Just yesterday (Thurs., Dec. 15, 2011), UFC President Dana White, Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker and Showtime Executive Vice President and General Manager Stephen Espinoza held a conference call to announce that a new deal has been reached between Strikeforce and Showtime to continue their relationship for at least another two years.
The deal in place calls for Showtime to produce eight events during the 2012 calendar year. Coker will be running the show with input from White, who will attend live events and act as an overlord.
It starts on Jan. 7 with the Strikeforce: "Rockhold vs. Jardine" event in Las Vegas, Nevada.
There's a lot to like about the deal. More MMA, more places to get it and a different view on how it's presented to us. That's a good thing.
There's a lot to dislike about it, as well. The market is already oversaturated, and while I love MMA just as much as the next guy, I'm not entirely enamored with the idea of being handcuffed to my computer every Saturday for the entirety of 2012. Ribs taste pretty damn good but that doesn't mean I want them on my plate once a week.
Nonetheless, the deal is done. The dates have yet to be worked out but we know exactly what we're getting. But there's a lot more to the deal than just eight more events next year. Plenty of hard decisions were made, some of which were good and some of which were very clearly not.
Let's break 'em down.
The Good :
Dissolving the heavyweight division: I wrote not long ago that the UFC needed Alistair Overeem because its heavyweight division is seriously lacking contenders. That was the case in September and it's still the case today. Even when they bring the Strikeforce big men over, they're not exactly getting a plethora of top talent. Daniel Cormier has a ton of potential but he's a blown up light heavyweight. Is Josh Barnett even welcome back in the UFC? Antonio Silva had hype after beating Fedor Emelianenko but the previously mentioned blown up light heavyweight stuck him like a pig. Despite their collective potential inside the Octagon, they were a rag tag bunch in Strikeforce and pulling the plug on the division was the right thing to do.
Taping and airing preliminary card fights: This has needed to happen for a long, long time, for obvious reasons. No, they certainly won't get the exposure that main card bouts on Showtime will but they will be a part of the very same card and that makes them incredibly cost effective. It's the equivalent of airing a Challengers card without having to go through all the hoopla.
Keeping women's MMA and putting more of a focus on it: Marloes Coenen has to be kicking herself a bit for signing with Black Eye Promotions and not waiting out the storm. She could have been building towards a big money rematch against Miesha Tate and instead she's off fighting god knows where against lord knows who. Speaking of Tate, if you didn't know her before, you're going to get to know her now. That's not even mentioning Ronda Rousey, whose had three professional fights and spent about a minute and a half inside the cage in those fights ... combined. Oh and she was ripping arms out of sockets before Frank Mir made it cool again. She's also a master marketer. Big things are ahead for these lethal ladies and the spotlight is even bigger now that they don't have heavyweights to contend with and the future is no longer uncertain.
Dumping the Challengers Series: Every professional sports league needs an amateur league below it to groom talent and get them ready for the big stage. Baseball has AA, pro football has college football, even WWE has developmental territories in place solely to give guys somewhere to ply their craft until they're ready for bigger and better things. That's what Challengers was supposed to be. But the set up was a big fat failure from the get go and it was a money loser that couldn't get ratings and drew zero interest, which, ultimately, was counterproductive to the end game. The greatest performance of Ronda Rousey's career came on a Challengers show and about 150,000 tuned in to see it. That's unacceptable. A feeder league is good but if costs are high and revenue is low it will never make sense.
Fight night bonuses and awards: Not exactly a game changer and Strikeforce was never a promotion lacking excitement but any incentive for fighters to go a little harder for that knockout or submission is good with me.
Lack of foresight: If we're to assume the plan all along was to keep Strikeforce around, why was there zero emphasis placed on crowning new champions in the light heavyweight and welterweight divisions? And why was there a need to binge and purge talent at the top of the card to leave the mice fighting for the leftover scraps while the rats get fat in the greener pastures on the other side of the fence? Nearly every decision made from the time Zuffa purchased the promotion until yesterday lead every fan with a brain that works properly to believe it was only a matter of time until all that was left was a pile of ashes and broken dreams. All those various decisions did was undermine the perception of a promotion that was going to be kept alive in the end and that's bad business. I trust that the powers that be have a solid plan in place to rectify this but instead of planning big things for the future, they're left kicking off the new deal in damage control mode. Which brings me to my next point.
Fighting the notion that Strikeforce is anything but a feeder league and its champions are secondary titleholders: I understand that pumping up your product is necessary for any promoter and, in fact, the logical way to go about marketing. But outright lying to your audience is never a good idea. During the conference call to announce the deal, Dana White was adamant that Strikeforce is not a feeder league and its champions are not secondary titleholders, which is to say, there is nothing second rate about the organization. That's all well and good but if you want to call the UFC the pinnacle of the sport than Strikeforce, by definition, is not. That makes it secondary. Embracing that fact is far more productive in the long run. This is the equivalent of the Pittsburgh Steelers, for example, winning the AFC Championship game and getting a nice trophy. They hold the AFC title, sure, but it's the secondary title because the real goal is to win the Super Bowl and get its prize, the legendary Lombardi Trophy, or the NFL title. Pretending the AFC championship isn't secondary would be nothing short of an insult to the consumer. Same applies to Strikeforce.
Making Gilbert Melendez the face of the promotion: I went back and forth on this one. At first, I thought it was a good thing because having a fighter as charismatic as he is deadly inside the cage can't be a bad thing. But the reality is that he's a human being who isn't invincible. What happens when he loses? Not only does that mean the face of your promotion is a hurt commodity, it also kills whatever value he had as a potential draw in the UFC. On that note, the fact that he wasn't part of the talent mining hurts perception of him. Being the face of a second tier promotion is roughly equal to being the number one contender to any given title in the UFC. If you ain't first, you're last, folks.
Too much MMA: This is barely a complaint and in many ways it's not actually a bad thing but it doesn't help Strikeforce, who, as noted previously, will already be fighting the perception that its a second tier promotion, that it will inevitably be sandwiched between major UFC events on the 2012 fight calendar. The UFC will hold its most ambitious schedule ever this coming year and now that Strikeforce is adding a few more events to the fray, there is simply going to be far too much MMA for even the most passionate fan to digest. Professional sports like baseball and basketball, long as their seasons may be, have the benefit of an offseason. Fans have the chance to recharge their batteries and build excitement for the following season. In MMA, it's year round and we're constantly being beaten over the head with more. Pay-per-view buyrates are dwindling and part of the reason for that is oversaturation. It's just too much. I'm biased here, though, as stated earlier. I run weekends here on Mania and this change alters my lifestyle. I'll never complain at having a job like this but I'm not exactly jumping for joy at this news.
This deal has certainly split the line for fans and pundits alike. Plenty to like and plenty to take issue with, Maniacs. You've heard my take.