UFC Stands Clear of the Competition

E. Spencer Kyte@@spencerkyteSenior Analyst IFebruary 1, 2010

My fellow Featured Columnist Andrew Brining wrote a great piece following Saturday's Strikeforce: Miami event, stating that the excitement level of the card and the growing number of names on the Strikeforce roster bring them closer to the kings of the mountain, the UFC, at least from an excitement standpoint.

In watching the exact same card, I managed to come away with the complete opposite impression. Strikeforce: Miami confirmed to me that the UFC is so far ahead of the competition that Strikeforce doesn't even appear in the rear view mirror.

Bobby Lashley kicked off the Strikeforce program with an uninspiring and completely expected victory over last minute opponent Wes Sims. Yes, the same Wes Sims who once competed in the UFC and was most recently a member of the TUF 10 cast.

Considering the UFC usually holds on to anyone who shows even a modicum of talent coming out of The Ultimate Fighter house, the fact that Sims was available on a week's notice says it all.

Previous to signing with Strikeforce, Lashley was one of the biggest name free agents in the sport. His marketability is undeniable, and we all know Dana White and the UFC love making money. So why not sign the former WWE superstar when they had the chance?

Because they have a much better version in Brock Lesnar.

While the anti-Lesnar set wants to diminish every accomplishment the former Division I National Champion has earned to date, both Lesnar and Lashley are through five fights in the MMA careers.

No matter how much you hate him, Heath Herring, Randy Couture, and Frank Mir sure stack up a lot better than Mike Cook, Bob Sapp and Wes Sims.

Robbie Lawler certainly provided some fireworks with his out-of-nowhere right hand to the dome of Melvin Manhoef. It was a great shot and provided a "jump out of your seat" moment early in the evening.

But the current middleweight contender was once a UFC regular, making seven appearances inside the Octagon between 2002 and 2004 before consecutive losses left him on the outside looking in.

Despite being one of the top competitors in the division, it is widely believed that Lawler is very much interested in returning to the organization that made him a well-known warrior in the first place.

Guys wanting to leave is not something I consider a sign of emergence.

Which brings us to Herschel Walker.

What the former Heisman Trophy winner has accomplished athletically in his life is remarkable, and earning a win in his MMA debut last night at age 47 is incredible.

While the marketing and extra attention Walker's debut certainly brought to the event and the organization as a whole is undeniable, Strikeforce just had a 47-year-old rookie debuting in the middle of their first major event of the year.

He was the unquestioned focus of attention heading into the evening's festivities, yet three months ago, we had the same amount of experience in MMA.

If there was one fight that gave Strikeforce an edge in their unofficial battle with the UFC, it was the bout between Women's 145-pound champion Cris "Cyborg" Santos and Marloes Coenen.

Unfortunately, that edge comes because the UFC has no interest in promoting Women's divisions that are incredibly thin. While Cyborg is certainly entertaining and a dominant force in the cage, she is also already running out of challengers and she's only one fight into her title reign.

The main event of the Strikeforce: Miami show was as action-packed a first round as I've seen in a long time, with Nick Diaz coming away with the win and the welterweight title over a game Marius Zaromskis.

The older half of "The Fighting Diaz Brothers" won me over with his performance, and I believe with all sincerity that he could be a Top Five WW in the UFC, maybe even Top Three. He's legit and I have nothing negative to say about him. Same with Zaromskis; the kid showed heart and had Diaz in trouble at one point.

If further evidence is needed, look no further than the preliminary portion of the Strikeforce: Miami card.

While the UFC Prelims Live specials on Spike do reasonably good numbers, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who was remotely interested in any of the preliminary bouts, save for the Jay Hieron-Joe Riggs fight that became a total fustercluck thanks to serious streaming issues on EASports.com.

Additionally, the fact that Jay Hieron and Joe Riggs were relegated in favor of not one, but two debuting fighters with limited experience only further exposes the cavernous gap between the top two organizations in the sport.

Those quick to call "Kimbo" on this situation must recall that while the man born Kevin Ferguson was slated after current lightweight title challenger Frankie Edgar, "The Answer" was still on the televised portion of the card.

It could be argued that fighting on the same card as Kimbo actually increased Edgar's exposure, as more eyes were watching because of Kimbo's presence.

That is vastly different from putting one of your very limited number of title contenders on the undercard for back-to-back fights as Strikeforce has now done with Jay Hieron.

In regards to the list of exciting fighters who will help Strikeforce close the gap, some, like Gegard Mousasi, Brett Rogers, Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal, and the unmentioned Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza are solid stars-in-the-making. But the rest of the group?

Dan Henderson was allowed to leave the UFC because he (a)wanted more money than they were willing to spend and (b)has never been a North American draw.

Herschel Walker had his moment and while it drew a crowd and was a nice performance for a 47-year-old amateur, are you really interested in seeing the sequel?

It took four tries to find an opponent for Bobby Lashley. He ducked the first one (Shane Del Rosario), had the commission decline the second one (Yohan Banks) on the ground of non-competitiveness (!!!), and the third (Jimmy Ambriz) was questioned enough that the company decided it wasn't a good idea.

To anyone who cares about MMA, this guy is a joke right now; and Strikeforce doesn't look so good either for trying to serve up a series of cans to protect a potential marketing star.

Fedor is an absolute steal for Strikeforce, though they might have had to sell their souls for his services, as their Light Heavyweight champion Mousasi is contractually joined at the hip to his M-1/Red Devil teammate, limiting headlining options.

There are a couple of good prospects, a couple of already established stars and some guys in the middle who have shown potential; but each, save for maybe Fedor, has at least one comparable combatant on the UFC roster.

Saturday night, the experienced mixed martial artists on the Strikeforce: Miami card delivered some exciting moments. But having the equivalent of a 15 minute amateur fight and a squash match for a fighter whose opponent was an 11th-hour Plan D mixed in made one thing clear to this writer:

There is a Grand Canyon-sized gap between Strikeforce and the UFC, and it won't be getting smaller any time soon.


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