January 12 will see the final Strikeforce event before the promotion closes up shop and folds into the UFC. A handful of talented names that weren’t poached before the promotion’s unfortunate demise still remain, and the question of how well they will perform in the UFC is an intriguing one.

Let’s start with Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, and to a lesser extent, his opponent on the upcoming Strikeforce card, Ed Herman.

Souza has the best chance for success out of the group of middleweights competing on Saturday night who will undoubtedly be heading from Strikeforce to the UFC.

Before he started gaining momentum through a professional MMA career, Jacare was a noted Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner with five gold medals in Abu Dhabi submission wrestling tournaments. Along with Roger Gracie, another name on the list of middleweight hopefuls competing on Saturday, Souza is considered to be one of the best BJJ practitioners of our time.

That is no small feat. And it was enough to capture the attention of Randy Couture, whom he competed to a draw against in a grappling contest in 2006. Couture afforded Jacare the opportunity to train at the Xtreme Couture gym. However, Souza is probably better known for training with Team Black House alongside champions Anderson Silva, Antonio Nogueira, and Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante, to name a few. The point being, his skills in competition had captured the attention of MMA royalty, and that has shaped his progress toward a bright future.

Souza was a Dream veteran of five fights before joining the ranks of Strikeforce. During a tenure of two years, he faced a few notable names—Jason “Mayhem” Miller and Gegard Mousasi—that would go on to have their own success in Strikeforce. He lost to Mousasi in 2008 as a runner-up in a Dream middleweight tournament and fought to a no-contest with Miller in a contest for the vacant Dream middleweight title.

Souza went on to capture the Stirkeforce middleweight title before relinquishing it to Luke Rockhold in a thrilling five-round affair that was mainly contested on the feet. To make a long story short, Souza has only lost twice since beginning his career with a defeat in 2003. He owns what many would agree as one of the world’s best grappling skill sets in MMA, and his hands are developing well. His future is secure, and the UFC will undoubtedly welcome him into the fold in an advantageous position.

Jacare’s upcoming fight with UFC import Ed Herman is the sort of match that would make sense had Souza already transitioned into the UFC. Outside of someone like Gilbert Melendez, who overshadows all other Strikeforce fighters, save for Nick Diaz, most fighters on the roster would need to have a tune-up fight as well as being built-up in the UFC. The incoming Strikforce fighters would need proof in determining where their skills place them within their division. But Souza could walk right into the top 15 (at the worst) of the UFC middleweight division, a place not far from where Herman resides. If Souza can continue to win, then the sky would be the limit for him in the world’s biggest promotion.

Tim Kennedy is another star from Strikeforce that should find his way into the UFC middleweight division. His two losses in six fights for the promotion were to Jacare and Rockhold, who are easily the top two fighters in that division. Given the tough time he had in those fights, it is unlikely that Kennedy will blaze through his competition, which will be much stiffer and deeper in the UFC.

However, his back-story in the U.S. Army will bring an appetizing amount of promotional intrigue. Much like Brian Stann, Kennedy is a war vet and the image of a good, conservative man. It is also interesting to note that Kennedy doesn’t mind being silly for entertainment, such as dressing up like a women as he did in a satirical Katy Perry viral video. He brings more to the table than just his work in the cage, and that can extend a fighter’s career in the public’s consciousness. What Kennedy might lack in being a threat to the top of the UFC’s middleweight division, he will make up for in the interest that his story and personality bring to the table.

Last, there’s a member of the legendary Gracie clan looking to bring the storied name back to the Octagon. Roger Gracie has gained his own share of attention, but we are talking about a fighter with a 5-1 record. It is too early in his career and cage experience to know how well he can really do in MMA. At the moment, he has only had one fight at middleweight. He fared well at 205 pounds against aged veterans Trevor Prangley and Kevin Randleman, but when he stepped up to meet Muhammed Lawal, he was knocked unconscious in the first round. The loss inspired a drop to middleweight, where he gained a win over fading MMA veteran Keith Jardine. We aren’t talking about UFC caliber wins on his resume. Also, he clearly has work do in order to compete against top-level strikers.

Gracie carries with him an amazing skill set in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, plus the family namesake, but that doesn’t mean he is ready to set the competition on fire in the UFC. It takes a well-rounded game to compete at the highest levels, and Gracie is going to need more time to be built up if he is to join the UFC’s “big boys” at middleweight.

Outside of Souza and Strikeforce champion Rockhold, who will not compete on Saturday but is definitely UFC-bound, the rest of the Strikeforce middleweights, including Herman, are going to join the middle of the pack (or slightly above) in the UFC’s middleweight division. If they win, then naturally, they will move up.

However, it’s the two most recent middleweight champions from Strikeforce, Jacare and Rockhold, that are the lone few diamonds in the rough that might have a shot at challenging for a UFC title. The rest will not receive any special treatment. Their positions will have to be earned through fan interest and their efforts inside the Octagon, not their past accomplishments in Strikeforce. And that places them in the rat race with the other UFC middleweights that are fighting their way towards top-10 contention.

And, hey, what is wrong with that? It’s job security. If they were destined to be fighting the best in the UFC, then they would have been there sooner.

Photo: Luke Rockhold (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.