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Strikeforce Needs to Answer, 'What's Next?'

On July 3, Brock Lesnar beat Shane Carwin in the UFC's biggest heavyweight fight of the year. Cain Velasquez was sitting cageside and had already been declared next in line, and the UFC soon said Lesnar would fight Velasquez in October at UFC 121. Fans are already getting excited about that fight, and the UFC's heavyweight division hasn't lost any of the momentum the Lesnar-Carwin fight built.

A week before Lesnar beat Carwin, Fabricio Werdum beat Fedor Emelianenko in Strikeforce's biggest heavyweight fight of the year. Alistair Overeem was sitting cageside and was expected to be next in line, but the three weeks since that fight have provided nothing but confusion about what's next for those three heavyweights.

Strikeforce puts on plenty of good fights, but its biggest problem as a promotion is an inability to do what the UFC did when it announced Velasquez vs. Lesnar: Strikeforce never has a good answer when fans want to know, "What's next?"

So what is next? Fedor's promoters, M-1 Global, say Fedor vs. Werdum 2 is next. But Strikeforce says no, that's not going to happen. Werdum says he needs elbow surgery, but then again his manager says the surgery will be minor and it's possible that Werdum could return to the cage this year. Overeem was focused completely on fighting Fedor next and now has no idea what he'll do, and one source who knows Overeem told that Overeem may turn his attention back to kickboxing for the rest of the year and try to win the K-1 World Grand Prix Final.

Of course, if Overeem turns his attention to kickboxing, that would be a problem with Strikeforce because he's their heavyweight champion, and he needs to defend his belt, right? Wrong. Actually, Strikeforce is fine with its heavyweight champion not defending his belt. Overeem won the title in 2007 and then didn't fight for the promotion again until this year, and now Strikeforce is saying that if Overeem fights Fedor next, they'd make it a non-title fight. Apparently one heavyweight title fight every three years is enough.

Then again, whether Overeem vs. Fedor would be for the title or not is probably immaterial because all indications are that M-1 Global will never sign on to having Fedor fight Overeem. Strikeforce seems to know that, because they're already talking about other potential opponents for Fedor if the Overeem fight doesn't materialize. One of those is Sergei Kharitonov, who has some impressive victories in his MMA career (in fact, he beat both Overem and Werdum) but who hasn't won a fight in two years and who has zero name value in the United States. The other is Antonio Silva, who's coming off a solid victory over Andrei Arlovski but who lost to Werdum on CBS in his previous fight.

Meanwhile, the heavyweight who would probably give Strikeforce the best chance of drawing decent ratings when and if it returns to CBS is a 48-year-old former football player, Herschel Walker. Walker got Strikeforce a good deal of mainstream media attention when he fought for the promotion six months ago, and Strikeforce says it wants Walker back, but there's still no word on the date, location or opponent for his next fight.

Oh, and the fight that Strikeforce is really talking up as its next big heavyweight battle, one that the promotion says it would sell on pay-per-view, is a bout between a couple of professional wrestlers, Bobby Lashley and Dave Batista, a fight that might not even get approved by any state athletic commission because Batista is a 41-year-old with no combat sports experience. Strikeforce has already had a commission turn down a Lashley fight once this year when Florida nixed the promotion's plans to put Lashley in the cage with a 2-1 MMA fighter and former pro boxer named Yohan Banks. If Florida thinks Banks is a non-competitive opponent for Lashley, which state will think Batista vs. Lashley is a fair fight? Answering the "what's next" question regarding Lashley has been particularly challenging for Strikeforce because Lashley wants to fight either guys he knows he can beat (like Banks or the opponent they eventually got to fill in for him, Wes Sims) or guys he has no business in the cage with (Fedor and Overeem).

The "what's next" problem extends beyond Strikeforce's heavyweight division. At light heavyweight, Babalu Sobral beat Robbie Lawler last month in a fight that was supposed to make Babalu the No. 1 contender to face champion King Mo Lawal. Except that Strikeforce didn't bother to check with Babalu, and he said he didn't want to face King Mo.

At middleweight, Strikeforce lost its champion, Jake Shields, and then told fans to expect a tournament featuring Strikeforce's best 185-pound fighters to determine the next champion. Instead, it was announced that Tim Kennedy vs. Jacare Souza will determine the middleweight champion. That middleweight tournament, we're assured, is coming. Why would anyone doubt that?

At welterweight, it's a good thing champion Nick Diaz is getting a Tennessee State Athletic Commission-mandated timeout, because Strikeforce has no plans for him -- except maybe to put his welterweight belt on hold while he moves up to fight in that middleweight tournament we're all so excited about.

At lightweight, there's actually a great fight right there for the taking, as Bellator Fighting Championships is offering up its champion, Eddie Alvarez, to face Strikeforce lightweight champ Gilbert Melendez. It was nice of Bellator to do half of Strikeforce's matchmaking for them, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for Strikeforce to do the other half and actually book the fight.

What's next for Strikeforce's best female fighter, Cris Cyborg, after she whipped the overmatched Jan Finney? Who knows? Strikeforce says it will be Erin Toughill, but then again Strikeforce said that after Cyborg beat Marloes Coenen in January, and instead we got Cyborg-Finney. (We also never got the 145-pound women's tournament we were promised.) Toughill hasn't fought in more than a year, so she's expected to get a tune-up fight against the always-formidable TBA prior to fighting Cyborg. That means Cyborg will be on the shelf for a while, and if Toughill loses that tune-up fight, all bets are off.

And finally, there's Strikeforce's biggest 2010 acquisition, Dan Henderson. Instead of booking the fight most fans wanted at the time, Henderson vs. Gegard Mousasi, Strikeforce booked Henderson vs. Shields, thinking that was a fight more likely to get Henderson a Strikeforce belt. It didn't work out that way, and three months after Shields beat Henderson, there's no word on when we'll see Henderson in the cage again. Apparently Strikeforce thinks a soon-to-be 40-year-old legend of the sport needs to be brought along slowly.

Through it all, Strikeforce consistently puts on good fight cards. They've done eight shows so far this year and have three more scheduled in the next five weeks, and the fights themselves are almost always entertaining. When the cage door closes, the fighters do their jobs. The promoters need to get better at theirs.

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