Disparities in opinion are a constant when it comes to professional sports. Whether you believe the NFL should work to protect their players from brutal head injuries or argue relentlessly that instant replay should be broader in Major League Baseball, every opinions has an opposite argument that stir the pot and promote conversation amongst fans. Mixed martial arts is no different.
Ongoing debates among our own community include whether wrestling is a stifling plague on the sport, will Georges St. Pierre vs. Anderson Silva ever happen, and is Jose Aldo truly the #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world. On any given hour of any given day, a new debate is lumped onto the pile, and while some are answered in due time -- others are always on the horizon.
One of those newborn debates ponders the possibility of Bellator Fighting Championships getting into bed with Strikeforce. Interestingly enough, the idea has gained ground in the minds of fans due to Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez's domination of former UFC fighter Roger Huerta at Bellator 33 on October 21st, and the calling out of Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez by both Alvarez and Bellator's CEO, Bjorn Rebney. While many fans have scoffed at the very idea that Scott Coker should allow such a fight to happen as it would be a lose-lose situation for the promotion he founded, every argument has an opposing view.
Coker talked about the various obstacles in the way of a deal back in early October during an interview with Sherdog.com's "The Beatdown" radio show. The biggest problem, according to Coker, was the fact that both promotions had television deals in place with different networks, leading Coker to ask what network the fight would happen on. He also outlined the minor, yet relevant problem of timing. Would both fighters be available within a window of time to put that fight together?
As Luke Thomas opined, television partnerships can make things rather difficult:
Making the Alvarez vs. Melendez fight would certainly be a co-promotional triumph, but the mechanics of MMA where major organizations are directly tied to television partners can make such cross pollination exceptionally difficult. Boxing promoters like Top Rank or Goosen or Golden Boy or frankly any promoter who does their work on PPV has more latitude to experiment and blend their product with partners. Bellator and Strikeforce do not and an Alvarez vs. Melendez fight would not be an ideal candidate to make the first leap into those waters. The fact remains there are significant hurdles to doing this fight and if Coker & Co. seem to be dragging their feet it's not a consequence of incompetence; it's because they're thinking through issues the average (and frankly, selfish) MMA fan hasn't even considered.
While I do agree that partners like CBS would make things very difficult, I've never been worried about the possibility of entangling constraints from a partner like Fox Sports Net, mainly due to the format in which Bellator operates. We could argue as to whether FSN actually has any say in Bellator's matchmaking, but I'm under the firm belief that FSN is an outlet, nothing more. A tournament format promotion that can have any number of disasters happen within their very tight window of events doesn't have the same obstacles as Strikeforce. Bjorn Rebney further solidifies that stance at the Bellator 33 post-fight presser:
"There aren’t promotional issues. There aren’t any barriers. There aren’t any hurdles... What television network is it going to be on? We’ll do it on Showtime. Where will the fight happen? Well, let’s do it in San Jose. The answers to the questions are very simple. There’s no reason that fight shouldn’t happen but for the fact that the promoter of Gilbert Melendez doesn’t want it to occur."
Coker's television partner may have some reservations, but those can be remedied. The bigger issue, an issue that is always prevalent in any co-promotion discussion, is the terms of a deal between the two parties, and Eddie's participation in a Strikeforce event in which he fights Gilbert Melendez can't be a one-fight deal. As many of the commenters stated in Luke's piece, it doesn't make any business sense for Coker to offer Alvarez a deal because a win for Alvarez could spell disaster for his champion.
Fortunately, creative deals can be made in this instance. Bellator and Eddie Alvarez could work out a deal in which he battles Gilbert Melendez for the title. If he loses, he sits atop the Bellator mountain and the "experiment" ends. If he wins, Strikeforce is immediately obligated to a fight deal, let's say two to three fights. In return, Strikeforce lends fighters Bellator's way, prospects such as Woodley, Saffiedine, Rockhold, and perhaps a few bigger names. If any of Strikeforce's fighters are given a chance at a title in Bellator, the same applies. Suspend their existing contracts with their current promotions, put a time limit on it... three fights or one year, and let the fireworks begin. Once the limit expires or the fights are fulfilled, their existing contract picks back up.
Of course, champions would have a bigger schedule as the terms of the contract would likely cause guys like Alvarez, if he defeated Melendez, to fulfill obligations to both promotions as a champion. Give Eddie three to four fights per year, alternating defenses. While the workload would be great, Alvarez is probably a guy who would be up for the challenge. Others may not be, and that would be something that would need to be discussed.
Easier said than done would be the counter argument to this idea, and I'd agree. This seems like a monumental amount of juggling for both promotions to do, and it seems highly unlikely that it would happen. But, the point here is that there is a way in which both promotions can benefit from such a deal, even if Strikeforce insists on doing this fight on their own terms, in their own promotion.
There are some cons to this approach. The devaluing of one side of the equation could occur with Strikeforce losing the most value with a loss. Strikeforce could stretch itself thin as well, and while Coker states on a consistent basis that the promotion likes to keep its fighters active -- we haven't seen that happening for many of Strikeforce's top talents. Some of the blame lies with CBS and Coker having to wait around for their approval, but adding these fights and shipping other fighters off for stints in other promotions could result in some shallowness.
Strikeforce also has no good reason to give Bellator a top notch prospect in return for Alvarez, especially if said prospect is doing rather well with Strikeforce. That would probably be the biggest hurdle to overcome in a discussion as to "what if" Alvarez defeats Melendez.
In the end, a co-promoted event will likely never happen. We've seen these things materialize as myths in "talks", but they never come to life. But the possibility shouldn't be discounted due to television deals and fighter contracts. While MMA hasn't seen a whole lot of "wild west" tactics in the negotiation arena in quite awhile, if anyone can make something like this happen -- it's Scott Coker.