Before Strikeforce’s final show this past weekend, we already knew a few names to look out for. Daniel Cormier and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza signed their UFC contracts prior to fight week, with Souza looking for an April return to action after fighting Ed Herman in the main-card opener. Additionally, Gegard Mousasi and Nate Marquardt talked about going to the UFC, with Marquardt assuming he would return.

The rest of the combatants on the card held less certainty about their futures, though one can argue Tim Kennedy and Roger Gracie would’ve eventually made it to the Octagon. However, Saturday night proved a “win or go home” situation for K.J. Noons, Ryan Couture, Pat Healy, Kurt Holobaugh, Anthony Smith and unaired preliminary fighters Jorge Gurgel, Adriano Martins, Estevan Payan and Michael Bravo.

After the smoke cleared, Healy, Martins and Payan came out with victories. Although the future is not certain for Martins or Payan, Healy undoubtedly earned his spot on the UFC roster with the hard-fought unanimous decision win over Holobaugh, who no longer holds an undefeated record but who could find success in the UFC with a move to featherweight.

However, who really stood out last Saturday night? Though every one of the winners made waves and the big names who were expected to stand out did just that, it was Noons, Couture and newly-crowned Strikeforce welterweight champion Tarec Saffiedine that made the biggest strides in staking a claim to a UFC berth.

Before we talk about those specific fighters, however, let’s recap the other combatants who achieved victory on the Showtime Extreme portion of this event card.

Gracie kicked off the Showtime Extreme card to face Anthony “Lionheart” Smith, and for the first round, Smith controlled the fight against the BJJ expert with punishing leg kicks. Gracie would, however, find his stride in the second round, taking control of the action against the cage and getting the takedown before finding the mount and setting up for the arm-triangle.

We already mentioned Healy’s unanimous decision win over previously-undefeated jiu-jitsu ace Holobaugh, but what stood out about the victory? For one thing, Healy landed the brunt of the power strikes, but Holobaugh outstruck “Bam Bam” in terms of significant strikes and overall strikes. In addition, Holobaugh proved that he can attack with submissions without a second thought, but in his willingness to do so, he brought to light the submission defense that makes Healy something of a dark horse in the division as a whole.

And just prior to Noons vs. Couture, we witnessed Kennedy back in action against Trevor Smith. For about the first two rounds, Kennedy had his way with Smith, doing damage to his body with some nasty kicks, defending his takedowns, and picking his spots to work his ground-and-pound. In the third round, Kennedy grabbed a hold of Trevor’s neck and locked in an excruciating guillotine choke to force the tap and earn the win. Although some felt underwhelmed by his efforts in the first two rounds, feeling as though a man of his caliber needed to make significantly shorter work of Smith, Kennedy kept his composure for three rounds and must continue to do that in order to truly come into his own as a major player in the middleweight division.

That leads us to the battle between Noons and Couture. Both men seemed on the cusp of a UFC contract, but only one of them was likely to get it. The fight itself proved a tad bit tricky to score. While it could be argued that Noons did the better job of counter-striking and defending Couture’s takedown attempts, Noons’ performance could also be viewed as nonchalant, with Noons not doing enough to press the action.

In contrast, Couture remained active throughout the entire fight, but only bested Noons in terms of leg kicks. Nonetheless, both men stood out and would smell blood, so to speak, near the end of the fight. That hint of blood motivated both to try to find the finish, and it confirmed the pre-fight prediction of both fighters coming out to fight like they deserved the contract.

The MMA world disputed Couture’s split decision nod over Noons, and therefore, it’s hard to blame Noons for his reaction after the fight. However, considering how UFC President Dana White felt after the fight, the thought remains conceivable that Noons and Couture will cross paths sometime before either of them can even toy with the thought of title shots or the UFC’s top lightweights.

Both men fought like they needed that UFC contract. However, their performances on Saturday night only suggest that they know how to steal a “Fight of the Night” bonus, which can count as UFC success in some circles. Don’t believe it? Ask Chris Lytle and Tyson Griffin, two fighters who never fought for UFC titles but knew how to put on one hell of a fight when it came their turn to throw down. Right now, Noons and Couture can do that.

However, if they do have their sights set on a title sometime in the future, we can’t paint a realistic picture of what they bring and what they need to bring without a rematch. Once these two square off again and a clear winner emerges, we can talk about whether either man can find true UFC success.

Speaking of crossing paths, who wants to cross paths with the new Strikeforce welterweight champion, Tarec Saffiedine, after last night? The Team Quest product had plenty going for him, but after former champion Marquardt’s domination of Tyron Woodley, most favored Marquardt.

However, as the fight wore on, Saffiedine continually hammered on Marquardt’s left leg and forced the UFC veteran into desperation mode. Naturally, Marquardt’s last efforts to rally back proved too little too late, and Saffiedine shocked the multitudes by outclassing Marquardt and directing more attention to himself by earning a monumental win.

Now, does Saffiedine’s win over Marquardt translate into UFC success? Looking back, the argument leans in that direction. While Saffiedine will need to show more about himself down the line against more complex and established welterweights, he did punish a considerable favorite, and for the little time he had Marquardt on his back, he made the best use of his ground control.

With the story of Marquardt’s leg taking prominence over all other aspects of an otherwise decent-at-best title fight, the takedown defense of Saffiedine gets lost in the shuffle. As he progresses through the ranks, his technical striking and wrestling, combined with his takedown defense, will present a problem to the UFC welterweight division. As the division continues to grow and evolve, however, any other holes in Saffiedine’s game will come to light, so Strikeforce’s final 170-pound kingpin will benefit from staying sharp in every aspect of his game offensively and defensively as he transitions to the Octagon.

As for the rest of the winners, their time will come. For now, let us continue to enjoy all the positives that resulted from Strikeforce’s farewell and look to the future as these warriors look to make some major statements as part of the UFC roster.

Photo: Tarec Saffiedine admires his new belt (Jerry Chavez/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.