Daniel Cormer admits he didn’t really know what he was doing when he made his MMA debut in Strikeforce in September 2009.
Cormier stopped Gary Frazier, a former Oklahoma state champion wrestler in high school, in the second round on a card in suburban Tulsa.
“You know what I remember the most? Neither one of us had any idea what we were doing,” Cormier said with a laugh. “We were just out there swinging for the fences. And the saddest thing was it was on national TV. It’s great that Strikeforce gave me the opportunity but it was like ‘What in the world were you guys thinking putting me on national TV?“’
Cormier, who finished fourth in wrestling at the 2004 Olympics, proved to be a quick study. Last time out, in May 2012, he defeated former UFC heavyweight champion Josh (The Warmaster) Barnett to win the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix despite breaking his hand during the bout.
On Saturday, the 33-year-old takes on Dutch fighter Dion (Soldier) Staring in Oklahoma City in Strikeforce’s final card.
Cormier (10-0) is listed as a 20-1 favourite against Dutch fighter Dion (Soldier) Staring (28-7).
“Unbelievable,” Cormier said of the odds. “That’s pretty disrespectful to Dion and it’s sad, actually.”
Saturday’s event marks Strikeforce’s 63rd since making its debut on March 10, 2006, in San Jose where middleweight Frank Shamrock knocked out Cesar Gracie in 20 seconds.
Cung Le made his MMA debut on the card. The flashy middleweight, who went on to beat Shamrock for the Strikeforce title and now campaigns in the UFC, stopped Mike Altman in the first round.
Le, now 40, recalls fighting before a sellout crowd of 18,265 at the HP Pavilion in Strikeforce’s home base of San Jose.
“Strikeforce has been very good to me,” said Le (9-2), who fought eight times there before moving over to the UFC.
“Being a former Strikeforce middleweight champion, I am sad that Strikeforce is closing down but it happens.”
“I’ll always have a soft spot for Strikeforce,” he added. “I came up through Strikeforce and (founder and CEO) Scott Coker, and kind of graduated into the major leagues, which is the UFC.”
Saturday’s main event see Nate (The Great) Marquardt defend his welterweight title against Tarec (Sponge) Saffiedine. Other name fighters on the card include former Strikeforce champions Gegard Mousasi and Ronaldo Souza, and former UFC heavyweight title-holder Barnett.
The son of UFC Hall of Famer Randy (The Natural) Couture, Ryan Couture (5-1) hopes to fight his way into the UFC with a win over K.J. Noons in their final Strikeforce outing.
“It’s kind of bittersweet to see the Strikeforce brand going away,” said Ryan Couture. “Obviously they’ve been really good to me and I’m very happy that I’ve had the opportunity up until this point to have my career under the Strikeforce banner.
“So it’s kind of a bummer to see it go. But it’s also been tough to watch it kind of limp along this last year with the cancelled events and guys not getting fights as consistently as they’d like. Just kind of feeling like it was dying on the vine wasn’t great either. So I’m glad something definitive is happening. It’s just going to be interested to see what the future holds for all of us and where we all land.”
The organization is definitely not going out with a bang. Two shows were cancelled last fall. And Strikeforce evidently couldn’t find a photo for Staring or six others on this card, according to its website.
Cormier, however, has plenty of fond memories about his Strikeforce days.
“It was kind of small so there was a real family feel to it ... I saw all the same people for three years of my career,” he said.
Cormier and Frazier went on to be friends after their Strikeforce meeting. Cormier remembers his friend going to the aid of a woman who was being beaten by a man. For his efforts, Frazier was pepper-sprayed by one of the man’s friends.
Cormier remembers his nerves the day of his Strikeforce debut, thinking he would never be the same after climbing into a cage to fight a man.
“I was reading a book and once I put the book down, I had this horrible panic attack. But when I got to the gym, it was just another competition and it was great.”
The UFC bought Strikeforce in March 2011, adding 140 fighters in one fell swoop. At the time, UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta said the extra resources would help the UFC spread around the globe.
But it appears that the UFC and Showtime, the U.S. network tied to Strikeforce, were never able to get on the same page.
“At the end of the day, it’s a business,” said Ryan Couture. “And Strikeforce wasn’t making a lot of money so they were trying to find ways to keep costs down and run it on a smaller crew and (have) people working on both UFC and Strikeforce shows, so it just wasn’t feasible to give it the same attention that its big brother was getting. And that makes sense business-wise, so it’s not something that I think there’s anything wrong with. There’s a good explanation for why it was that way so it is what it is.”
Strikeforce made headlines in 2009 when it signed star heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko, willing to make promotional concessions to the Russian legend that the UFC wouldn’t.
Emelianenko stopped Brett (The Grim) Rogers in his Strikeforce debut then was beaten by Fabricio Werdum, Antonio (Bigfoot) Silva and Dan Henderson before leaving the organization with his reputation dented.
Canadians played their part in Strikeforce, particularly on the women’s side where Victoria’s Sarah Kaufman became the first women’s bantamweight champion in 2010. She lost the 135-pound title to Marloes Coenen later that year and was beaten by then-champion (Rowdy) Ronda Rousey in 2012.
Canadians Julia Budd and Alexis Davis also competed in Strikeforce.
Strikeforce’s commitment to women’s MMA helped open the door for the UFC, which has made Rousey its first women’s champ. She will make her debut next month against Liz Carmouche in the main event of UFC 157.
Former Strikeforce champions Carlos (Natural Born Killer) Condit, Nick Diaz and Jake Shields have already made the transition to the UFC. Strikeforce lightweight title-holder Gilbert Melendez is expected to make a splash in the 155-pound ranks when he makes the move.
Canadian welterweight Jordan (Young Gun) Mein makes his jump from Strikeforce to the UFC in March in Montreal at UFC 158.
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