In retrospect, it was January 4, 2011 when Strikeforce fired their last shot. On that day, the promotion re-signed Fedor Emelianenko and officially revealed its upcoming Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix. The announcements injected life into the promotion, which had yet to be bought by Zuffa, and excitement into the fans. Around the MMA world, there was a belief that the California-based organization was building momentum that could one day make it a true rival to the UFC.
Unbeknownst to all but a few, behind the scenes, a deal was brewing to sell Strikeforce to the UFC's parent company. Within two months, it was sealed.
The heavyweight division was supposed to be the glamour division of Strikeforce, but before long, it will vanish. The Grand Prix ended up dragging out far beyond its intended life span, and finally, 15 months after it began, it will finally end, taking the weight class along with it.
On Monday night, Strikeforce confirmed that the final, pitting Josh Barnett against Daniel Cormier, will finally be contested on May 19 in San Jose, California.
When the field was announced so long ago, Cormier wasn't even a part of it. He was an alternate, invited in after Alistair Overeem was fired by Strikeforce only to be brought into the UFC a short time later. That move effectively stole the last remaining legitimacy from the tournament format. Any remaining sizzle was doused by the losses of Emelianenko and Fabricio Werdum, ensuring that none of the original top three seeds would advance past the first round.
Cormier has at least proven to be a worthy talent. Unbeaten at 9-0, he stepped in to knockout Antonio Silva in a star-making performance last September. Meanwhile, the veteran Barnett advanced with submission wins over Brett Rogers and Sergei Kharitonov.
Though it's not a final anyone could have correctly forecast so long ago, it should at least prove to be an interesting style matchup, with the former wrestling Olympian Cormier likely to use his best attribute in reverse, to stay on his feet against the ground wizard Barnett.
Also announced for the same show is a lightweight championship match with challenger Josh Thomson trying to wrest the belt away from Gilbert Melendez in the third fight between them.
The matchup comes as a bit of a surprise given Thomson's last performance, a lackluster decision against KJ Noon for which he slammed himself, describing it with an expletive on the air. Sources told NBCSports.com that Zuffa explored the possibility of bringing in a UFC fighter to face Melendez, who is ranked by most among the top two lightweights in the world, but ultimately nixed the idea for a more conservative pick.
The bout will be the rubber match between the duo, who years ago used to train together. The first came in 2008, when Thomson upset Melendez to steal away the championship in a five-round decision. Eighteen months later, they rematched with title on the line and Melendez returned the favor, out-pointing Thomson to take the belt, which he has held on to until today.
His most recent defense came against Jorge Masvidal, but soon after began to vocalize a desire to face one of the UFC's best. That company's president Dana White, who has a role in Strikeforce operations, said he would try to find a way to make Melendez happy, but this likely won't do it.
So this is what it's come to for Strikeforce: a tournament that will crown someone soon to be whisked away to a bigger promotion, and a match no one particularly clamored for.