(During the global pandemic and the halt of live combat sports, we’ll be running features a little outside the box. In “Cards That Weren’t”, we’ll look at famous [or infamous] fight cards that never took place for one reason or another and discuss what was booked, what may have happened if it took place, and if the fighters ever faced off in the future.)
The Promotion: Strikeforce. Dear, sweet, blessed Strikeforce, how I loved you. Strikeforce was actually started as a San Jose-based kickboxing promotion in 1985, but got into the MMA game in 2006, packing over 18,000 fans into the HP Pavilion for their first card, Strikeforce: Shamrock vs. Gracie. They grew at a solid pace, partnering with EliteXC, but when Elite folded, they became the promotion everyone looked to, and Scott Coker, their promoter, knew it. After bringing in the top EliteXC names, and forming partnerships with DREAM and M-1, amongst others, along with various kickboxers, Strikeforce became a true alternative to the UFC, and they had enough firepower for EA to make, in my opinion, the greatest MMA game in history, EA MMA. To me, the highlight of Strikeforce was their Heavyweight Grand Prix, an ambitious, loaded, and well-organized tournament of the best heavyweights in the world not signed to the UFC (and arguably the greatest heavyweight in UFC history ended up winning in as a tournament reserve just goes to show the depth).
Unfortunately, Strikeforce was purchased by Zuffa in 2011, and while they were allowed to run their own shows, and Coker was allowed to run the show, eventually they were folded into the UFC and 2013, and Coker left to run Bellator.
But before that, in November of 2012, Strikeforce had their winner of their Heavyweight Grand Prix due for a fight, but who should he fight? Zuffa decided on Frank Mir, but injuries in the main and co-main forced the cancellation of the event.
But what was that card supposed to look like? What fights were booked for it?
Heavyweight Bout: Daniel Cormier (10-0) vs. Frank Mir (16-6)
Where Did They Stand: Cormier went from Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix alternate, thought as a green prospect to winning the entire fucking thing, defeating Jeff Monson, Bigfoot Silva, and finally Josh Barnett in the finals that would be remembered for Cormier absolutely manhandling the monstrous Barnett, unleashed some scoop slams and generally keeping him upside down for large parts of the fight. Mir is coming off his third consecutive UFC Heavyweight title loss, this time finished by champion Junior Dos Santos. This was smart matchmaking by Zuffa, who owned Strikeforce by this point, giving Cormier a legit, marketable headline opponent to test himself against.
How This Would Have Gone: Well, we didn’t have to imagine for long…
Did They End Up Facing Each Other: …because they fought each other six months later in the UFC after Zuffa folded Strikeforce into the UFC. Cormier handled Mir with relative ease, as Mir had just about nothing for DC.
Strikeforce Middleweight Championship: Luke Rockhold (c) (10-1) vs. Lorenz Larkin (13-0)
Where Did They Stand: Larkin, who came over from the world of kickboxing, brought innovative offense to Strikeforce and most recently took a surprise win over Robbie Lawler to earn this title shot. Rockhold started his Strikeforce career with six consecutive first-round finishes before challenging and defeating Jacare Souza for the middleweight strap. With two defenses over Keith Jardine and Tim Kennedy, he was looking to extend his reign.
How This Would Have Gone: Larkin was a hell of a striker, especially back then, and that win over Lawler, even though he wasn’t early-stage or late-stage Lawler (Strikeforce Lawler was probably the worst stretch of his career, he went 3-5), warranted a title shot. However, he wasn’t TRT-Vitor, and Rockhold would have had enough tools to keep Larkin from launching any creative offense.
Did They End Up Facing Each Other: They did not. After a subpar showing in the UFC’s middleweight division, going 1-4, he dropped down to welterweight.
Lightweight Bout: Bobby Green (19-5) vs. Jorge Masvidal (23-7)
Where Did They Stand: It should be noted that at this time, Jorge Masvidal wasn’t JORGE FUCKING MASVIDAL. He was still a very raw, very unrefined former street fighter from Dade County. He had challenged, and lost to Gilbert Melendez in a crack at the Strikeforce Lightweight title, then earned a split-decision win over Justin Wicox after that. Green made his bones in the rabidly-competitive (at the time) King of the Cage lightweight division. After suffering a loss from JZ Cavalcante by split-decision, he ran off four straight wins, and you could easily make the argument that Green was due a title shot if he won here.
How This Would Have Gone: Green was never afraid to throw hands, but Green also had a wrestling background and ended his career with more submissions than knockouts. At the time, Masvidal didn’t have nearly the defensive tools he has now to stop that from happening.
Did They End Up Facing Each Other: They did not, and it’s unfortunate. But lightweight is routinely the deepest and most competitive in MMA, and once they both went to the UFC, there were just too many goddamned lightweights and their paths didn’t cross before Masvidal moved up to welterweight.
Middleweight Bout: Tim Kennedy (14-4) vs. Trevor Smith (10-2)
Where Did They Stand: Smith was a game, yet limited soldier for Strikeforce, who managed to carve out a decent career on mostly grit. Kennedy, meanwhile, was a top-flight middleweight in Strikeforce, who had failed twice in his quest for the middleweight title, going the distance with Jacare Souza in August of 2010 and recently falling to Luke Rockhold in his fight prior. This is a seemingly bounceback fight for Kennedy, giving him a game, yet winnable fight.
How This Would Have Gone: We’d have to wait even less to see it than Cormier and Mir…
Did They End Up Facing Each Other: …because two months later, in the final-ever Strikeforce event, these two tangled, with Kennedy taking a third-round submission win.