Occupy The Throne – Edition #45

In this edition of Occupy The Throne, Samer Kadi and I look back at Strikeforce.

Jeremy Lambert: When Strikeforce opened their doors as a MMA promotion in 2006, few people thought they would have the kind of impact that they did on the sport. Starting as nothing more than a local promotion in San Jose to highlight west coast talent, the organization would eventually find themselves on Showtime, signing one of the greatest fighters of all-time, making it big on CBS without Kimbo Slice, and developing some of the top fighters in the sport.

Purchased by Zuffa in March 2011, everyone thought the days of Strikeforce were numbered, but, thanks to a number of ill-advised decisions, they managed to stick around for the rest of 2011 and 2012. A couple of weeks into 2013 though and Strikeforce will run their last event ever this Saturday.

Once thought to be a viable number two option to the UFC, Strikeforce’s fall happened just as quick as their rise. When they say goodbye this weekend, fans will likely remember the organization as what they could’ve been or what they put us through this past year and not what they were.

Samer Kadi: Strikeforce was at its best when the promotion was merely concerned with putting on good fight cards. While the Zuffa juggernaut had dreams of global expansion, PPV market domination, and becoming “the biggest sport in the world,” the Strikeforce executives were merely concerned with putting on good fights, at least in the early days.

Its founder and CEO, Scott Coker, had made his mark promoting K-1 bouts in Japan, and was an avid fight fan. His passion and match-making helped endear the San Jose based promotions to the fans. In fact, Strikeforce were doing such a good job of staying true to their modest expectations that they were initially spared of Dana White’s usual berating of the competition.
They had acquired their fan base, and with the Showtime deal, were slowly but surely making headways in the MMA world.

Unfortunately, that all changed when they made the ill-advised decision of signing Fedor Emelianenko – a call that was subsequently followed by numerous high profile signings that the company could barely afford. In many ways, the Emelianenko deal marked the beginning of the end.

Jeremy Lambert: The beginning of the end may have actually come a few months prior to the arrival of Emelianenko when Strikeforce purchased the ProElite assets, which included the contracts of many EliteXC fighters. By doing so, they became the de facto #2 MMA promotion in the world and thus on the Zuffa radar.

The signing of Emelianenko took them to another level though, as he has always been the elusive ghost that Zuffa and Dana White couldn’t hunt and capture. Not only did Strikeforce capture him, they used him to secure a deal with CBS. Unfortunately for all parties, neither deal worked out too well.

Fedor would lose three of his four fights in Strikeforce and they would only last two shows on CBS, with the second event showcasing the absolute worst of MMA as the event, which featured three pedestrian 25-minute title fights, ending with a post-fight brawl and Gus Johnson proclaiming that, “sometimes these things happen in MMA.” To add salt to the wound, Jake Shields, who beat the newly signed Dan Henderson to retain the Strikeforce middleweight title, bolted for the UFC after the event. His departure, combined with Strikeforce fighters calling out UFC fighters even before the Zuffa purchase, just showed that the company was going to be second fiddle no matter who they signed or what network they were on.

Samer Kadi: The weight of expectations was ultimately Strikeforce’s undoing in the eyes of its audience. No longer satisfied with merely watching good fights – a feat that Strikeforce, to its credit, achieved with remarkable consistency – fans started looking for more, and with good reason, given that the company was now priding itself on being a legitimate competitor for the UFC.

Strikeforce made the all too common mistake of overpaying fighters who offer little reward in exchange. The Emelianenko deal was high profile in the MMA community, but the Russian was hardly a sure-fire rating grabber. Likewise, despite his status as an undisputed MMA legend, Dan Henderson didn’t exactly have Brock Lesnar status. Strikeforce bit off more than it could chew, and was left with a few big fishes in a small pond that it didn’t quite know how to handle.

A shallow roster, underdeveloped weight classes, meaningless titles, and limited amounts of shows per year meant that the situation suddenly turned chaotic. In fact, Strikeforce was struggling to fulfill even the most mundane tasks of an MMA promotion: getting its roster some fights. The likes of Roger Gracie and Vitor “Shaolin” Rebeiro publicly criticized the company for leaving them completely frozen, and the same applied for a handful of some of Strikeforce’s lesser known fighters.

When top stars like “King Mo” Lawal compare the company to a “dying cancer patient”, however inappropriate the analogy might have been, it became apparent that Strikeforce’s days were all but numbered.

In Strikeforce’s defense, they suffered from some of the worst luck any MMA promotion could encounter. Anything that could go wrong, did just that. From its middleweight champion being interested in everything but fighting, an embarrassing brawl on national television, Nick Diaz being Nick Diaz, Emelianenko picking the worst time to start losing, Dan Henderson getting out-grappled for five rounds, and a train wreck of a heavyweight Grand Prix, Strikeforce wasn’t left with much of a chance.

Jeremy Lambert: If you want everything Strikeforce did wrong in a nutshell, look no further than The Heavyweight Grand Prix. When first announced, many people called the Grand Prix, “the greatest tournament in MMA history.” But after dragging on for well over a year, the world rejoiced when it was finally over and won by someone who wasn’t even in the original eight man group.

Once Zuffa purchased the organization in early 2011, most figured that they would finish out the year and then fold into the UFC. After the purchase, the organization lost top stars Dan Henderson, Nick Diaz, and Alistair Overeem, leading more credence to the rumors that they wouldn’t see 2012. For one reason or another though, Showtime and Zuffa renewed the Strikeforce contract for 2012 and actually had optimism. That optmism was quickly squashed and Strikeforce in 2012 became a lame duck organization with fighters complaining about not being in the UFC, Showtime complaining about not having any stars, Zuffa complaining about Showtime, etc…. By the end of 2012, Strikeforce was forced to cancel two events and yet no one seemed to mind.

For all the negatives though, Strikeforce got one thing right: Women’s MMA. Starting with a headline fight between Gina Carano vs. Cristiane Santos to developing the women’s bantamweight division to the emergence of Ronda Rousey, Strikeforce deserves a lot of credit for putting women’s MMA on the map and proving that they can be viable draws.

Samer Kadi: Perhaps the only good thing to emerge from Strikeforce’s miserable 2012 was the new face of woman’s MMA, Ronda Rousey. Staying in line with their history of displaying talented female fighters, Strikeforce gave Ronda Rousey the ball and she ran with it. Her shtick may not be for everyone, but she has people talking, and happens to possess the in-cage skill to boot. She single handedly forced UFC president Dana White to revise his opinion on women’s MMA, a feat that almost rivals her title win. There is no telling how the women’s MMA experience will unfold in UFC, especially with them putting all their eggs in one basket, but there can be no denying Strikeforce’s role in laying the foundations.

While most are hardly losing sleep over Strikeforce’s demise, and are perhaps even relieved to see it fold, the company has provided MMA fans with their fair share of good memories. Despite the poor decision making and questionable management, Strikeforce manage do to be remarkably consistent in one department: putting on good fights.

This weekend may not have been the stacked card that Scott Coker promised, but staying true to form, it will likely deliver.


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