The final year of a decade destined to be remembered as pivotal for the expansion of mixed martial arts essentially comes to a close Saturday with dueling Strikeforce and WEC cards, which air on Showtime and Versus respectively. It may very well be the fistic end to 2009 -- in the U.S. at least -- yet the weekend feels more like an early skirmish of a potentially promotional-war-ravaged 2010.
This won't mark the first time Zuffa and Strikeforce crossed paths, and it certainly isn't expected to be the last. MMA fans, if they haven't already, need to accept that their attention is coveted, and once in a while a decision will be necessary to determine which bouts to watch.
I say why not catch them all if you can, and get familiar with your DVR. In honor of a year that flew by -- Seems like UFC 93 happened in 2005, no? -- here are nine forward-looking reasons to watch both cards, where possible:
• Basing each lineup on its own merits, good fights loom. How good we don't know, but it seems likely of the eight bouts guaranteed to be televised, at least three could be terrific. These six, ranked on their potential for great MMA, standout: 1)
• Is there a fighter competing at WEC 45 with the potential to become a bankable pay-per-view attraction? Perhaps a bantamweight will emerge, or lightweight
• Strikeforce desperately needs to fill the ranks of its light heavyweight division with quality fighters, and though
• Josh Thomson or Gilbert Melendez could help determine the second best lightweight on the planet. Right now that distinction belongs to
• WEC lightweights aren't as fortunate as Thomson or Melendez, at least on the rankings front. While the organization's heaviest division continues to improve under the nurturing of matchmaker
• As has been its inclination, Strikeforce once again booked weak preliminary matches for a large Showtime-televised event. In doing so, the San Jose, Calif.-based organization once again wasted valuable space on its cards which could have gone to some of their more budding talent. Judging by the way UFC utilizes its off-TV fights, Strikeforce has room to improve.
• Former Strikeforce middleweight champion Cung Le returns to the cage for the first time since March 2008. He has fought six times, winning each bout inside the distance. Fat and happy on movie sets is hardly the way to remain motivated in the fight game, yet Le, who was forced to relinquish the title now held by Jake Shields, remains one of the promotional lynchpins for Strikeforce at its HP Pavilion home base in San Jose, Calif. A poor result against Scott Smith could severely diminish the Vietnamese fighter's capacity to sell tickets, and almost relegate him full-time to acting.
• Strikeforce-signed middleweights
• Bantamweights encompass perhaps the most intriguing weight class featured by the WEC. In all, five fights at 135 should spark Saturday's Vegas card at The Pearl at the Palms. Depending on how things pan out, Mizugaki, Benavidez, Yahya or Jorgensen could be next in line for