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Strikeforce Sets Middleweight Title Fight, but Misses Out on Tournament Hopes

On Friday night, Strikeforce announced it will fill its vacant middleweight title by pairing Tim Kennedy and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza against each other in Houston on Aug. 21. But the promotion won't be filling that title void the way it set out to.

While the solution to make the Kennedy-Souza winner the new 185-pound champion seems simple enough, MMA Fighting has learned from sources with knowledge of the situation that Strikeforce had been planning a one-night, four-man tournament in Houston to determine its next champion. The four competitors were to be Kennedy, Souza, Robbie Lawler and Matt Lindland.

Those plans, however, were nixed by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.

Strikeforce officials would not comment on the proposed tournament last week, telling MMA Fighting only, "We aren't doing a tournament there."

But TDLR administrator Greg Alvarez confirmed to MMA Fighting on Saturday that Strikeforce wanted a one-night, bracket-style tournament for the Houston show, which will air live on Showtime. But Alvarez said that request was denied.

"They asked if it was possible and I told them that when Tough Man was outlawed, the state also did away with tournaments back in 2001," Alvarez said.

Sec. 2052.254 of Texas' Combative Sports Occupations Code specifically deals with tournaments. The code states: "An elimination tournament may not be conducted in this state."

The belt is up for grabs after the promotion did not reach a contract agreement with champion Jake Shields, who is expected imminently to sign with the UFC. Shields defended his title against Dan Henderson in April, the last fight on his contract with the organization.

The four-man tournament Strikeforce was hoping for differed from early reports that the promotion would hold an eight-man tournament over several events to determine its new middleweight champion. But sources close to the organization told MMA Fighting that the idea of a one-night tournament gained major traction and was something the company was looking forward to promoting – until the Texas commission put the brakes on.

The last time a major U.S. MMA promotion held a one-night tournament was Strikeforce in 2007 for its "Four Men Enter, One Man Survives" card in San Jose, Calif. That also was a middleweight tournament, won by Jorge Santiago.

Ironically, Strikeforce last week announced it would hold a women's tournament at a Challengers show in Phoenix on Aug. 13 with the same one-night, four-fighter format. There is no provision under Arizona's boxing and sparring rules, which includes MMA, that prohibits a one-night tournament.

Tournaments are not new to MMA. One-night tournaments are commonly held by DREAM in Japan, and Bellator has built its brand around the tournament format – though over multiple events. The UFC utilized the one-night tournament in its infancy, but UFC 23 in November 1999 was the last event before the promotion abandoned the format.

Aside from the middleweight title fight between Kennedy and Souza, Strikeforce's Houston show will feature a main event light heavyweight title fight between Muhammad "King Mo" Lawal, who will defend his belt for the first time since dethroning Gegard Mousasi in April. Lawal, a former NCAA All-American wrestler at Oklahoma State, will face Muay Thai specialist Rafael Cavalcante, who trains with the Black House team that features Anderson Silva and the Nogueira brothers. All of Cavalcante's nine career wins have come from strikes.

Also on the Showtime card, KJ Noons faces Jorge Gurgel in a lightweight bout and unbeaten former WWE star Bobby Lashley makes his return. Lashley was scheduled to fight on Strikeforce's June card in Los Angeles, but pulled out with an injury. His opponent has not yet been named.

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