Welp, at least Strikeforce is trying.

After only being able to put together one actual title fight for its temporarily dubbed Strikeforce: Champions event, the soon-to-be-extinct promotion has actually managed to scrape together some decent bouts for its final card—or at least ones featuring some recognizable names. While the event’s new moniker, Strikeforce: Marquardt vs. Saffiedine, might not have the same vaunted ring to it, fans should expect an entertaining night of fights to close the promotion’s doors.

The night’s headlining fight is a welterweight championship contest (if in name only) between Nate Marquardt and Tarec Saffiedine, and the folks in charge know this fight is not much of a draw to anyone but the most hardcore of MMA fans. Since the departure of Nick Diaz, the Strikeforce welterweight title might be its least regarded, and the Marquardt/Saffiedine fight is only at the top of the bill on Jan. 12 because injuries and varying circumstances have prevented other title bouts from taking place that night. With that in mind, the folks in charge have made the lemonade out of lemons, as it were, and put together an undercard that could at least raise a few eyebrows, if not have MMA fans flocking to their televisions.

First, Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner Daniel Cormier will take on Dion Staring in a fight that will ostensibly serve to set Cormier up for a potential scrap against the winner of the forthcoming Junior dos Santos/Cain Velasquez bout. Staring is no pushover at 28-7, though he has fought on a total of one card that has generated a Wikipedia page (Jungle Fight 14, in a submission loss to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira). He’ll be looking to make a huge impact on the heavyweight division by handing Cormier his first professional loss, so there will be no question of his motivation. If Cormier is able to get the fight to the ground, it may not be ultra-competitive given his wrestling pedigree, but if Staring is able to avoid the takedown it could be an interesting contest.

Also on the card is former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Gegard Mousasi facing longtime MMA veteran Mike Kyle in a fight that was supposed to happen on three separate occasions, but other circumstances intervened each time. Kyle is one of those guys who looks like an absolute monster, but as his coaches point out on Fight Factory (a documentary series that focuses on the fighters of American Kickboxing Academy, where Kyle trains), he’s never quite turned the corner and become a truly elite fighter. In Mousasi, he’ll face a seasoned opponent who was one of MMA’s rising stars before dropping his Strikeforce belt to Muhammed Lawal in 2010. Since that time, Mousasi has not been defeated and will surely use his fight against Kyle to propel him once more into the upper echelons of the light heavyweight division. A win for either fighter would be good, but a decisive victory for Mousasi could put him on the short list of potential opponents for UFC light heavyweight king Jon Jones.

The other interesting later addition to the last Strikeforce card is a heavyweight fight between Josh Barnett and Nandor Guelmino. Barnett is, of course, a former UFC heavyweight champion and was most recently a finalist in Strikeforce’s Heavyweight Grand Prix, where he lost in the finals to Cormier. Prior to that loss, though, Barnett had strung together eight straight victories, though he might best be remembered in that time period for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs prior to his bout with Fedor Emelianenko, a result that effectively torpedoed Affliction as a fight promotion.

Barnett will face a relative unknown in Guelmino. An Austrian fighter who looks about as menacing as one can, Guelmino is making his American debut after compiling a record of 11-3. He has won his last seven fights and seems to be equally adept standing as on the ground. His fight with Barnett will be Guelmino’s first true test against an elite-level martial artist, and at age 36 it might be a little late for him to make a serious run at a major championship. Even still, it will be Guelmino’s most important fight by far while also serving to gauge where Barnett stacks up among his heavyweight contemporaries. A win for Barnett would likely mean a ticket back into the Octagon, but a loss could be disastrous for his career. Needless to say, both fighters should be sufficiently inspired to put on their best performances.

Elsewhere on Strikeforce’s final card are some other fighters who could make a name for themselves in the UFC. Lorenz Larkin is a 26-year-old undefeated middleweight with eight knockout wins. He was originally scheduled to face Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold for his belt before Rockhold withdrew with a wrist injury. He’ll instead face former champion Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza in what will surely be a showcase fight for Larkin.

Two Strikeforce lightweights will also be looking to get the attention of UFC President Dana White on Jan. 12. Pat Healy was supposed to contend for the lightweight championship against Gilbert Melendez before the champion pulled out of their September fight with an injury, ultimately moving Strikeforce to cancel the event entirely, and then withdrew from the rescheduled January bout as well. It goes without saying that Healy will be on a mission to show everyone why he was named the top lightweight contender in the first place. Across the cage from him will be Jorge Masvidal, another top Strikeforce 155er who himself fought (and lost to) Melendez in late 2011. A win for either fighter would likely mean a date with one of the UFC’s top-ten lightweights on the main card of a future event, while a loss would probably relegate either fighter to preliminary status.

Tim Kennedy is another middleweight fans should keep an eye on. A top contender in Strikeforce, he’ll take on Trevor Smith with a UFC contract likely on the line. Kennedy is a marketable fighter, so he’ll likely get a shot in the big show regardless, but he will surely be looking to prove he belongs among the best at 185 pounds, so expect the best from him in January.

Finally, Ryan Couture, he of the fighting Coutures, will face KJ Noons, who has hovered near the top of the Strikeforce lightweight division for some time. Noons showed a lot of potential early in his career, but against Couture he’ll be looking to re-establish himself among the sport’s lightweights after losing three of his last four fights. The younger Couture will, as always, be fighting from beneath the formidable shadow of his father, UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture, but a string of solid performances could have MMA fans soon talking about the son without mentioning his father.

Of course, this all assumes that the next month-plus go by without these fighters falling victim to an injury. If enough of these fighters are forced off the card, Showtime could do what it’s done twice before and refuse to broadcast the event. Such a move would mean an ignominious end for a once powerful MMA promotion, but it would certainly not come as a surprise to anyone.

That said, however, it would probably take a fairly catastrophic lineup change to force Showtime’s hand in such a way. After all, they’re already airing an event headlined by a little-known Belgian fighter and a guy who was bounced from the UFC after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs multiple times. Unless more than two or three of the fighters listed here are unable to compete, expect Showtime to air the card as planned.

Prior to the unfortunate events of 2012, Strikeforce might have been remembered as a decent competitor to the UFC. For a little while there, Scott Coker and his staff were able to put on some pretty entertaining cards. The Strikeforce: Miami event comes immediately to mind. That night, fans saw Nick Diaz win the Strikeforce welterweight title, watched Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos continue her dominance, witnessed an extremely entertaining striking contest between Melvin Manhoef and Robbie Lawler and saw the professional MMA debut of NFL great and Olympic bobsledder Herschel Walker. Was this card particularly important in the history of the sport? Probably not, but it sure was fun to watch.

Because of the cavalcade of fighter injuries this year, though, many fans will probably remember the promotion more for the events that weren’t held, if they remember it at all. Two consecutive canceled events will certainly leave a bad taste in the mouths of some when they reflect on Strikeforce, and its forced closure is definitely not the ending Coker was looking for.

Despite all of this, Strikeforce isn’t looking to go out with any more of a thud than it already is, so for its swan song it has put together some fights that should at least pique the interest of MMA fans. The fights on Jan. 12 aren’t going to change much in the world of MMA, but they should give fans a reason to cheer once more for Strikeforce. Perhaps then fans will have something positive by which to remember it.

Photo: Daniel Cormier (Esther Lin/Strikeforce)

About The Author

Eric Reinert
Staff Writer

Eric Reinert has been writing about mixed martial arts since 2010. Outside the world of caged combat, Eric has spent time as a news reporter, speechwriter, campaign strategist, tech support manager, landscaper and janitor. He lives in Madison, Wis.