Occupy The Throne – Edition #2

In this edition of Occupy The Throne, Samer Kadi and I look at Strikeforce and how they’re on their last legs now that Dana White has given up on them.

JL: On December 15, Showtime and Strikeforce announced a new deal that would keep the MMA promotion on the network for at least one more year. With Zuffa purchasing the promotion earlier in the year, many thought that Strikeforce would fold once the Showtime deal expired, but with new Showtime Sports executive vice president Stephen Espinoza and UFC president Dana White working hard behind the scenes, the two parties were able to reach an agreement. Fans were led to believe that White would have more control over Strikeforce, giving them hope that the promotion wouldn’t just whither away and die.

On March 3, Dana White announced that he was done with Strikeforce/Showtime after his ideas were nixed and is now 100% UFC.

It took Dana 82 days and 2 events to give up on the new deal, so I ask you this Samer, what took him so long?

SK: Despite Dana White’s repeated “business as usual” claims, since Zuffa’s acquisition of Strikeforce, business has been anything but. With the Heavyweight Grand Prix all but losing its luster and some of the company’s biggest stars joining the UFC ranks, the San Jose based promotion seemed to be standing on its last legs. As such, Zuffa’s decision to extend Strikeforce’s stay on Showtime has to rank among the most curious in the company’s history, and it may well go down as a rare strategic blunder.

Addressing Strikeforce’s lingering issues is at this point akin to beating a dead horse. However, it is worth noting that, by all accounts, the decision to keep the promotion afloat was not White’s. Instead, it was Lorenzo Fertitta who pushed for the one-year extension deal. Eventually, encouraged by Ken Hershman’s departure from Showtime, White warmed up to the idea, and he along with the rest of the Zuffa brass were guilty of being a little too naïve. They overlooked the fact that Hershman’s replacement, Stephen Espinoza, is a boxing guy first and foremost, who has little interest in investing his time in rectifying Strikeforce’s plethora of problems. Having spent the majority of his career representing various – admittedly high profile – boxers, Espinoza’s main focus is to put together live boxing events on Showtime, which in turn would render Strikeforce into a mere afterthought.

For once, White’s overreaction to something that doesn’t go his way is justified. He went out of his way to make an exhaustive list of suggestions that could have benefited the overall production and presentation of Strikeforce events — and let’s face it, he knows a thing or two about running an MMA company — only to see every single proposition completely ignored.

At this point, Strikeforce is nothing more than a liability to all parties involved, including the fighters under its rosters, who seemingly want nothing more than to compete inside the UFC Octagon. Even the often thrown around argument about Strikeforce “putting together good fights” holds little weight, since instead of watching Luke Rockhold and Keith Jardine headline a Showtime event, we could just as easily watch them in action on a UFC undercard where they belong.

JL: Isn’t being in the main event on a Strikeforce better than being on the undercard of a UFC event? IT’S THE MAIN EVENT!

I think everyone was shocked when Strikeforce and Showtime renewed their deal for one more year given that it seemed to be more trouble than it was worth. The fighters weren’t happy. All the champions wanted to jump ship to the UFC and high-profile fighters like “King Mo” Lawal went as far to call the promotion, “a dying cancer patient.” The fans weren’t happy. No one wanted to see Rockhold vs. Jardine (no really, look at the ratings for that event) and no one wants to see a top lightweight like Gilbert Melendez fight average lightweights for the rest of the year. And despite his claims of being “super excited” for the new deal, I don’t believe Dana was happy. In the one interview he did on Showtime with Mauro Ranallo, he looked like he’d rather be anywhere else in the world and instead of wearing his usual Men’s Warehouse suit, he wore a black sweater like he was headed to some low-rent funeral.

Say what you will about Dana and how he runs the UFC, but one thing I appreciate about him is that he has fun on the job. Sure he deals with all the stresses of his position, but most of the time I feel like Dana doesn’t even consider what he does a “job” because he loves what he’s doing. Dealing with Strikeforce was a job. It was an unnecessary headache for him and his crew.

I’m glad Dana is done with Strikeforce because now he doesn’t have to pretend like they’re salvageable. He doesn’t have to act like he’s excited about the future of the company when everyone knows their future ends in 2013. For once, “business as usual” actually applies to the situation because from here on out, it’ll be Scott Coker running the show until the curtains close.

SK: Where I disagree with my esteemed colleague is in his claim that Scott Coker will be running the show. In reality, Coker has little-to-no influence on Strikeforce anymore. Zuffa and Showtime handle business, while Sean Shelby is in charge of the match-making. Coker is a mere public figure who at this point, like everyone else, probably just wants the whole thing over with.

When Zuffa first acquired Strikeforce, we were faced with two scenarios: they were either going to fully dedicate themselves to ameliorated its product and overall state, or, more likely, swallow its roster and erase it from existence. Unfortunately, we have found ourselves stuck with a “somewhere in between” scenario, where Strikeforce continues to exist but its parent company has all but given up on it.

This only makes Zuffa’s decision not to put Strikeforce out of its misery all the more puzzling, as there was little financial, administrative or practical sense behind keeping it around. While the cost for Strikeforce shows is generally cheap, the revenue is hardly worthwhile. Moreover, with only eight shows per year, the company isn’t putting on nearly enough fights to warrant building up its divisions and roster; making most events throw-away cards that are simply there because Zuffa are contractually obligated to put them together. The result is a half-assed product that can’t seem to generate any interest whatsoever. Simply put, Strikeforce has become a burden that Zuffa could have done without.

It could be argued that Strikeforce’s survival meant more exposure for women’s MMA. With Carano and Cyborg’s respective futures in limbo, it is left to Ronda Rousey to carry the torch. However, at best, Rousey is going to fight two more times this year, and with complete respect to her undeniable skills, she alone is hardly enough to justify the continued existence of the damaged goods that is Strikeforce.

JL: On the subject of Rousey, she’s really the only draw Strikeforce has left. Nick Diaz, Dan Henderson, Alistair Overeem, and Fabricio Werdum went to the UFC while Fedor Emelianenko was released to crush cans in Russia and Japan. Melendez is still around, but it’s tough to sell a legit top three lightweight against guys like Josh Thomson and Pat Healy. Josh Barnett vs. Daniel Cormier might spark some interest, as it’s the conclusion of the biggest thing to happen to MMA since The Ultimate Fighter, but their semi-final fights did poor ratings and neither guy is a huge name.

That leaves Ronda Rousey, who has sparked interested in a left for dead women’s division with her mouth and performance. She’s not like Gina Carano, who was built on the premise of being an attractive female who just happened to compete in MMA. She’s not like Cris Cyborg, who just dominated weaker competition and people tuned in to watch the same way they would tune in to watch a lion fight a midget. She fought legit competition when she competed in the Olympics, she fought legit competition as an amateur, and she’s fought legit competition as a professional. People are intrigued with women’s MMA when they have a woman that they can invest in and the people have clearly invested in Rousey.

The biggest problem with Strikeforce when it comes to match-making is the fact that they have no depth in any of their divisions. There are two or three people at the top who are known, but can they really put on any fight that makes you say, “Yeah, I really want to see those two fight”? Maybe Samer can think of one, because I can’t. Every fight the promotion puts on, especially their main events, feel second rate.

SK: The shallow nature of the Strikeforce roster means their divisions lack structure. We know Gilbert Melendez is the top lightweight in the company, but his challengers seem, for a lack of a better term, random. Rarely does a Strikeforce fighter put on a title shot worthy streak that makes fans and pundits clamor for a crack at the champion. Consequently, Strikeforce title fights – which in theory should feature the crème of the crop – seem like throw away fights simply designed to provide their champion with some in-cage time and a paycheck.

Furthermore, eight shows per year is too low a number to build up solid divisions, which in turn directly affects the quality and magnitude of title fights and main events. Lack of direction is a problem Strikeforce is suffering from on every level, and it reflects in their match-making. From a fan’s perspective, MMA is about watching good, relevant fights between high class athletes. Having Keith Jardine in a title bout at this point in time fails to meet those standards.

JL: Come on, Keith Jardine is a MMA legend who has defeated former champions like Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin. Who cares if he had never fought at middleweight before, was coming off a draw, and was 3-6-1 in his last 10 fights. He beat two good fighters in 2006 and 2007 damnit, of course that warrants a title shot in 2012.

Eight shows per year is too few, but they don’t have the roster to support anymore shows. Can you imagine the main events they would put on if they ran 12 shows during the year? You think Jardine headlining is bad, Scott Smith would be headlining shows if they ran one per month. Samer is also overlooking the fact that the Strikeforce prelims are like their own separate show and main eventing the prelims is like, a reward or something.

We all know that Strikeforce is dead at the end of the year. They shouldn’t try to kid anyone anymore. So for the rest of the year, I hope Strikeforce just puts on random fights that might be intriguing regardless of divisional ranking. Give me Melendez vs. Pat Healy instead of Josh Thomson, I want Nate Marquardt vs. Kazuo Misaki for the meaningless welterweight title, I’d watch Gegard Mousasi vs. “Feijao” Cavalcante for the just as meaningless light heavyweight title. They’re not money fights, but “money fights” and “Strikeforce” go together about as well as Joey and Rachel.


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