Part of the fun of watching an event is wondering what comes next. Is that heavyweight prospect weaving his way into title contention? Would that middleweight be better off competing as a welterweight? Is that struggling lightweight even worthy of a job? Those are the types of questions we ask ourselves, because the fight itself isn't the be-all and end-all. It's just part of the path each athlete travels in his fighting journey.
As a general rule, that path at the big-league level is supposed to have a somewhat logical direction to it. Winners keep advancing, and losers face the pink slip. Simple. But what then of Saturday night's Strikeforce: Marquardt vs. Saffiedine?
Taken at face value, the event has upward mobility as a sub-plot. A golden ticket to the UFC beckons for the winners, after all, and that's no small thing. But it also appears to be no guarantee.
As recently as last week, UFC president Dana White would not say for sure that heavyweight Josh Barnett will find his way into the octagon with a win.
"I do not know, we'll find out soon," he said. "We'll see."
Though a feud between White and Barnett goes back many years, the fact that White may not be able to look past it to bring Barnett into the fold is a bit surprising, given that he's already under contract to a Zuffa subsidiary. Keep in mind that heavyweight is by far the weakest division in men's MMA, and that Barnett has been among its mainstays for over a decade.
Barnett is an overwhelming favorite to win, with odds of over 15-to-1 against opponent Nandor Guelmino, a 37-year-old Austrian who has a respectable 11-3 record but has faced few opponents of any renown. That means it's possible that Barnett stomps Guelmino and gets sent to the abyss after winning nine of his last 10 fights. There is no logic in that.
Things are no easier to figure out for some fellow main-card fighters.
Like Barnett, Nate Marquardt has had problems with White. His came after being cut from the UFC following a failed drug test in June 2011. Unlike Barnett, Marquardt seems to be on the path to reconciliation with the boss, who recently said he would likely let Marquardt back into the fold. But when he gets there, he will be arriving in a world of chaos, where upward movement will be a considerable challenge. The division is stacked, with Nick Diaz set to challenge for the belt, Johny Hendricks campaigning for the next slot, and talent like Rory MacDonald, Jake Ellenberger, Demian Maia and Jon Fitch all angling for a spot near the top of the division.
For Marquardt -- who could be arriving with a championship of his own -- there will be no easy landing spot, and no mappable route to the top. His belt will essentially be a decoration, nothing more.
And what about the world Daniel Cormier may be walking into? Cormier is, by odds, a historic favorite of around 20-1 over Dion Staring. He is supposed to cruise his way into the UFC. But then what?
Cormier has said he wants to come in and fight Frank Mir, the man he was originally supposed to fight in his final Strikeforce bout. But he has also said he would try to cut weight and move down to 205, where a potential fight with Jon Jones looms. Either is possible, yet neither is close to a sure thing.
Again, none of this seems very clear.
Perhaps that's why fighters competing on the card like Tim Kennedy and Pat Healy have suggested that some of their peers simply decided to sit on the sidelines and wait for the UFC to call rather than risk going down on a sinking ship.
And that's the big fault of this final Strikeforce card. Just two years ago, the WEC shuttered its doors after being absorbed by the UFC. It was a similar situation, but that final WEC event had a very different atmosphere surrounding it. It had already been announced that all WEC talent would be retained, that the winner of the bantamweight belt would enter the UFC as that promotion's first-ever 135-pound champ, and the victor of the lightweight title main event would receive an immediate UFC title shot. It was as much a celebration of the WEC as it was a funeral. As a result, the fighters delivered what was arguably 2010's best card of the year and the main-eventers delivered 2010's fight of the year, punctuated by a jaw-dropping, flying-off-the-cage Showtime Kick by Anthony Pettis that hasn't been seen before or since. As endings went, this was MMA's version of the Independence Day fireworks grand finale on the Hudson.
Does anyone feel that Saturday night's Strikeforce card will bring something of a similar caliber? Probably not. Not when most of the roster has been picked over long ago. Not when we have this, a card with some good fights, some mediocre fights, and some mismatches, with no real forward thought to anything other than getting it over with.
It's not all bad of course. At least some guys are getting to make a paycheck. At least after Saturday night, aside from the above possibilities, we may finally get to see these things in the UFC: Gegard Mousasi, the return of the Gracie name (Roger), and the first second-generation fighter in company history (Ryan Couture).
But whatever lemonade these fighters make out of the lemons they've been served is of their own doing. This one is going to go down more bitter than sweet, but at least finally, mercifully, they can say it's over.