Strikeforce Disasters, Part 1: Fedor Emelianenko Flops on Showtime

Fedor, his translator and manager. Photo by Esther Lin via Showtime Sports

Oh my oh my. Lots of Strikeforce news this morning. First off, Dave Meltzer reports that Fedor's numbers were just so-so on Showtime:

The two-hour show itself did a 1.5 rating and 492,000 total viewers on Showtime, better than average mixed martial artsnumbers on the network, but not close to the network's previous high marks.

Last summer's Gina Carano vs. Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos women's title fight set a Showtime record with a 2.2 rating. Herschel Walker's MMA debut on Jan. 30 did a 1.8 rating. Emelianenko's numbers were also lower than several shows headlined by both Kimbo Slice and Frank Shamrock.

Emelianenko came with a higher price tag than the others, however, including having to give his M-1 Global backing company co-promotional rights.

The Russian's first appearance on U.S. television on Nov. 7, a win over Brett Rogers on CBS, did a 2.5 rating. The show was not a ratings home run, but was considered a success. In particular, Emelianenko vs. Rogers, gaining 1.49 million new viewers from the previous fight, was the second biggest fight in U.S. television MMA history when it comes to new viewers being added to the telecast.

The prior major Strikeforce event, on May 15, headlined by Alistair Overeem defending the heavyweight title against Brett Rogers, did a 1.0 rating, showing that Overeem, in his first live major television appearance on U.S. television (he had appeared on HDNet events televised live from Japan), needs time to develop interest among U.S. consumers

As I wrote back in April, M-1 really screwed Fedor and themselves when they sat out the April Strikeforce on CBS show:

The tragedy of M-1's hold out was that Fedor was primed for a break out performance on the heels of his dramatic KO win over Brett Rogers. Now I doubt that he'll have a second bite at the U.S. network television apple. Whatever M-1 Global is doing, they are NOT looking out for what's best for Fedor's career. Had he posted even better numbers and more media attention for his second CBS fight, he'd have been a star in the biggest sports market in the world. Now he'll be a might have been.

As a hardcore fan, I loved the show, but it was clearly a business disaster that might have cost Strikeforce the CBS relationship. With just Showtime, frankly they can't afford Fedor. But since M-1 is under contract with Strikeforce, expect it to take quite a bit of untangling to work out.

And the oddest thing of all about their decision to sit out that event is it's entirely unclear what they got out of it. There were no more mentions of M-1 Global on this broadcast than on any other. I didn't see any of their roster of dynamite talent on the main card. 

Worst of all, without CBS's PR department to push Fedor to the press, the fight got zero mainstream coverage. And I wouldn't envy the Strikeforce PR flack that had to try to pitch Fedor on Showtime because the obvious question in a reporter's mind is "if this guy is such a legend why the hell is he fighting on Showtime?"

Well luckily for Scott Coker, he won't have to deal with Vadim Finkelchstein on such uneven terms in the future. As an MMA fan with a near lust for exciting international talent I hate to see M-1 Global be the sole major player in Russian MMA -- with the bumper crop of top flight wrestlers, judokas, boxers, kickboxers and sambo fighters that country produces it's a huge loss to world MMA to not have access to the next generation of Emelianenkos, TaktarovsZinovievs, VovchanchynsVolk HansIlioukhines, Matyushenkos and Arlovskis. 

Now speaking of headaches that Coker is glad to be done with we've got the news that Strikeforce has "released" Jake Shields and the seeming collapse of their promising middleweight tournament. 

We'll cover that in Part 2: No One Wants Jake Shields' Strikeforce Middleweight Title

And in the full entry, there's some discussion of where Fedor goes from here and the status of Strikeforce's heavyweight class:


Beau Dure chimes in:

But in the last five years, a class of powerful heavyweights has wiped aside the old guard in the UFC. Because Fedor and his M-1 Global company have refused to make a deal with the UFC, he hasn't faced them. Instead, he lost to a fighter who was 2-2 in an 18-month UFC stint.

Fedor is still young for an MMA fighter at 33, though he bears the scars of a long, busy career. He's not too old to rededicate himself to proving his status as a universally acclaimed No. 1.

The questions are whether he realizes the need to do so, wants to do so and knows how to do so.

Zach Arnold on Strikeforce and Fedor:

Now that he's lost, Fedor is still an amazingly great fighter and all-time legend, but he's no longer FEDOR in the psyche of so many of his supporters. It's an emotional letdown now. Plus, the fact that he lost to a fighter who most people didn't have ranked in the Top 10 of MMA Heavyweights has all but obliterated any sense of importance about Strikeforce's Heavyweight picture.

The truth is that nothing that happens in Strikeforce amongst the Heavyweights will impact the scene at all any more. Because there were such gaps in disparity between the major stars in Strikeforce's Heavyweight division, one top guy falling suddenly collapses the whole picture.

UFC already was able to say that they had the best heavyweights 2-through-5 and also some talent on the bottom of the Top 10 list. Now they are able to clearly say that the winner of the UFC 116 main event is the #1 Heavyweight in the world. The promotion is able to say with a straight face that all the best Heavyweights fight under the Zuffa banner. The Heavyweight division is still the glamour division in fighting in America. Strikeforce just lost any chance of having an impact in that department.

I'm less interested in those questions than what happens to Alistair Overeem, who, unlike Jake Shields, is presumably struck with a champions clause in his contract. That means that Overeem can't escape the clutches of Strikeforce unless he loses or is willing to endure a lengthy law suit. 

It's easy to understand why Dana White is now publicly disinterested in Overeem after talking up his desire to sign him just months ago. Being champion in a second tier organization is now going to be a career death trap.

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