Fight Facts Retrospective: Strikeforce

By: Jay Pettry
Mar 23, 2020

Fight Facts Retrospective is a branch of the Fight Facts series that chronicles the accomplishments and achievements of legendary fighters and historic promotions. Join us in celebrating the recent 14th anniversary of Strikeforce’s first event and help blow out the candles as we break down the key parts from its 60 thrilling events from start to finish.

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Featuring some of the best competitors the sport had to offer beyond the confines of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Strikeforce for nearly seven years won over hearts and minds with several MMA greats who are still competing today.

IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED: The first fight in Strikeforce history took place between Scott Graham and Chris Yee at Strikeforce “Shamrock vs. Gracie” on March 10, 2006. Graham tapped Yee with a second-round rear-naked choke to kick off the event. Of the two, only Graham competed again with the organization after their bout. The card was headlined by a grudge match between Frank Shamrock and Cesar Gracie, with Shamrock demolishing his debuting opponent in 21 seconds.

PRE-UFC GUIDA: At that first event in 2006, Clay Guida earned his only major championship when he captured a decision over Josh Thomson. Guida lost his light belt three months later when he dropped a split verdict to Gilbert Melendez.

TRY, TRY AGAIN: The final fight in the Strikeforce organization came in the form of a welterweight title affair between Tarec Saffiedine and Nate Marquardt. It went down at Strikeforce “Marquardt vs. Saffiedine”—the last card before the Ultimate Fighting Championship merger—on Jan. 12, 2013. Saffiedine kicked his way to a decision win over “Nate The Great” and was promptly brought to UFC to be matched up against Hyun Gyu Lim. Despite serving as the final Strikeforce welterweight champion, he never fought for a UFC title.

STAY CLOSE TO HOME: Of the 63 events held under the organization’s banner, 31 took place in the company’s home state of California. Strikeforce never put on a card outside of the continental United States.

JUST STRAIGHT NUMBERS: Over the years, Strikeforce amassed an impressive overall finish rate of 63.3 percent. Although this trails the nearly legendary stoppage rate of World Extreme Cagefighting (70.5 percent) and Pride Fighting Championships (66.2 percent), it stands atop that of Bellator MMA (61 percent) and the UFC (53.8 percent).

FINISHES ALL THE WAY DOWN: The most finishes (12) on a single Strikeforce card came at a co-promoted event with EliteXC: Strikeforce: “Shamrock vs. Baroni.” Five other events saw 10 stoppages each. In other organizations, Bellator holds the major promotional record (15) at Bellator 157. The WEC comes in second among those organizations, with 13 taking place at WEC 14. While the UFC record also stands at 15 at a single event, UFC 2 did not have rounds or time limits. The modern UFC record is currently tied between UFC Fight Night 55 and UFC 224, with 11 each. Finally, no single Pride event saw more than nine finishes in one night.

ELEVATOR GOING UP: Melendez is the winningest fighter in Strikeforce history, as he went 11-1. The only other competitor with at least 10 victories was Thomson, who was the only man to hand Melendez a loss. Trailing them are Luke Rockhold (nine), Daniel Cormier (eight) and Tyron Woodley (eight).

ELEVATOR GOING DOWN: Two Strikeforce fighters are tied with the most defeats (five) in company history: Robbie Lawler and Scott Smith. Six other fighters are tied for the third-most defeats in organizational history with four.

LIKE A ROCK: Only three fighters in promotional history fought more than five times under the Strikeforce banner and never lost: Rockhold, Cormier and Nick Diaz. Of those three, Rockhold sports the best record of the bunch, going a perfect 9-0 while capturing and twice defending the middleweight strap along the way.

‘THE PUNK’ TOOK THINGS SERIOUSLY: Thomson holds the record for the most appearances inside the Strikeforce cage, taking 13 bouts throughout his tenure with the company. Melendez is behind him with 12. The only other fighters to compete at least 10 times were Billy Evangelista and James Terry.

INTERNATIONAL MEN OF MYSTERY: Thomson, Gegard Mousasi and Yves Edwards are the only three fighters in MMA history to compete with the UFC, Pride, Strikeforce and Bellator.

ALL HE DID WAS WIN, UNTIL …: After going an incredible 14-0 with a no contest in his outstanding Pride run, Fedor Emelianenko won his Strikeforce debut by knocking out Brett Rogers to defend his World Association of Mixed Martial Arts heavyweight title. However, he lost his next three fights, all by stoppage, with his defeat against Fabricio Werdum famously crashing the servers.

A TRAIL OF BODIES BEHIND THEM: Rockhold and Cung Le sport a record seven stoppage wins throughout their respective times on the Strikeforce roster. Trailing them are Thomson and Luke Stewart (six each). There is a six-way tie for the fifth-most.

HE WAS IN A VAN DAMME MOVIE: All seven of Le’s finishes came by knockout, putting him in sole possession of the most in Strikeforce history. No other fighter has more than four.

THE 23 ENIGMA: A whopping 23 fighters each suffered two knockouts in the Strikeforce cage, and they are all tied for the most knockout defeats in company history.

SLAMMIN’ SALMON: Strikeforce saw two distinct slam knockouts take place inside its walls, with Cory Devela notching the first at Strikeforce “At the Dome” in 2008. The second was much more impactful, as Sarah Kaufman slammed Roxanne Modafferi to earn the stoppage and defend her bantamweight crown.

THE MODERN MANEUVER: With more than twice the number of any other kind of submission, the rear-naked choke was by far the most performed maneuver in Strikeforce history. Rear-naked choke stoppages account for about 33 percent of all submissions, followed by the armbar (16 percent) and the guillotine choke (11.5 percent).

STOP HITTING YOURSELF: Of those submissions, a whopping eight percent featured fighters who tapped out due to strikes.

CHALLENGERS PULL OFF CHALLENGING MOVES: A few submission moves were only seen once inside the Strikeforce cage: the bulldog choke, the inverted heel hook, the omoplata and the straight armbar. Lyle Beerbohm submitted Duane Ludwig with a bulldog choke; Merritt Warren hit Thomas Diagne with an inverted heel hook; Shane del Rosario tapped Brandon Cash with an omoplata; and Maurice Smith landed a straight armbar on Rick Roufus. Of those four unique moves, the inverted heel hook and the omoplata happened on the same card: Strikeforce Challengers 4.

SPEED KILLS … AND SO DO PUNCHES: The record for the quickest knockout in promotional history came in nine seconds at Strikeforce Challengers 13, where Dustin West dusted Daniel Schmitt. Two seconds behind him, Nik Theotikos required 11 seconds to smash Devin Johnson at Strikeforce Young Guns 1. The fastest finish among all female fighters came when current UFC two-division champ Amanda Nunes dismantled Julia Budd in 14 seconds, also at Strikeforce Challengers 13.

LET’S DO THE FOURTH IN BELLATOR: Throughout all Strikeforce history, one trilogy took place entirely under the promotion’s banner: Melendez vs. Thomson. Thomson won the first meeting to capture the lightweight crown, and Melendez took the next two—all three went five full rounds—to reclaim and defend the lightweight strap.

AND NOW WE HAVE BELLAFORCE: Three distinct tournaments took place while Strikeforce was in operation. They were a four-man middleweight draw at Strikeforce “Four Men Enter, One Man Survives,” a four-woman bantamweight tournament at Strikeforce Challengers 10 and a heavyweight grand prix spread out across several cards.

YOUR REWARD? YOU’RE OUT!: The first tournament took place in November 2007 and was co-promoted with Bodog Fight. Trevor Prangley, Falaniko Vitale, Jorge Santiago and Sean Salmon all participated, with Santiago and Prangley meeting in the finals. Although Santiago scored a flying knee knockout, Prangley saw a majority draw in the judges’ decision changed to a win due to the referee getting the final call. Santiago smashed Prangley in the final and never competed for Strikeforce again.

TAKEDOWN TATE TOOK ’EM DOWN: Miesha Tate won the second Strikeforce tournament in August 2010, taking decisions over Maiju Suotama and Hitomi Akano. In victory, she earned a title shot against Marloes Coenen at Strikeforce “Fedor vs. Henderson” and captured the belt by tapping Coenen in the first round.

A MAN NAMED DAN: The third and final tournament began on February 2011 and ended in May 2012, as Josh Barnett won his way through the tournament, only to get dominated by an alternate in Cormier. Overeem won in the quarterfinals to advance but bowed out of the tournament and was replaced by Cormier, who crushed Antonio Silva to reach the final.

KING (AND QUEEN) OF THE HILL: Only two fighters throughout organizational history defended their belts more than twice in a row: Melendez at lightweight during his second title reign and Diaz at welterweight. Cristiane Justino nearly did so a third time but tested positive for anabolic steroids on her third defense, as her battering of Hiroko Yamanaka was overturned to a no contest.

HARD LUCK FOR CHAMPS: When Strikeforce was absorbed by the UFC upon its purchase by Zuffa, the titles all followed suit. Of all the company’s final champions, only Ronda Rousey immediately won a championship match upon coming over. All of the official Strikeforce championships were relinquished prior to the fighters’ signing.

STRIKEFORCE NEVER DIE: Although only Rousey won a belt in her first trip to the Octagon, several other Strikeforce fighters later held UFC gold: Cormier, Justino, Lawler, Nunes, Rockhold, Tate, Werdum, Woodley and Germaine de Randamie.

KING STIPE: The current lineal Strikeforce light heavyweight champion is Stipe Miocic, as the title came into the UFC with Dan Henderson and passed through fighters to the UFC heavyweight champ. Additionally, although Overeem vacated his belt prior to signing with the UFC, the Strikeforce lineal heavyweight king is also Miocic.

SOMEWHAT SIMPLER: At middleweight, the lineal Strikeforce titleholder is now Israel Adesanya after belts were vacated along the way. The lineal Strikeforce welterweight strap belongs to Kamaru Usman.

DRAPED IN GOLD: Nunes is currently the UFC women’s bantamweight and featherweight queen, and she is also the lineal Strikeforce women’s bantamweight and featherweight champ.

INTER-CONTINENTAL UNIVERSAL CHAMPION: Strikeforce “Triple Threat” awarded a pair of United States-based titles at lightweight and middleweight. Thomson and Eugene Jackson won them in their respective weight classes over Nam Phan and Ronald Jhun. Only Thomson later defended that belt. Despite being the U.S. champion, Thomson still needed to win another non-title match to vie for international Strikeforce gold.

WELL AT LEAST THAT ALMOST MAKES SENSE: The lineal Strikeforce U.S. title was unified with the UFC lightweight title when Melendez met Benson Henderson at UFC on Fox 7 in 2013. If following the lineage of the UFC lightweight belt after it was vacated by Conor McGregor, Khabib Nurmagomedov is the lineal Strikeforce U.S. lightweight champ, as well as the lineal Strikeforce lightweight champion.

LOGIC IS NOT WELCOME HERE: Although the lineal Strikeforce U.S. lightweight title had a clear transition to the UFC, the lineal Strikeforce middleweight timeline took a far different path, moving down to welterweight for a time before ending in the hands of Georges St. Pierre. As St. Pierre retired twice and vacated his thrones, the lineal middleweight Strikeforce belt figuratively rests in the hands of UFC middleweight king Israel Adesanya.

BIG LUGS: One lone match took place above the heavyweight limit in Strikeforce history: Jan Nortje vs. Bob Sapp at Strikeforce “At the Dome.” Nortje hit the scales at a svelte 333 pounds, compared to Sapp at 356. Nortje finished Sapp in 55 seconds.

IT EARNED HER A SPOT ON BULLY BEATDOWN: The lightest fight in Strikeforce history came once at women’s strawweight, where Michelle Waterson tapped Tyra Parker in 80 seconds at Strikeforce “Payback” in 2008. It was the only bout in the division, although the company tried to no avail to establish a lighter division with two more 120-pound catchweight affairs in 2009 and 2011.

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