertainty still remains.

On Thursday night, TMZ reported that Strikeforce’s Jan. 12 show—a stacked card featuring three title affairs and almost all of Strikeforce’s remaining stars sans women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey—would be the promotion’s swan song.  In addition, TMZ reported that Rousey would become the first female fighter ever in the UFC, and that she would immediately become the UFC women’s bantamweight champion.  The news was confirmed by others soon after, and UFC President Dana White even tweeted a smiley face, something many took to indicate confirmation of the news from the man himself.

The news has its positives.  Rousey is now a pioneer for women’s MMA, leading the charge into the UFC’s Octagon.  Gilbert Melendez, the long-suffering poster boy for the purgatory that is Strikeforce, will join a roster full of UFC lightweights that can provide a much stiffer test for whether or not Melendez really belongs near or at the top of the consensus lightweight rankings.  And the UFC roster receives an injection of top-shelf talent that it can provide with regular opportunities for a paycheck.  Yet, despite all that, there is still a sense of uncertainty in the air.

For women’s MMA, there’s hope.  But will that hope be realized in the form of an enduring women’s division under the UFC banner?  Or will it only be as long-lived as Rousey’s own winning streak?

Dana White, remember, is a very recent convert when it comes to supporting women’s MMA, and the focus of his newfound interest in the division is Rousey.  A title fight with Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos must look extremely tantalizing to White, and even follow-up title defenses by Rousey against Miesha Tate and/or Sara McMann could keep the UFC president interested.  But if Rousey loses, does she remain marketable enough for Zuffa to continue to invest in the division?  Does her conqueror—be it Santos, McMann, Tate or someone else—succeed as a championship draw? And if they don’t, what keeps the UFC from neglecting or outright abandoning the division?

It’s hard to imagine the UFC stocking a full division of female fighters, though it’s not out of the question. Initially, the promotion might be satisfied with lining Rousey up against its small existing roster of fighters while keeping an eye on rising all-women’s promotion Invicta Fights for future title challengers.  The two promotions already have a working relationship, and Invicta would benefit from having women fighters who also qualify as UFC veterans on its roster.  For the UFC, the most likely approach is making Rousey the focal point and bringing in one new fighter after another to challenge her. This way, the UFC gets the best of both worlds—it promotes the high-profile women’s match-ups and goes the conservative route with the remainder of the division.

But if Rousey loses, the trial run might meet an abrupt end.  It’s doubtful that White and the UFC brain trust sees Cyborg, Tate, McMann, Shayna Baszler or any of the other high-ranking 135ers not named Rousey as the same force for putting bodies in seats or reeling in additional pay-per-view revenue.  Rousey versus Cyborg as a co-headliner at Cowboy Stadium—as has been suggested on Twitter—makes for a nice complement to a male-headlined show and provides for a healthy dose of fan interest.  In other words, it could generate a higher PPV buy rate and lead to a sellout at the stadium.  Take Rousey’s name out of the equation, though, and the UFC almost assuredly does not see the same profit margin.

Meanwhile, for the men at the top of Strikeforce’s roster, there’s the promise of regular opportunities to fight and the promise of relevancy in fighting UFC competition that is universally regarded as the best in the world. And for the three champions to emerge from the Jan. 12 show, there could even be title shots on the horizon, especially in the case of Melendez.  But what about Strikeforce’s other fighters?  Jorge Masvidal expressed his desire to move to the UFC when Strikeforce’s demise was but a rumor, and Isaac Vallie-Flagg, on Thursday night after the news broke, took to Twitter with a simple question of whether this meant that he was now unemployed.

That’s a relevant question for anyone outside of Rousey, Heavyweight Grand Prix winner Daniel Cormier, the men with belts around their waists come Jan. 13 and possibly a few top contenders, such as Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.  For men like Isaac Vallie-Flagg and Jorge Masvidal, the question is centered on their futures with Zuffa.  Will the mid-tier fighters—those with title aspirations but minus the marquee headlining names—have a home in the Octagon, or will they be forced to look elsewhere for a paycheck?

One suggestion that arose on Twitter was to utilize these men for a season of The Ultimate Fighter, and that’s actually a brilliant idea.  It could revitalize the show while giving a larger contingent of these warriors a chance to earn their way onto the UFC roster. Another effect of such an undertaking would be to familiarize the UFC fan base, which may not be familiar with the Showtime-broadcast Strikeforce, with this new incoming legion of fighters.

Even if that isn’t the route the UFC opts to go, there are at least a small percentage of fighters worthy of consideration from a Strikeforce roster that features 65 men. Undoubtedly, some of these men are superior to those on the lowest rungs of UFC’s ladder.  It seems fair to assume that those with the most promise will at the very least receive a look from the UFC, but there’s no guarantee.

That leaves both the men and the ladies of Strikeforce under this cloud of uncertainty.  The fighters remain mostly in the dark as to Zuffa’s exact plans for what comes next.  Even the shuttering of Strikeforce isn’t technically “official” just yet.  For now, it’s all a game of wait-and-see.

However, regardless of what happens to either group, the best thing to come out of this is that everyone can put Strikeforce in the rearview mirror.

Fighters like Masvidal can once again take control of their careers, rather than sitting for long stretches of time without getting an opportunity to fight—and by extension, an opportunity to pay the bills.  And even if the UFC’s interest in women’s MMA wanes following a Rousey loss, the important thing is that the ladies will have made history by setting foot inside the Octagon to compete, while also proving that with the right popular fighter, it will be possible to do so again in the future—they’ve opened the mind of Dana White to WMMA.  And for a fighter like Gilbert Melendez, the frustration of being a champion doubted by fans will come to an end as he’ll have all the opportunities in the world to ascend the UFC’s lightweight mountain.

When it comes to this cloud of uncertainty, at least there’s now a silver lining.

Photo: Strikeforce Welterweight Champion Nate Marquardt (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)