Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) today (March 14, 2011) held a special media conference call to discuss the terms of the promotion's recent purchase of Strikeforce as well as what changes fans (and fighters) can expect moving forward.
And when UFC President Dana White told reporters it would be "business as usual," he wasn't kidding.
Strikeforce will continue to operate independently under the direction of CEO Scott Coker. No changes will be made to the current fight schedule, including the upcoming Showtime event scheduled for April 9 in San Diego as well as the continuation of the heavyweight grand prix tournament on June 18 in Dallas.
But one thing you may notice differently during both of those upcoming shows is the use of elbows on the ground.
That's because the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts will be implemented effective immediately for all Strikeforce events according to UFC owner Lorenzo Feritta, who joined both White and Coker on today's conference call.
But that's not all.
Showtime maintains control over the televised production of Strikeforce broadcasts, meaning everything from the look and feel of the show (the cage will remain a hexagon) to the announce team on fight night is likely to stay the same.
The current Strikeforce/Showtime deal reportedly expires in 2014 and Fertitta maintains the acquisition was not made as a "defensive maneuver" against rival investors like ProElite, but to grow the current roster and improve their position as they enter a global expansion.
The same can't be said for women's MMA, which may expire right alongside the Showtime contract if Dana White has anything to say about it. While he carefully deflected a question about the future of top female fighters like Gina Carano and "Cyborg" Santos, White has been adamant in the past about keeping women's combat out of the Octagon.
With approximately 140 fighters under contract to Strikeforce, most fans wanted to know how quickly they can expect to see the best from both promotions get inside the cage and settle a couple of longstanding disputes, namely, who is the world's best fighter in each weight class.
That debate may not end anytime soon.
White told a disappointed fanbase that fantasy match-ups and "supefights" are not on the radar at this time and that eligibility to compete for both brands comes down to specific contractual obligations.
Then again, there are some fighters like Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion Dan Henderson, who have just one fight left in their current deal and could conceivably sign with Zuffa once that remaining bout is satisfied.
Fertitta even left the door open to UFC exiles Paul Daley and Josh Barnett, reiterating that business is business and he always puts the interests of the fans and the growth of the sport before his own.
And speaking of growth, expect the UFC marketing machine to get behind the promotion of future Strikeforce events, which could lead to breaking new ground in Canadian and Hispanic markets. Fertitta also called an end to the UFC counter-programming efforts against his former rival but assured fans that Spike TV will still offer an abundance of UFC-related content.
So that's it in a nutshell.
Strikeforce remains (mostly) the same while the UFC has access to yet another MMA tape library. It's no secret that most of the changes Zuffa has in mind (including an eventual merger) cannot (and will not) be discussed until the existing contract with Showtime comes to an end.
After that, it's anybody's guess.