Hey guys, I've been reading over here for a good long while now, and I write for another MMA site, so in the interest of getting the most eyeballs on my pieces, I figured I'd post this over here. Not quite sure about the formatting, as this is my first fanpost, so hopefully it turns out alright.
In March of 2009, Strikeforce announced its arrival in the big leagues of MMA with two events. The first was the purchase of all that remained – or all that Strikeforce desired – from EliteXC. Days later, deals were announced with both Showtime and CBS to air Strikeforce cards on the networks. There were other big events in the Strikeforce timeline in 2009, but March was when the ball really got rolling. One year later, it’s safe to say that Strikeforce has been a success. The promotion has been lauded by many hardcore fans in the MMA community and has drawn positive ratings on both CBS and Showtime. The future looks bright for the San Jose based company.However, it is also necessary to look at some of the things the organization can improve upon in their second year as a major player in the sport. These smaller details, to this writer at least, show part of the story as to why the UFC is still the biggest and best MMA promotion in town - even if they’re not always everyone’s favourite show – and why Strikeforce, while making admirable progress in 2009 and the early part of 2010, is still a distant second.
The original article in it's entirety can be found here: FightLockdown.com
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1. Building-Up Fighters
This is one of Strikeforce’s biggest problems, and it’s not exactly a little detail, but there are some aspects to this problem which are easier to fix than others. Obviously things like roster depth, and the inability to put on cards as frequently as the UFC are issues which must be tackled over time, and cannot disappear at the drop of the hat, but in the meantime, Strikeforce needs to show off what it has got in terms of talent. Too often in the organization’s short history in the spotlight, have they shielded fans from being exposed to a fighter until it’s too late for that individual to become any sort of draw or recognizable name to the casual fan; a market Strikeforce needs to assert itself with.
Strikeforce seems to go about this in two ways. The first is when they schedule fighters who should be on their televised cards on the undercards instead. Jay Hieron is obviously the primary example of this. The man is the second best Welterweight on the Strikeforce roster, however, only fans who were knowledgeable enough to go to EASports.com – and lucky enough for the stream to actually work – saw his last fight, and even fewer people saw the fight before that.
Hieron is not the only example of this phenomenon either. At Strikeforce Challengers 1, Fabricio Camoes – who has since had two fights in the UFC, one of which was on a main card – was booked on the undercard, behind such stalwarts as Aaron Rosa. Strikeforce: Lawler vs. Shields had two interesting booking decisions, as two of the promotion’s brightest prospects at the time in Tyron Woodley and Rafael Feijao, were both relegated to the undercard for the likes of Kevin Randleman, Mike Whitehead, Phil Baroni and Joe Riggs, none of whom are really going to bring in the casual viewer anyway.
There are examples on nearly every card where Strikeforce hasn’t made the best use of their talent, but the point rings clear. Rather than building these fighters up to their audience, Strikeforce seems to be hoping that the fans are just going to stick around to watch a bunch of fighters they don’t know. This has worked thus far, because Strikeforce has acquired fighters who already had marketable names, but moving forward, the UFC could very easily be less willing to let talent migrate to its biggest rival. That means Strikeforce is going to have to learn how to build their own stars from home.
The second method Strikeforce uses to sabotage its build-up of fighters is that when they have fights end early, or they get ahead of schedule, the promotion refuses to show any undercard fights. This may have more to do with the network than the organization itself, but it still hurts Strikeforce nonetheless. The most recent example of this occurred just a few nights ago at Strikeforce Challengers 7, when HW prospect Daniel Cormier was (inexplicably) scheduled on the undercard – Mistake #1 – and then when the show ran ahead of schedule, Strikeforce refused to show his fight – Mistake #2. How long and boring must this fight have been, you ask? Well, it was one minute and nine seconds before Cormier’s opponent was unconscious. Ask yourself this: if the UFC had a highly-touted prospect on the undercard of one of their Fight Night cards (however that may have come about), and he scored an impressive early knockout, what are the chances you would not see that fight? Correct, just about zero. However, Strikeforce’s modus operandi at times seems to be to shoot themselves in the foot.
Many people expected this to be a problem for Strikeforce, because they were, and still are, trying to gain a foothold in a well-represented marketplace, their depth of talent isn’t there, and most of all they lack legitimate draws. Taking a page out of the Japanese MMA playbook, after putting on stellar card after stellar card, Strikeforce gave into the temptation to host some freakshow fights in order to attract viewers. Neither Bobby Lashley nor Herschel Walker are anything close to serious HW prospects at this point, but both were touted as such by Strikeforce in an attempt to garner more eyeballs. The result? Two very ugly fights seen by all the exact same people the company had just worked so hard to draw in.
Strikeforce needs to strike a balance between using gimmick fights to draw in fans and legitimate fights to keep them. As mentioned earlier, this problem will be alleviated in time, as Strikeforce develops or attracts more draws to its roster, but until that time, the organization needs to put its integrity as an MMA promotion first in order to keep the fans they already have. Perhaps limiting the Walkers and Lashleys of the MMA world to one bout a card in the future would strike this balance for the time being, but when 40% of the televised fights on a card are joke worthy, that’s not a good long-term sign.
3. Keeping the Broadcasts Engaging
MMA fans are a fickle bunch (to the point where I felt it necessary to write an article on the topic last year), and their whims can change as quickly as the breeze. Yet, despite their capricious nature, fans have become accustomed to certain things in MMA, mostly due to the UFC. One of the things that almost feels second nature to fans is a topic broached earlier, the notion of preliminary fights being shown when gaps in time are found on a card. Instead of following in the UFC’s lead in this matter, Strikeforce instead fills this time with needless commercials and commentary, neither of which benefit Strikeforce in any manner.
Strikeforce could use that extra time to show spectacular finishes, intriguing prospects or even highlight packages recapping the action that took place earlier in the night. All of those things would give the fans what they tuned into see, Mixed Martial Arts, rather than some talking heads. Also, even the most mundane fights are more engaging than the listless banter between the Strikeforce/Showtime commentary team.
Speaking of the commentary, while reviews are mixed on the particular individuals in said team, the consensus seems to be that there are too many people with too many agendas behind the microphones, and it can make broadcasts difficult to listen to, something which can potentially push viewers away. One solution is to do away with Stephen Quadros – not that he is a particularly poor commentator – since he doesn’t seem to mesh with the group they most often air. Quadros is stuck between being a play-by-play man, and a colour man, and since both of those roles are already filled by Mauro Ranallo and (usually) Pat Miletich, “The Fight Professor” always seems like he’s stepping on someone’s toes. The audio accompaniment to the fights is certainly not one of the biggest issues facing Strikeforce, but then again, that isn’t the intention of this article.
Strikeforce put together a fantastic year over the past twelve months, and seems to have more of the same lined up over the next twelve, but when watching a Strikeforce show, it seems pretty clear that they are not at the pinnacle of the MMA world. Some may prefer the Strikeforce brand, but it’s hard to argue that the UFC isn't the more polished and professional looking show in nearly every aspect. Nobody should have expected Strikeforce to overtake the UFC as an MMA promotion at this point, nor should they expect such a transition to happen in the near future, but there are certain small tweaks that can be made by Strikeforce in order to close the gap more quickly, and only a few of them have been outlined here.