Originally posted on the Examiner
This weekend, for the first time ever, two of the top mixed martial arts promotions in the world are going to be going head to head as the UFC's Ultimate Fighter season 12 finale squares off with Strikeforce: Henderson vs Babalu. Now the big question for those of you without DVR is, which event should you watch? I've decided to break down each event based on a few factors that many fans use when deciding if they want to watch an event or buy a pay per view (although both of these shows are free).
1.) Star Power: Stars sell shows, they draw in viewers that might not have watched otherwise. While the Ultimate Fighter 12 finale is full of very entertaining fights, it isn't packed to the gills with big name fighters. Stephan Bonnar was in one of the greatest fights in UFC history against Forrest Griffin, but he's lost 3 of 4 fights and his opponent Igor Pokrajac has lost 2 of 3. The biggest star on the Ultimate Fighter finale is likely Demian Maia, who is one fight removed from a title shot against Anderson Silva at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi and looking to climb back into contention. A big boost will be the two finalists fighting for the season 12 TUF title that have an entire season of reality television backing them and building their names.
Strikeforce: St. Louis is headlined by Dan Henderson, a man who once held both Pride middleweight and light heavyweight titles simultaneously, fought twice for UFC titles, won the Knockout of the Year for 2009 at the MMA Awards and left the UFC on a 3 fight win streak against solid competition before losing his Strikeforce debut to Jake Shields. Strikeforce did lose their biggest draw to casual fans, Herschel Walker, due to injury, but they filled the remainder of their card with significant bouts to fill the gap. Paul Daley fought Josh Koscheck for the #1 welterweight contender and the right to be a coach on season 12 of the Ultimate Fighter, and both Matt Lindland and Robbie Lawler are two of the best middleweights in the world outside of the UFC.
Advantage? Draw. While Strikeforce has slightly bigger "name" fighters and a more important main event, the loss of Walker coupled with the hype behind an entire season of television backing the Ultimate Fighter evens the score.
2.) Excitement: What the TUF 12 Finale lacks in big time stars, they make up for with compelling matchups. Stephan Bonnar is coming off one of the best fights of 2010 against Krzysztof Soszynski and Igor Pokrajac exploded with a huge flurry to rock James Irvin and finish with a submission in his last match. Both of these men are going to put on a show for the fans. Demian Maia is also a guy who has won the UFC's "Submission of the Night" bonus 4 times in his career. He is not afraid to take chances to try to end the fight as evidenced by his last win over Mario Miranda where he was constantly giving up dominant positions to aggressively go for the submission. The Rick Story / Johny Hendricks fight matches fighters who both crushed their opponents in devastating fashion in their lasts fights. Lastly, the big boost will be the addition of WEC fighters. The TUF 12 Finale is the first ever UFC event with featherweight and bantamweight fights since the merger. While the little energizer bunnies are trapped on the undercard, don't be surprised if at least one of their fights is exciting enough to be televised.
Strikeforce sees the UFC's excitement and raises Scott Smith. Smith is a fighter you can never count out of a fight, having come back from the dead to win by knockout in three of the greatest gutsy performances in MMA history against Pete Sell, Cung Le and Benji Radach. Smith will be dropping down to welterweight for the first time in his career as he squares off with the powerful striker Paul Daley. There's no doubt in my mind that both of these men will be looking to stand and bang for the fans. The card is littered with stalwart strikers like Dan Henderson, Robbie Lawler, and Mike Kyle. Their opponents will either try to beat them at their own game or bend them to their will and enforce a gameplan of wrestling or jiu jitsu.
The loss of Herschel Walker will actually be an advantage in this category. Walker, at 48 years old, is in great shape, but he doesn't have the experience to be given an opponent that will put on an amazing fight with him. Enter Benjie Radach and Ovince St. Preux. Radach makes his return after over a year away from the sport, his last fight being a fight of the year candidate with Scott Smith while St. Preux very recently defeated the dangerous Antwain Britt at the Strikeforce Challengers card a couple weeks ago.
Advantage: Draw. Both cards are loaded with exhilarating fights. You can flip a coin for this one.
3.) Significance: The TUF 12 Finale has a few matchups with implications in their division, but the headlining bout isn't one of them. Stephan Bonnar and Igor Pokrajac are perfectly content with being entertaining. Demian Maianeeds a big win over Kendall Grove to jump back into middleweight contention but after being embarrassed by Anderson Silva, he has a long road. The match between Rick Story and Johny Hendricks is pretty important. Both men are on four fight winning streaks in the UFC and the winner will likely be "in the mix" in the welterweight division. Of course, crowing the champion of the Ultimate Fighter is always pretty important, but that hasn't affecting the title picture since season 4.
Strikeforce, on the other hand has four fights that will make a substantial dent in their title picture. The first is obviously the main event between Dan Henderson and Babalu Sobral. Sobral is the former champ looking to regain his title and Henderson is the big free agent signing that wants Strikeforce gold. The winner will get a title shot against current Strikeforce light heavyweight champ Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante. Another fighter that needs a big win to be in the mix is Robbie Lawler, who put up a spirited fight against Sobral in a catchweight match this past June. With a win, he'll likely get a title shot against Jacare Souza. His opponent, Matt Lindland is likely a few wins away, especially considering he's already recently lost to Souza. Paul Daley will likely be one fight away from a title shot against Nick Diaz if he can get past Scott Smith and lastly, Antonio Silva, the #10 ranked heavyweight in the world, will take another step up the ladder towards a title shot if he can defeat Mike Kyle.
Advantage: Strikeforce. Just too many important bouts with title ramifications to justify the TUF 12 winner being more significant.
4.) Availability: Here is where the UFC shines. Spike is pretty much a throw-in with any basic cable package. As of 2009, it reached 96.1 million American homes and that number has likely risen since. The UFC regularly holds free events on Spike, their UFC countdown specials, Best of Pride, the Ultimate Fighter series as well as many Ultimate Knockouts or UFC Unleashed fight replays throughout the week. Spike is known for quality MMA programming.
Showtime is a premium cable network that costs extra. In the past 2 years, it's been airing every Strikeforce event that wasn't shown on CBS as well as the excellent Strikeforce Challengers series that helps young fighters develop. While it has added over a million subcribers due to excellent television shows like Dexter and Weeds, they still only reach 16.5 million households. 16.5 million just isn't going to cut it.
Advantage: TUF 12 Finale. Showtime may have a little more taste than Spike, but Spike's reach wins this contest hand's down. There are likely many people who may actually want to see the Strikeforce show but will be left hung out to dry by the lack of Showtime availability in their area.
I've laid out the groundwork, but I'm not going to make the decision for you. There's a strong case for each event this weekend. Which event will you be watching?