Occupy The Throne – Edition #34

In this edition of Occupy The Throne, Samer Kadi and I look at the Zuffa/Showtime mess.

Jeremy Lambert: Raise your hand if you knew there was a Strikeforce event scheduled for this weekend. Now raise your hand if you knew that said Strikeforce event was cancelled. Finally, raise your hand if you just wish Strikeforce would go away forever.

For the second time in three months, the company was forced to cancel an event. The first, scheduled for September 29, fell through when Gilbert Melendez got injured a week before the show and Showtime decided that, due to no headlining fight and an undercard that would be lucky to be televised on AXSTV, they were better off airing re-runs of Dexter and Homeland. This weekend’s event was scrapped when Frank Mir got injured, the company couldn’t find a worthwhile opponent for Daniel Cormier, and then Luke Rockhold got injured, leaving the show without a title fight.

Ever since Zuffa purchased Strikeforce last year, the organization has been treated like the red headed step child. UFC took top stars Nick Diaz, Dan Henderson, and Alistair Overeem and made title fights feel unimportant by giving title shots to the likes of Keith Jardine. Many questioned Zuffa’s decision to re-up with Showtime in order to keep Strikeforce around heading into this year and thus far their decision continues to baffle MMA minds. With the deal expiring this January, we can only hope that Zuffa comes to their senses and puts Strikeforce out of our misery.

Samer Kadi: Zuffa’s decision to breathe some life into Strikeforce’s bumpy tenure was misguided at best. By all accounts, that piece of miscalculation emanated from Lorenzo Fertitta’s desire to prevent Showtime from being home to a competitor. The Zuffa brass liked the idea of having their programming – however watered down – on Showtime, and given the relatively low cost of putting together Strikeforce shows, they made the now regrettable choice to keep Strikeforce around.

It isn’t so much that Zuffa robbed Strikeforce from its most prominent stars. In fact, they more than likely did the right thing, as recognizable names become all the more marketable once you add to them the magical “UFC” letters. Acquiring the services of Nick Diaz, Alistair Overeem, and Dan Henderson among others was one of the main reasons behind the Strikeforce buyout. However, when that was the plan all along, Zuffa should have been wise enough to realize that there was little point in keeping the company around after those fighters were added to the UFC umbrella.

Running one MMA promotion is difficult enough. Finding the ideal balance when running the two biggest MMA promotions in the world is next to impossible, and Zuffa’s treatment of Strikeforce was reflective of that fact, making their decision to keep around all the more puzzling. Retaining Showtime’s services is hardly worth the amount of money they’re losing with Strikeforce, not to mention the damage inflicted on its roster, which happens to be sitting on the sidelines with nothing to do instead of earning a living in the UFC.

Jeremy Lambert: Zuffa keeping around Strikeforce just to prevent Showtime from picking up another organization is extremely flawed reasoning. What exactly has Showtime done to make Zuffa believe that they care about MMA or that they actually benefit a promotion? Granted having a monthly event be televised on premium television is nice, but how exactly has it helped other organizations? EliteXC went out of business, Strikeforce couldn’t have been doing that well if they sold to Zuffa, and most of you probably didn’t even know that M-1 Global was broadcasted on Showtime.

Let’s just say that Showtime picked up Awesome Shootfighting Skills MMA, so what? They’d draw 200,000 viewers every month or so and either be content with that or eventually go out of business when they tried to jump too high too soon. Zuffa should be ashamed of their reasoning to keep Strikeforce around, especially after Dana White has spent years saying, “Showtime is full of idiots who don’t care about MMA.”

Once the UFC started picking the cream of the Strikeforce crop, that’s when things got really ugly. Showtime wasn’t happy with guys they invested in just leaving and top Strikeforce fighters weren’t happy fighting lesser competition when they could be headlining in the UFC. Strikeforce fighters had always wanted to fight UFC guys, but after the purchase, that actually became a reality. Unfortunately it only became a reality for a select few.

The worst part is that the UFC could actually use a lot of these guys. Not just champions like Gilbert Melendez and Luke Rockhold, but also above average guys like Josh Thomson and Tim Kennedy. With UFC running so many events and main cards being filled with TUF washouts with no future, a fight featuring Strikeforce standout Ronaldo Souza in the UFC spotlight sounds pretty promising. Instead the UFC is putting on mediocre cards due to their lack of high end depth and Strikeforce is being forced to cancel cards as they have no depth.

Samer Kadi: One of the most glaring flaws to the UFC’s business approach is their willingness to make iffy decisions for the sake of hurting their competitions — no, not from an ethical perspective, but from a financial one. Vastly overpaying Hector Lombard is a prime example, as the UFC went above and beyond to leave Bellator with no choice but to let him go due to their inability to match the UFC’s lucrative offer. This “take no prisoners” attitude, while at times rewarding, is undoubtedly a double edged sword.

In reality, Zuffa have never been good when it comes to partnerships. Or, to be more accurate, they only operate well when things are functioning smoothly. After all, there is a reason why despite years of mutual success, their “break-up” with Spike TV was resembled that of a Hollywood couple. Likewise, Dana White cutting ties with The Palms Casino because they cut his gambling credit due to their financial woes is indicative of the UFC’s “I walk alone” approach.

For their part, Showtime have historically been somewhat of a nuisance to deal with, meaning their relationship with Zuffa was doomed before it ever really managed to take off. That, coupled with Zuffa’s lack of passion towards the Strikeforce project, made it all but impossible for the once San Jose-based promotion to reach any new highs. Instead, their stock is at all-time low, its mere existence is costing Zuffa money, and the decision to pull the plug on it is not entirely in their hands, as Showtime will get the final say in matters.

Jeremy Lambert: While Showtime doesn’t exactly seem to be all-in on MMA, they’re bluffing enough to keep Zuffa in the game. Derek Brunson, who is a midlevel Strikeforce fighter that just got KO’d by “Jacare”, successfully made The Ultimate Fighter but was blocked by Showtime from competing on the show. In the grand scheme of MMA on Showtime, Brunson is very insignificant, yet Showtime was unwilling to let another fighter just up and leave for nothing.

Moves like that are why this relationship between Zuffa and Showtime is going to get ugly before it gets resolved. Some fighters are locked in to exclusive Showtime deals, meaning that even if Strikeforce goes away, the likes of Gilbert Melendez, Luke Rockhold, Ronda Rousey, and others would still be stuck fighting on Showtime until they fulfill their obligations. While we don’t know the logistics of these contracts, I’m sure there’s some kind of buyout that Zuffa and Showtime could reach. With Dana White tipping guys who deal cards $100,000 a week, I’m sure he has enough loose change lying around to where he can payoff Showtime and rid them from his life.

Even if Zuffa just decides to fold Strikeforce and leave some top guys behind on Showtime, it’s still extremely beneficial for the company and would put Showtime in a tough position, as they’d have to partner up with another organization in order to honor the contracts of their exclusive fighters.

Samer Kadi: However complicated negotiations with Showtime will end up being, Zuffa needs to put the Strikeforce experiment to bed. This year, the company has only put on five shows – not nearly enough for its roster to earn a living. It has reached a stage where fans, pundits, and its own fighters are just clamoring for it to cease existing. It is difficult to put the finger on what exactly about Strikeforce that has becoming so repulsive as they have generally put on very good fights, but it simply reached the stage where not only do people not care about it, they want it to be done with altogether.

When UFC 151 got cancelled, the MMA world imploded. Yet, when two Strikeforce shows saw a similar fate in the space of five weeks, the reaction among fans was largely indifferent. When Pride FC folded, MMA fans were extremely vocal in sharing their disappointment. When the WEC merged with the UFC, even those in support of the move – and they were many – deemed it to be a bitter sweet moment, and to this day fans look back at the company with a strong sense of nostalgia. When Strikeforce finally goes away, the general feeling will be that of relief. And the sooner we experience it, the better.


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