The final Strikeforce event is in the books. It was an entertaining evening, albeit one filled with mostly obvious and expected outcomes. Still, there were strong performances by the fighters. There were also weak performances by the Oklahoma athletic commission. And there were fitting narratives to the entire Strikeforce experience.
Let's separate the winners from the losers, the best from the worst and the signal from the noise.
Likeliest to Resemble Urijah Faber This Morning: Nate Marquardt
Best Description of What Strikeforce's Saturday Event Should've Been Called: CagePotato.com
MMA Event Most Resembling the French Revolution's Reign of Terror: Strikeforce: Marquardt vs. Saffiedine
Worst Judging in the Known Universe: Nick Atwood, Jim Lambert
That entire Oklahoma commission was a real prize on Saturday evening. We have referees that require pouring a 5 Hour Energy into their eyeballs while being slapped by a dead fish in order for them to wake up enough to see a fighter tapping to a choke. Then we have other referees who see a fighter get kicked while being in a downed position (also only after the fighter alerted them to this fact) and in righting this wrong, decided to stand both fighters up. In other words, referees are ad libbing the enforcement of rules they either don't understand or know exist. That's fun.
Judging was a real hoot, too. In the Ryan Couture vs. K.J. Noons bout, judges Nick Atwood and Jim Lambert somehow found a way to give Couture two rounds in a bout Noons incontestably controlled save for perhaps the the third frame. Strangely, the one judge who got it right - Bobby Higdon, who scored it 30-27 for Noons - nevertheless scored the Marquardt vs. Saffiedine fight as a close 48-47, giving rounds two and three to the former champ.
It's as if there's a quotient of fail each judge has to reach each evening. Sure, they'll score one fight right, but they'll follow up by botching the next. The entire MMA community keeps saying we want consistency from judging, but I don't suspect this is the sort of 'consistency' they are imagining.
Best Post-Fight Comments: Daniel Cormier
I will never accept the histrionics of professional wrestling as entertaining. So, in crafting this argument, take that perspective into account. For my money, therefore, Daniel Cormier's post-fight speech was the best of the evening. I'll admit Josh Barnett's are better than what most fighters do, which is poor self-promotion. Barnett is a gifted speaker, engaging personality and knows which side his bread is buttered on. But Cormier's comments achieved more by saying less and did so nuanced dramatization. He set up his entire 2013 calendar, put two divisions on notice, created intrigue about his potential efforts and aided matchmakers by laying out a blueprint. That's doing a lot by saying a little and even if technically 'forced', it's believable.
Most Fitting in the Strikeforce Narrative: Tarec Saffiedine
I don't want to force a comparison that isn't there or extend a narrative into the absurd, but there is something fitting about a fighter who worked his way up through the ranks on Challenger shows and went on to became a division champion. Granted, it happened in the absence of Nick Diaz, Paul Daley and other welterweights who could probably give Saffiedine a very hard time. But the achievement is real, constitutes Saffiedine's best win of his career and hopefully serves as a launching pad for a nice UFC run.
Whatever happens, though, Strikeforce was the regional organization post-PRIDE that proved it could grow into a national (with international relevance) powerhouse. It proved that trajectory in that new paradigm was possible. It grew into more than anyone expected and did more than anyone thought. For the 170-pound champion to mirror those unexpected heights and to do so through the Strikeforce machinery isn't a perfect parallel, but it does have the quality of feeling somehow appropriate.
Greatest Relief: It's All Over
I always bristled at media and fan cynicism or opprobrium towards Strikeforce. It was a smaller organization with limited infrastructure that nevertheless served as a worthy competitor to the UFC. For all of their faults, the amount of upbraiding they had to eat far outstripped what their actual failures were.
That said, the ending of Strikeforce's life was poisonous. It was bad for Showtime to be in a predicament they actually never signed up for. It was an organizational drain on Zuffa to keep the Strikeforce train moving. And it was ruinous for the fighters trapped on a bridge to nowhere. Strikeforce's demise is unfortunate and their achievements unimpeachable, but it's best for everyone this relationship has come to a close.