Jake Shields‘ recent dominating victory over Dan Henderson has left the Strikeforce middleweight division in disarray and handed even more momentum to the rapidly expanding UFC. It appears that the UFC will be the major beneficiary of Shields’ imminent defection from Strikeforce with Dana White all but confirming his arrival.
Had Henderson defeated Shields in their recent title fight Strikeforce would have been left with a highly marketable middleweight champion because Henderson was not cut from the UFC. The highly regarded MMA veteran was simply unable to agree to the terms of a contract renewal.
Henderson left the UFC on a three fight win streak, knocking out Michael Bisping with a trademark right hand in his final fight with the promotion, which would have made it more difficult for Dana White to denounce him as being a UFC discard. The signing of the former Pride champion could have been a major coup for Strikeforce. Unfortunately, by losing to Shields, Henderson has inadvertently lost the organization a lot of credibility.
One loss does not necessarily spell the end of Henderson’s career but the fact that the man who beat him is on the verge of signing with the UFC is a huge blow for Strikeforce. It sends out a strong message that the best fighters end up in the UFC while the rest find themselves plying their trade elsewhere.
It could have been so different had Shields not recovered dramatically from the one sided beating he received in the opening round. All seemed to be going according to plan for Henderson, and presumably Strikeforce, when he rocked Shields with a devastating right hook early in the fight. Shields never really recovered and it appeared Henderson was about to secure an early stoppage.
Shields’ legs were lost and a comeback simply did not seem on the cards when the bell rang at the end of the first round. To his credit Shields not only regained his composure but he also rapidly gained the upper hand in the fight. For the remaining four rounds he was able to take Henderson down seemingly at will. Not only did Shields secure takedown after takedown, he also kept Henderson on his back for large periods of the fight, doing enough damage to deter the referee from standing them up.
It was a highly impressive performance, particularly given Henderson’s wrestling pedigree. To say that this victory played into Dana White’s hands is something of an understatement. The UFC can now market Shields as the welterweight who was too good for the Strikeforce middleweight division.
The temptation must be to throw Shields in with reigning welterweight champion George St-Pierre straightaway. Such is St-Pierre’s dominance that if Shields were to lose it would not damage his marketability too badly. It would also give the UFC a golden opportunity to disparage their nearest rivals….
‘Our welterweight champion is so good your middleweight champion can’t even beat him.’
The UFC simply cannot lose. In the unlikely event that Shields can actually beats St-Pierre the welterweight division suddenly becomes an interesting place again with a big money rematch on the horizon. If Shields is put in with another welterweight first and fails to emerge victorious, it will make Strikeforce look even worse….
‘Your middleweight champion isn’t even good enough to beat our welterweight contenders.’
It is harsh on Strikeforce whose middleweight division remains relatively strong. Along with Henderson, they have Frank Shamrock, Cung Lee, Scott Smith and welterweight champion Nick Diaz has also been straying into middleweight territory with a couple of recent catchweight bouts.
The pervading assumption is that Strikeforce expected Henderson to beat Shields, just as the bookmakers did. This would have eased the pain of Shield’s departure considerably and would have had the UFC casting covetous glances at Henderson once again.
Instead they are left to pick up the pieces as Jake Shields leaves for the promised land of the UFC with the Strikeforce strap still proudly strung over his shoulder.
The UFC’s stranglehold on the MMA world is so great that they can afford to lose a fighter of the caliber of Henderson; but for MMA promotions, just as MMA fighters, the margins between success and failure are razor thin.
Strikeforce may, at this point in the game, be powerless to prevent the transaction, but exchanging Shields for Henderson represents a bad bit of business for the most prominent pretender to the UFC’s throne.