Strikeforce’s farewell show, which takes place this Saturday live from Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City and features a headliner of Strikeforce welterweight champion Nate Marquardt against top challenger Tarec Saffiedine, is a bittersweet feeling to many involved with the promotion. That is especially evident when it comes to lightweights K.J. Noons and Ryan Couture, who are set to battle on the Showtime Extreme portion of Saturday’s card.

One hand sees the bitterness, as very few people like saying goodbye, especially to Strikeforce, given what the company accomplished in its seven-year run. Fans always appreciated the promotion’s cards, even if the matchmaking proved questionable at times, and while Strikeforce never received much of the credit it earned, it did have its own knack for featuring its prospects and building them up as much as possible.

That being said, the other hand sees the sweetness of the future, which will look plenty brighter for either one or both of these two lightweights on Saturday night. With Strikeforce closing its doors, one would think the winner of this affair will lose the platform on which to prove themselves, but with the UFC’s deal with Fox in place, it’s hard to argue that the UFC provides an even more intriguing platform than prospects like Noons and Couture had in Strikeforce.

Yet, for the moment, we must not run too far ahead here. There are questions about Noons and Couture that must be answered when the two collide.

The key questions surrounding Noons, the EliteXC veteran and former Strikeforce welterweight title contender, deal with his progression as a fighter. Nobody dared to sleep on Noons from his time in EliteXC until now, and he still demands respect because everyone is aware of the man’s arsenal. However, a lack of promotion and therefore a lack of attention attribute themselves to Noons’ status as something of a minor star.

Not to underrate the man who made Nick Diaz work harder than hard for a unanimous decision win in a 2010 classic (and defeated Diaz three years earlier), but even Noons’ best efforts to really break through as a fighter have not led him to the results he aims for in his career. A win over Couture may or may not help matters immediately, especially if Couture creates reasonable doubts about a decision that goes the way of Noons. But the big picture tells a different story. On the UFC stage, a win or even an impressive showing against Couture shows UFC fans that the striker can definitely frustrate some of the UFC’s top lightweights.

Of course, when it comes to the question of how Noons fares in the UFC, we must talk about the wrestlers and ground wizards as well. We must discuss these types of fighters because Noons usually struggles against them, and against Couture, he faces a fighter well versed in every area of the sport.

In a nutshell, Couture knows how to work his way to a submission, as well as knowing how to outstrike his foes the way every “well-rounded” fighter should. If he sees an opening to find a knockout, he will go for it.

Although we speak highly of Couture as he comes into this fight with Noons, some question if the fanfare behind the prospect exists legitimately or if exists solely because of his last name. Others may question the record, specifically the fact that Couture’s lone defeat came against under-the-radar prospect Matt Ricehouse, but don’t forget that while Ryan stands at 5-1 without a title to his name, his father, Randy, won the UFC heavyweight title in his fourth pro bout, only to lose two straight bouts after.

If the younger Couture’s time has arrived to join the UFC, he’ll prove it against Noons. But before the fight happens, how do we know either man will even look decent? Will we see the best trained and best conditioned versions of Couture and Noons come fight night, considering that both will fight for the final time under the Strikeforce banner with UFC dreams in the balance?

Let’s answer both of those questions right now.

First of all, if fans and pundits could predict action-for-action what would happen in a fight, they would forego watching these fight cards altogether. But in what could turn into a technical battle, someone’s technique will pay the larger share of dividends towards their victory, so someone will find a way to make themselves look impressive in some respect. As for the question of whether or not the best versions of these two lightweights will show up on Saturday, there should be little doubt, as both men will come out conditioned and well prepared for what they will encounter.

Will both men put on enough of a show to make it into the UFC? They certainly can, and one can argue that Noons’ submission defense could in fact spark interest in the struggle for dominance on the ground. But more than likely, this clash of the “jack of all trades” and the vaunted striker will aim to provide a more clear-cut, one-sided affair. Nevertheless, the skill sets regularly employed by both men definitely justify the logic behind bringing both into the UFC. Depending on how much they evolve in the sport, one of the two could easily see a title fight while the other hits gatekeeper status.

Mind you, “gatekeeper” in this context falls under that which UFC President Dana White classifies as the definition, referring to the man most contenders must defeat in order to break through to the upper echelon of the division, and not necessarily a fighter who struggles against the top of the heap despite showing the ability to make it to the top.

Regardless, if MMA fans expect either of these two men to challenge for UFC gold—or claim it—they almost immediately expect the prospect Couture over the veteran Noons. But for all we know, Noons could find himself with UFC gold around his waist while Couture takes time to really find his stride and hit his prime as a fighter.

Photo: Ryan Couture (blue trunks) (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.