Strikeforce Fighters Making an Immediate Impact in UFC

Duane Finley@duanefinleymmaContributor IFebruary 25, 2013

When a fighter competes outside of the UFC, there is a stigma that becomes attached to his career. While strong records are collected and impressive resumes built, the fact their work isn't being done inside the Octagon can make respect in the eyes of MMA fans difficult to come by.

This is a scenario fighters from the Strikeforce promotion have dealt with for years. With the doors to the San Jose promotion now closed and the roster merged into the UFC fold, the fighters who formerly battled in the six-sided cage are making their presence felt on the sport's biggest stage.

At UFC 157 this past weekend in Anaheim, a handful of former Strikeforce fighters kept the momentum rolling inside the Octagon.

On the preliminary portion of the card, Nah-Shon Burrell made a proper introduction to the UFC fanbase by defeating Yuri Villefort in a three-round war. It was precisely the caliber of performance "The Rock-N-Rolla" needed to deliver after failing to make weight for the bout.

After a back-and-forth affair, the Philadelphia native earned the unanimous-decision nod, making him successful in seven of his last eight showings.

While spending eight years away from the UFC, heavy-handed slugger Robbie Lawler made his return on Saturday night against Josh Koscheck. The two welterweights kicked off the pay-per-view portion of the event, and "Ruthless" needed less than a full round to dispatch of the perennial contender.

It was an impressive showing for the former Elite XC champion as he bounced back from a rough start which saw Koscheck put him on his back. But once Lawler was able to get out from under the former NCAA Division I wrestling champion, his powerful right hand closed out the action in stunning fashion.

Burrell and Lawler are just the latest examples of how effective the former Strikeforce fighters have been since coming over to the UFC. With a collection of solid wins since coming into the mix, and a handful of the now-defunct organization's biggest names set to make their respective debuts, 2013 could very well prove to a tremendous year for former Strikeforce representatives.


Cormier, Rockhold and Melendez on a Quest for Gold

Lawler's victory at UFC 157 was the highest-profile victory for a Strikeforce transplant, but that could easily change over the next three months. With Heavyweight Grand Prix winner Daniel Cormier and former Strikeforce lightweight champion Glibert Melendez heading into the biggest fights of their careers at UFC on Fox 7 in April, the stage is set for a major shake-up on the UFC's landscape.

"El Nino" will attempt to capitalize on an immediate title shot when he squares off with current champion Benson Henderson. The 30-year-old Melendez has been on a quest to be recognized as the best 155-pound fighter in the world, and a victory over "Smooth" would carve that label in stone.

Melendez has won seven consecutive bouts, and in the process of this run has avenged the only two losses of his career. Nevertheless, solving the Henderson puzzle has proven to be extremely difficult.

The Bleacher Report 2012 "Fighter of the Year" has been on a tear since coming to the UFC, earning victories in each of his six showings inside the Octagon, making "Bendo" successful in 16 of his last 17 bouts.

Should Melendez find championship gold in San Jose, the recognition and respect he's been battling for will come in rapid fashion.

Before Melendez and Henderson's title scrap, another former Strikeforce standout will take center stage when prospect-turned-contender Daniel Cormier makes his highly anticipated debut. The former Olympic wrestler will lock up with former two-time heavyweight champion Frank Mir, in a bout which could ultimately affect multiple divisions.

In three short years, Cormier has proven to be one of the sport's best heavyweight fighters. But with his close friend and AKA teammate Cain Velasquez currently holding the divisional strap, the Louisiana native has laid out a plan of action which would keep their paths from crossing.

Following his victory over Dion Staring in the final Strikeforce event in January, "D.C." stated he wanted to fight Mir in his debut, then drop down into 205-pound waters and fight Jon Jones later in the year.

It is an interesting path Cormier is choosing to travel. The 33-year-old's wrestling pedigree is second to none in the MMA realm, and with proven put-away power in his hands, Cormier's skill set is a difficult matchup for any opponent to handle.

While Mir is certainly no one to overlook, the thought of Cormier facing Jones has built a solid buzz in the MMA community. Up to this point, the light heavyweight phenom has ripped through every fighter to challenge his crown, and many people believe Cormier has the tools to be the young champion's most difficult challenge to date.

Another former champion eager to begin a championship run in the UFC is Luke Rockhold. The last man to hold the Strikeforce middleweight title will make his promotional debut in May when he steps in against MMA legend Vitor Belfort at UFC on FX 8.

The matchup against "The Phenom" presents the type of high-profile opportunity the AKA-trained fighter has been looking for, and a victory over the Brazilian powerhouse has the potential to launch Rockhold into middleweight title contention.

The 28-year-old has been asking to face the best in the world since winning the Strikeforce title in 2011, and getting Belfort for his first assignment is the beginning of that process.


Be Bobby Green

Having the biggest names from Strikeforce making their Octagon debuts has certainly generated the biggest buzz, but one veteran's first showing for the organization has perhaps made the largest impact.

After years of being a journeyman fighter and consistently overlooked, the "King" got the attention of the most powerful man in MMA earlier this month when he defeated Jacob Volkmann at UFC 156.

UFC President Dana White heralded Green's drive and determination and has used the 26-year-old as the premier example of how a hungry young fighter should approach competing in the UFC.

White raved about Green's ability to overcome a bad situation during the bout with Volkmann. The UFC boss was not only impressed with Green fighting through an ill-advised stand-up by referee Kim Winslow, but the killer instinct he showed in ultimately finishing the Minnesota native.

In the aftermath of Green's victory in Las Vegas, White has urged every fighter looking to make a home in the UFC to be like Bobby Green. It is a strong message from White which comes at a crucial time for the organization.

With a recent string of cuts and many more on the way, using Green's "win at all cost" mentality as the standard is a message sent loud and clear.

In addition to his praise for Green, the UFC president has also touted the majority of the Strikeforce fighters who have competed thus far in 2013. It has been one impressive performance after another for the former Strikeforce contingency.

With their respective hands being raised at a high percentage and earning White's praise, the former Strikeforce fighters are making the most of their opportunities to shine.