Immediately after Luke Rockhold retained his Strikeforce middleweight title last Saturday night, the debate began about where exactly he ranked in the worldwide divisional pecking order. Was he just below UFC champion Anderson Silva, who is nearly unanimously considered the best in the world? Is he on the outskirts of the top five, tucked below names like Chris Weidman and Chael Sonnen? Or is he even top 10 worthy at all?
Unfortunately, we might never know just how good Rockhold is. Given his Strikeforce contract, he's not likely to move over to the UFC anytime soon or have the opportunity to challenge UFC kingpin Silva.
Or is he?
On Monday's edition of The MMA Hour, Showtime sports president Stephen Espinoza surprisingly put forth a hope of matching Strikeforce champions against UFC champions.
"I hope that we're getting the story out there clearly enough that these are two high-level organizations, he said. "You can make the analogy -- the one I like to use is the AFL and the NFL. Before the NFL as we currently know it existed, there were two leagues and they’d play once a year in the Super Bowl. And that’s how the Super Bowl came about, was a championship between two different leagues. I think a best case-scenario for the fans that I talk to and I'm sure the fans that you talk to, [they] would like to see some structure like that and sort of answer those questions about who is the best middleweight, who is the best welterweight, all those kinds of things going forward."
Espinoza didn't say how likely such a scenario is, and chances are probably against it in the immediate future given the demanding schedules of the UFC and Strikeforce, along with all of the contractual obligations and fine-print details that might get in the way. Yet it's certainly intriguing to hear that a high-powered executive with some sway in the possibility has an interest in answering the questions that are until now, just hypothetical.
Of course, you may remember that UFC president Dana White, who holds considerable power in the future of Strikeforce as well as any UFC vs. Strikeforce matchups, has had his issues with Showtime management, and has essentially adopted a hands-off policy, electing to allow Zuffa chairman and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta to handle the business relationship.
Espinoza says that after some preliminary growing pains and adjustments, the cable network's relationship with the Zuffa team is now "very good" and that they are both looking for ways to better collaborate on the product.
Hopefully, he said, in the future, that will mean addressing the most pressing competition question in the sport.
"Maybe at some point with all the creative minds thinking about this issue, we can come up with a solution and something which satisfies the fans who want sort of 'unified' champions, or essentially to answer the question, 'Who is the No. 1 best in the cage at a particular weight class?' he said. "I would love to see that happen at some point as well. I’m no different than any other fan. I’d love to answer that question, too."