At the beginning of this decade, Strikeforce were the unanimous number-two in MMA. It was a promotion filled with elite talent (and big personalities) who would go on to claim multiple UFC titles.
The UFC’s purchase of Strikeforce in 2011 left a real void, as it seemed for a good few years that there was no viable alternative to the UFC. Fortunately, it looks like that drought has come to an end.
We’ve seen recently that fighters are far less inclined to immediately re-sign with the UFC, instead opting to explore free agency and potentially sign with other promotions. Signing with Bellator used to be the act of a fighter nearing the end of their career, but that is no longer the case.
Last year, I wrote a piece comparing Bellator’s stable of fighters at the time to the Strikeforce roster between 2010 and 2012. Given the recent influx of signings to Bellator, I wanted to revisit that comparison.
As I did before, I’ll pick my top-5 fighters in each weight classes and select a winner, taking career accomplishments, star-power, and professional records into consideration. Any fighter signed to Bellator today is eligible for selection, as is anyone who competed at the peak of Strikeforce (2010-2012).
Strikeforce– Daniel Cormier, Alistair Overeem, Fedor Emelianenko, Fabrício Werdum, Josh Barnett
Bellator– Vitaly Minakov, Cheick Kongo, Matt Mitrione, Fedor Emelianenko, Bobby Lashley
There’s a huge gulf in class here. Strikeforce’s heavyweight Grand Prix was one of the most star-studded tournaments in MMA history, whilst heavyweight has never really been Bellator’s strongest division. 10-8 to Strikeforce.
Strikeforce– Dan Henderson, Muhammed Lawal, Gegard Mousasi, Rafael Cavalcante, Lorenz Larkin
Bellator– Ryan Bader, Phil Davis, Liam McGeary, Quinton Jackson, Muhammed Lawal
It’s a tough one… and I’ve not even considered the two light heavyweights headlining Bellator’s upcoming PPV (Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva). Given that depth, and the fact that in Bader and Davis they have two of the top-10 light heavyweights in the world, this one’s a 10-9 to Bellator.
Strikeforce– Luke Rockhold, Ronaldo Souza, Jake Shields, Tim Kennedy, Robbie Lawler
Bellator– Rafael Carvalho, Melvin Manhoef, Alexander Shlemenko, Hisaki Kato, Joe Schilling
With all due respect, this one is simple. 10-8 to Strikeforce.
Strikeforce– Nick Diaz, Tyron Woodley, Tarec Saffiedine, Nate Marquardt, Paul Daley
Bellator– Rory MacDonald, Lorenz Larkin, Douglas Lima, Andrey Koreshkov, Paul Daley
The recent signings of MacDonald and Larkin really have revitalized Bellator’s welterweight division. It’s another tight one here, but I’ll go 10-9 to Bellator.
Strikeforce- Gilbert Melendez, Josh Thomson, Jorge Masvidal, Shinya Aoki, Pat Healy
Bellator– Michael Chandler, Benson Henderson, Patricky Freire, Josh Thomson, David Rickels
Another close call. Some are going to disagree with this one too, but that’s a 10-9 to Strikeforce.
So is 2017’s Bellator stronger than 2011’s Strikeforce? Maybe not just yet, as Strikeforce takes it 48-45.
That said, if Bellator continues to aggressively tackle the free-agent market and bring in the elite, younger talent that they have been recently, their roster really could close that gap.
Whilst we can’t pretend that a 49-year-old Royce Gracie didn’t fight a 52-year-old Ken Shamrock at Bellator 149 last year, Scott Coker has turned Bellator into a destination for elite mixed martial artists too, as Rory MacDonald, Lorenz Larkin, Benson Henderson, Phil Davis, and Ryan Bader can attest.
Bellator might not have matched Strikeforce’s peak just yet, but I’m looking forward to watching them try.