Rockhold demeans win, Strikeforce with UFC talk
LAS VEGAS – In the last three months, a trio of Strikeforce champions have left the promotion, joined the UFC and scored exceptionally impressive victories.
And yet, when a Strikeforce fighter wins or successfully defends a title, almost as if on cue, they call out their brethren in the UFC. In December, lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez did it after taking apart Jorge Masvidal. And on Saturday at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Luke Rockhold did it again after stopping Keith Jardine at 4:26 of the first round to make the first defense of his Strikeforce middleweight title.
It’s almost as if the Strikeforce fighters, despite the wins in the UFC by guys like Nick Diaz, Dan Henderson and Alistair Overeem, have an inferiority complex.
Rockhold had few problems with Jardine, a six-year UFC veteran who had victories over ex-champions Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin. Rockhold landed 37 of 50 strikes, finishing Jardine on the ground after knocking him down.
His next challenge is likely going to be Tim Kennedy, but Rockhold’s first comments in the ring were about taking on UFC fighters.
A half hour later at the post-fight news conference, he didn’t seem particularly enthralled by the prospect of a bout with Kennedy. And Rockhold never mentioned the possibility of a fight with Robbie Lawler, a winner earlier on Saturday’s card who was seated only a few feet away from him.
“If that’s the plan, then that’s the plan and I’ll make the most of what we’ve got here,” Rockhold said. “Me and Tim Kennedy, the fight was supposed to happen quite a few times, but the fight just hasn’t seemed to come [together]. I always look to bigger and better things, and so if the UFC wants to bring in some top contenders, I’m more than happy to welcome them to our hexagon, like Gilbert [Melendez] would say.”
When the plan was finalized last month for Strikeforce to return in 2012, the idea was to run it as a separate and distinct league. That, though, hasn’t stopped its biggest stars from eyeing bouts against those signed to UFC contracts.
On the one hand, it’s understandable, because the UFC is the best-promoted MMA company in the world and its fighters are far better known as a result than a comparable fighter elsewhere. That results in more money, in terms of purses and sponsorships, along with the recognition that goes along with being associated with those three letters.
Unfortunately, it’s not good for the Strikeforce brand. If it’s going to be viable long-term, the Strikeforce fighters are going to have to want to go up against the best in their league. Otherwise, they make it look like nothing more than a developmental league with the UFC as the Promised Land.
“They’d just like to be in a position where they can fight anybody in any other league,” Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker said following the news conference. “But you know, it’s already been decided that these are going to be separate leagues. We’re going to provide them great fights and we’ll still have some great fights ahead of them. But these guys have a lot to prove.”
Rockhold’s close buddy and training partner, Muhammed Lawal, seems to get it. He’s gotten into a Twitter-inspired feud with former UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and has begun to take heat from fans for not making an effort to fight Jackson.
Lawal, though, recently signed a contract extension with Strikeforce and isn’t going to be available for that fight. And so he did the right thing on Saturday by trying to quash talk of it for fear it would diminish his upcoming Strikeforce bouts.
“Why’d you bring up that bum’s name?” Lawal said when asked about Jackson. “It’s like this: If he wants to come to Strikeforce and get beat, he can. To me, he should stick to acting and doing movies. To me, in my mind, in my eyes, he ain’t got it no more. He can hit me up on Twitter and talk trash and try to get me off my game, but we all know the truth. He’s an actor; a sub-par actor. He should be on ‘The B-Team,’ not ‘The A-Team’.”
Pressed more on it, Lawal didn’t bite.
“I’m in Strikeforce,” Lawal said. “The fans who are asking me about the UFC, they’re stupid, man. I’m in Strikeforce. What can I say about the UFC? I’m in Strikeforce. The UFC has their own thing and Strikeforce has their own thing. I can’t be concerned with what they’re saying.”
As long as Lawal’s peers keep bringing up fights against UFC opponents as a means of validating themselves, though, the Strikeforce fighters are never going to get the respect they crave, or deserve, for what they’ve done.
Strikeforce is putting on major league-caliber fights and Showtime puts on first-rate broadcasts, but until the fighters accept that Strikeforce is a destination and not a steppingstone, they’ll never fully earn the respect of the public.
Coker insists it doesn’t bother him – “I want guys who want to be the best and who want to fight the best guys in the world,” he said – but it’s making his job that much easier.
As Diaz, Henderson and Overeem have shown in the last three months, being a Strikeforce champion is a pretty significant achievement in and of itself.
It’s about time guys like Rockhold and Melendez learn to appreciate that.
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