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Luke Rockhold and the Success of Strikeforce Alumni in the UFC

Fightland Blog

By Jake Hughes

Photos by Esther Lin/Forza LLC/Zuffa LLC

On December 12, 2015 Former Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold overcame the formerly unbeaten Chris Weidman to become the UFC middleweight champion. Rockhold’s dominating win was brutal as it was impressive, with the “All American” Weidman suffering untold and unanswered punishment well before referee Herb Dean deemed the fight to be over.

Like other Strikeforce champions making the transition from Northern California to Nevada, Rockhold’s credentials were questioned as to whether he was good enough to be competitive in the UFC, let alone earn a belt in the “big leagues.”

This skepticism appears to have been a big motivator for Rockhold in his quest for UFC gold. At the post-fight press conference following his devastating victory over Weidman at UFC 194, Rockhold told the assembled media: “I've been saying it for a long time: I believe I'm the best. I believe I've been the best in this sport for a long time.

“People want to beat down my Strikeforce accomplishments. I've taken my game to a higher level. I knew I'd come in and I'd outperform them and I'd get the job done."

He’s not wrong. While his debut was cut short by the spinning wheel kick of a TRT-fuelled Vitor Belfort, Rockhold has compiled a handsome 5-1 record in the UFC, defeating the likes of Michael Bisping and Lyoto Machida before leaving UFC 194 victorious.

However, there is a case to be made for other Strikeforce alumni who went on to either debut at/return to the UFC after ZUFFA purchased and subsequently swallowed Scott Coker’s promotion.

When Strikeforce was fully absorbed into the UFC in at the beginning of 2013, 20 fighters were announced to make the transition from Strikeforce to the UFC—these include fighters ranging from Rockhold, Gegard Mousasi and Jacare Souza to Bobby Voelker, Kurt Holobaugh and Roger Bowling. But, the likes of Nick Diaz, Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum and Dan Henderson had already made the move over as early as 2011, while Robbie Lawler and the women’s division joined after.

Completing the painstaking process of going through all of those 20 fighters’ records, as well as the 35 additional records for those who joined before and after the 2013 announcement (all fighters listed below), for both their Strikeforce and subsequent UFC tenures, there are some interesting figures produced for the statistics lovers out there.

At Strikeforce, the aforementioned 55 fighters compiled an impressive record of 201-65 with two No Contests, producing a win ratio of 75%. Meanwhile, their UFC record stands at 139-114 with seven No Contests, resulting in a lower 56% win ratio.

While some Strikeforce stalwarts such as Cung Le, Roger Gracie and Pat Healy fell by the wayside upon joining the UFC, it must be pointed out that the reputation of these fighters meant they were put against the toughest the UFC has to offer from the get go.

Take Gegard Mousasi for example. In his UFC debut, Mousasi was originally slated to face off against future light heavyweight contender Alex Gustafsson before injury sidelined the big Swede and Ilir Latifi took his place. After that, he faced off against Lyoto Machida, Mark Munoz, Jacare Souza, Dan Henderson and more.

But, with big risks come big rewards. Since 2013, Strikeforce graduates Fabricio Werdum, Daniel Cormier, Luke Rockhold, Robbie Lawler and one Ronda Rousey all became UFC champions after being thrown into the lion’s den. That’s five champions for the UFC’s ten weight divisions. That’s not bad going at all.

Conversely, UFC welterweight champion Lawler had a 3-5 record during his eventful Strikeforce run. But, despite father time creeping up on him, Lawler has compiled a 7-1 record upon his return to the UFC and subsequent title win. Perhaps the Strikeforce roster was stronger than thought?

So Rockhold did have a point in his press conference. It’s undeniable there were doubts as to how Strikeforce’s fighters would make the “step up” to the UFC voiced by both fans and pundits. But, when you put some context behind the fight records compiled by those who made the move and the title holders Strikeforce have produced, Rockhold et al will have certainly made Scott Coker proud.

 

Check out these related stories:

On UFC 194 and Meaningful Fights With Contrasting Faces

UFC 194 Quick Results: McGregor Walks the Walk, Rockhold Takes the Throne

How Conor McGregor Killed the King

 

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