Showtime Networks Inc. and World championship mixed martial arts (MMA) event producer Strikeforce have joined forces to create an all-new series of MMA events that will air live on SHOWTIME® as part of the SHOWTIME Sports franchise.
The news was jointly announced today by Ken Hershman, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Sports and Event Programming, Showtime Networks, and Strikeforce Founder and CEO Scott Coker.
The multi-year agreement calls for SHOWTIME to produce and televise up to 16 live events per year including Strikeforce world championship events as well as a series dedicated to showcasing up-and-coming fighters in the sport.
The initial championship event is schedule for Saturday, April 11, 2009 at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. The fight card will be announced at a later date.
"We are very excited to have the opportunity to deliver live Strikeforce events on the SHOWTIME premium television platform," said Coker.
"SHOWTIME is a forward-thinking innovator with a reputation for producing outstanding original programming in sports and entertainment. They have been a phenomenal partner in the past and we are looking forward to growing our relationship with them and bringing the Strikeforce brand of MMA to millions of SHOWTIME subscribers."
"Strikeforce has a history of presenting high-quality, compelling mixed martial arts events and we are thrilled to be able to bring their world-class events to our subscribers," said Hershman.
Hershman was responsible for pioneering the network’s entry into MMA in 2007, when SHOWTIME became the first premium network to televise the explosive sport.
He continued, "This relationship with Strikeforce will allow SHOWTIME to continue to deliver some of the best MMA match-ups in the rapidly growing sport as well as to expose the future champions of MMA to our audience."
The agreement reunites SHOWTIME and Strikeforce following their successful "Shamrock vs. Baroni" event, presented by SHOWTIME PPV® in 2007. In the main event, former UFC middleweight champion and MMA legend, Frank Shamrock, submitted knockout artist, Phil "The New York Badass" Baroni, in the second round of action whereby Shamrock became the first-ever Strikeforce World Middleweight Champion.
The historic event was followed up with a live SHOWTIME telecast of one of the sport’s most anticipated showdowns of all-time—Shamrock versus undefeated world kickboxing champion Cung Le—on March 29, 2008.
In a battle that has since been proclaimed "Fight Of The Year" by industry experts and critics, Le seized the Strikeforce middleweight crown by pouring on a relentless offensive and fending off Shamrock’s counter attacks before breaking the defending champion’s arm with a hard roundhouse kick and forcing Shamrock to retire from the bout between rounds three and four.
A martial arts promoter of over 23 years, Coker has gained widespread acclaim amongst industry colleagues and the media, including Rolling Stone magazine, Yahoo! Sports, and The San Jose Mercury News, for positioning his 14-year-old Strikeforce organization as a major player in the world’s fastest growing sport since its inaugural MMA event that hosted a capacity crowd of 18,265 at San Jose’s HP Pavilion on March 10, 2006.
The live gate figure also broke the then-all-time record for attendance at an MMA event held in North America.