Ten Thoughts On…The UFC Buying Strikeforce

1. This must be the most unexpected business development in combat sports since Vince McMahon bought Georgia Championship Wrestling from under the nose of Ole Anderson in 1984. They’ve been plenty of shocking decisions but they’ve usually been some forewarning. HBO’s tensions with Don King in the mid-nineties and more recently Bob Arum were well known far in advance of the promoters pulling their marquee stars from the station, while WCW and Pride’s financial troubles had been widely known before their competitors swooped in. This on the other hand came out of nowhere.

2. As Jon Kirschner says the merger is inevitable; but its certainly not going to be easy. Strikeforce will be far more difficult for the UFC to swallow whole than any of the other promotions Zuffa has purchased over the years. World Fighting Alliance and Affliction were as good as dead already, Pride FC operated in a completely different market, and World Extreme Championship was a small niche promotion. While it waits for the perfect moment to dissolve the brand, its going to be extremely challenging for Zuffa to promote Strikeforce without distracting fans from the UFC.

3. Whatever they may say publicly it would seem that this deal was on the cards for some time as it now makes sense why the UFC did not add a load of dates to replace the ones lost as part of the winding up of the WEC. Indeed this may have in part been the reason for the Zuffa rushing to merge those two organisations.

4. One of the big issues confronting the new company will be the fact that Strikeforce’s contacts were largely non-exclusive, allowing fighters to fight for promotions other than Strikeforce. One would think that Zuffa would insist that any new deals be exclusive but what will their stance be on existing fighters who aren’t willing to replace their old contracts with new ones? And will Zuffa put pressure on Scott Coker to advance the careers of those that agree to sign them over those that don’t?

5. Zuffa now has fourteen champions, which is about seven too many. One has to wonder when and how they will square this circle and restore order to its title picture. Given the lack of depth in many of Strikeforce’s divisions there’s a strong argument for Zuffa to prune the championships and allow some of the unification fights happen before the two ‘brands’ fully merge. But would they then be willing to let a new unified champion appear on Showtime?

6. If there’s one Super Fight they should try to do in the coming months it’s matching Strikeforce Champion Gilbert Melendez up against WEC Champion Anthony Pettis. The unification match would be a great way for the UFC to make good on its promise to Pettis and would set the stage for a genuinely unique three championship unification match towards the end of the year.

7. Expect to see elbows on the ground make their way to the Strikeforce cage, a cage that may have the familar eight sided structure of The Octagon. Although judging by how they handled the issue with the WEC, it probably won’t be branded The Octagon.

8. With every development M-1 Global’s decision to reject the UFC’s multi-million pound offer to sign Fedor in 2009 becomes more idiotic. A decision to accept less money to fight lesser competition in an attempt to avoid him losing his undefeated streak and having his career controlled by Dana White has resulted in him going 1-2 against medicore opposition and now working for White’s secondary promotion.

9. As I’ve already argued the key relationship will be between Dana White and Showtime. The lack of a premium cable deal has long been a string missing in the UFC’s bow and this is their chance to road test the deal before committing fully. Showtime clearly believes its near three year association with MMA has been beneficial to the station so Zuffa should be under no illusions, if they don’t make this deal work then they’re just going to end up back at square one competing against Showtime’s puppet upstart promotion.

10. With this move, the announcement that Sengoku has lost its financial backing and the rumors that Fighting Entertainment Group (Dream and K-1) is enterting the terminal phase of its prolonged death throes then the landscape really is a barren wasteland outside of the UFC. The UFC will have to think hard about what steps its going to take to ensure new talent emerges and has time to develop.

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