As the MMA world recovers its poise after the shock of the initial announcement there is one question that all have to ask in light of Zuffa’s buyout of Strikeforce; what will the future look like for Dana White’s latest purchase?
Well unless something goes drastically wrong the predictions of a rapid wind down and dissolution look to be proven wrong. The contract with Showtime lasts until 2014, some two years longer than first reported. Unless the UFC is banking on being able to escape the contract early then that means they need to work out a way to develop a Strikeforce brand that can co-exist with the UFC. And as its hard to imagine the UFC being willing to free up Showtime’s warm embrace for yet another puppet promotion that leaves no easy solution for White and his colleagues.
The main problem is establishing the parameters of the product that Strikeforce will present on Showtime. This is harder than it may sound. There’s the conflicting imperatives of creating something that is worthy of Showtime’s time and money, but doesn’t undermine the UFC’s hard won status as the premier league of mixed martial arts. At the heart of this dilemma is the question of Strikeforce’s championships…in particular the five male titles that overlap with the UFC’s. One organisation presenting two entirely different champions in the majority of its divisions is something worthy of Jose Sulaiman at his most demented and goes completely against the very real effort the UFC has made to make its championships mean something. One of the advantages of the buyout is that it helps prevent MMA going down the road that ruined boxing, but that advantage can only be realised if the titles are unified.
The reality of this situation has clearly dawned on Dana White who less than two days into his ownership of Strikeforce went back on his firm statement that “I don’t even co-promote with myself” when he promised to make the superfights that fans want. The obvious candidates are the five Strikeforce male champions. While Alistair Overeem’s participation in the Strikeforce Grand Prix will delay his involvement in any unification the other four champions have matchups waiting for them that would be extremely interesting.
Of course removing all the champions from Strikeforce would lead to accuisations (not least from Showtime) that the UFC was just stripmining the promotion in preparation for shutting it down. To address such concerns and to keep Strikeforce as a viable brand on Showtime, Zuffa would have to focus on three things women, tournaments and legends.
On Saturday White made it clear he had no intention of allowing women to fight in the UFC, so keeping open the ability of Strikeforce to continue to heavily feature a part of their product that marked them out as unique when compared to the UFC. While White’s criticisms of the lack of depth in the division’s are valid, the championships has produced genuinely entertaining matches and there’s a core of women that could develop into genuine stars. And the return of Gina Carano should give the division a shot in the arm publicity wise. Likewise Coker and Showtime’s desire to place tournaments at the heart of Strikeforce programming would again differentiate Strikeforce from the UFC while also giving its fights meaning and fighters forwards progression even without the existence of championships.
The last thing however is something that the UFC can do and that is giving Strikeforce the benefit of the fading stars and legends that its made a habit of putting third down the main card on its pay per views. The likes of Tito Ortiz, Matt Hughes, Rich Franklin, Mirko Cro Cop and in time BJ Penn and Forrest Griffin are all tailored made to main event high profile Showtime events. The fights could either be intra-legend dream matches or the blooding of possible stars of the future against the champions of the past.
Over the next few months its important that Zuffa finds a way to make Strikeforce events meaningful without undermining their efforts to properly promote the UFC. Getting rid of championships is a prerequiste to achieving the latter but need not undermine the former as long as smart booking is used to bring big names and meaningful fights to Showtime.
Tags: Dana White, Mixed Martial Arts, Showtime, Strikeforce, UFC, Zuffa