Since it became apparent that Jake Shields would be vacating his Strikeforce middleweight belt to head to pastures new in the UFC there has been a growing buzz about a 185lb tournament to establish a new champion.
Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker himself confirmed that this was in the works. The names he’s mentioned in connection with it over the past couple of months have included the likes of Dan Henderson, Nick Diaz, Jacare Souza, Cung Le, Robbie Lawler and Tim Kennedy.
With fighters of that quality at their disposal there was a real feeling that the promotion had something special on their hands here that would genuinely excite their fanbase and produce a legitimate champion. It sounded almost too good to be true, particularly since Strikeforce, despite having the best intentions, have an uncanny knack of dropping the ball in situations like this.
Take for example the company signing arguably the world’s best fighter at the time in Fedor Emelianenko and then steering him clear of a heavyweight title fight, giving him less meaningful but still potentially risky bouts with Brett Rogers and Fabricio Werdum instead.
Just as that gameplan unraveled when Fedor lost to Werdum, considerably devaluing their biggest asset, it seems that that the wheels might be falling off the middleweight tournament as well.
Firstly there was Cung Le’s reluctance to commit to the tournament structure. Then Dan Henderson said he’d prefer to fight at 205lbs. Le’s withdrawal was unfortunate but manageable – Melvin Manhoef was quickly named as a potential replacement, but Henderson was undoubtedly a blow considering that he was seen as one of the pre-tournament favorites.
Certainly unfortunate news but it still seemed like the tournament could still progress. Now though the news has come that Strikeforce are no longer looking to crown a new champion via the tournament, but instead will have Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza and Tim Kennedy fight for the vacant title in August. It’s unclear if this means the tournament has been scrapped altogether – the latest rumor is that it may still occur to establish the next No.1 contender to face the winner of Souza Vs Kennedy.
To me the excitement for it has now dwindled significantly. Jacare would have been another early favorite while Kennedy would have been seen as the ‘dark horse’. Now that they’ve been scratched from the tournament, along with the other fighters mentioned earlier who’ve pulled out, I feel it’s now lost the competitive edge that made it look so compelling on paper.
Don’t get me wrong, Jacare Vs Kennedy is a good fight and I’ll look forward to it, but why the rush to crown a new champion? It’s not like either of these fighters has so much heat right now that you have to fast-track them to the title. Both men could have benefited from featuring in the tournament format where, if they were successful, they’d have the chance to gain more recognition and generate far more interest in their eventual title fight.
I’m not sure whether it’s poor decision making by Strikeforce, or if Showtime are having some say in the direction their taking, or perhaps that the major fighters themselves are being given too much leeway in what comes next for them, but as the situation stands right now I can’t help but feel that the wrong decision has been made here.