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State of the Strikeforce Middleweights

In the last three years, the Strikeforce middleweight title has been vacated more times than it's been defended, and 2010 has been another long year for the promotion's 185-pound division. Its champion, Jake Shields, whipped its big free agent acquisition, Dan Henderson -- and then promptly bolted for the UFC. And then a much-discussed middleweight tournament failed to materialize.

But there's some hope that Strikeforce will have big fights in the year ahead, even if the middleweight division fizzled in 2010. Below we look at what some of those big fights might be and where the middleweight belt is headed as we survey the state of the Strikeforce middleweight division.

The Champion: Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza

Fight that will happen:
Robbie Lawler vs. Matt Lindland, December 4: The 40-year-old Lindland was once among the sport's best fighters, but in the last three and a half years his only wins are against a couple of guys you've probably never heard of, Fabio Nascimento and Kevin Casey. Lawler should beat Lindland and may be next in line for a middleweight title shot after that.

Fights that should happen:
Cung Le vs. Melvin Manhoef: I can think of few fights that would provide more pure, unadulterated fun than Le vs. Manhoef, and I can't imagine why Strikeforce hasn't booked this one. They're two of the most exciting strikers in the sport, and they'd be guaranteed to provide fireworks.

Jason "Mayhem" Miller vs. Luke Rockhold: Thanks to his big personality and his TV show, Bully Beatdown, Miller is one of the best-known fighters in Strikeforce. Although there's talk that welterweight champ Nick Diaz will move up to middleweight to fight Miller, I'd rather see Diaz keep defending his title and have Rockhold, who has won all six of his Strikeforce fights and finished all six opponents in the first round, fight a big-name opponent.

Jorge Santiago vs. Kazuo Misaki 3: Santiago and Misaki have already had two fights in Sengoku, the second of which is currently my top choice for Fight of the Year in 2010. Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker has said he thinks he could make a third fight between the two happen in Strikeforce, and if there's any conceivable way for him to pull the trigger, Coker needs to do it.

Others in the mix:
Tim Kennedy just lost to Jacare and probably won't get another title shot any time soon, but Strikeforce needs to keep him active. He's a good fighter with a great back story as a war veteran, and that makes him just the kind of guy who can give the promotion some media attention outside the hard-core MMA community.

Strikeforce veteran Trevor Prangley moved up to light heavyweight and went into Shark Fights, where he pulled off an upset of Keith Jardine, and that gives him some momentum to build on if he returns to the Strikeforce middleweight division in 2011.

Predicted Strikeforce middleweight champion at end of 2011: Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza

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