If signed, Bautista’s debut will almost assuredly come against fellow former pro wrestler Bobby Lashley. It’s a fight that makes a lot of sense to Strikeforce officials, and they’re talking up the possibility of putting the bout on the first-ever Strikeforce pay per view card.
"That’s not a free television bout. That’s a pay per view fight," said Strikeforce matchmaker Rich Chou. "You can’t give away everything for free."
Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker echoed the sentiments. "Absolutely. That’s a pay per view fight. I believe we put on some great matchups for the hardcore fans and the casual fans in general. When you tune in to a Strikeforce fight, you know you’re going to see some great fights," Coker told Heavy.com. "But every once in awhile, when you get a chance to throw in a fight like this one that’s just fun to watch? Why not?"
I have absolutely no problem with Lashley/Batista. Bobby has made it clear that being a top fighter and taking on challenging fights is not something he plans on doing. So, if you're Strikeforce you should absolutely try to make a fight with Dave Batista happen since it's one of the few fights you can get out of Lashley that will do anything business-wise.
My problem is with saying that this is a fight you can't put on Showtime. You can put a guy generally regarded as the best in the planet fighting top ten opposition on CBS and Showtime but you must charge for one of the biggest WWE bombs in recent history in Lashley against a debuting Batista in his 40's with a history of injury problems? In his time in the WWE Batista tore his right triceps, then re-tore it, then tore it again, tore a back muscle, tore his hamstring, and tore his left bicep. I have my doubts that should Batista ever sign a Strikeforce deal that he could make it through a full camp without tearing a muscle since, for some reason, he seems to rip like paper. One of those triceps tears came while he was jogging with his wife. How he makes it through a full training camp doing all the cardio he needs to do and learning how to defend on the ground without tearing something (and remember, the guy is 41) is beyond me.
There is, of course, a natural curiosity that will lead some people to order a PPV with these two men clashing. The question is, how big of a draw are they? Cage Side Seats has compiled some WWE pay-per-view info on both men that can be seen here:
Lashley was also in the money drawing match (against Umaga) at Wrestlemania 23 (a WWE high of 1.2 million buys) a few months later, but the actual draws were Donald Trump (represented by Lashley) and Vince McMahon (represented by Umaga) putting their hair at stake. His next main event was challenging for John Cena's WWE Title a few months after that at The Great American Bash, the first WWE PPV after the Benoit murder/suicide. With a fresh match on top, the show drew a respectable 229,000 buys, slightly up from the previous year's 227,000 and slightly down from the previous month's Vengeance: Night of Champions (the show where Benoit no-showed, because unbeknownst to anyone, he was dead). Shortly after that, Lashley was injured, and when he was due to come back, he got an unconditional release from the WWE (in terms of where he could go, not what he could talk about, as it's believed that he left because he was uncomfortable with the racial tension in the company and was silenced from talking about it publicly as one of the terms of his release), When he eventually showed up in TNA, he didn't pop their PPV buys at all.
I think that last sentence says a lot about Bobby Lashley's drawing power right now. He didn't bring new viewers or interest to TNA upon his arrival at which point he was already competing in MMA and had his WWE history behind him. We know the crossover traffic between MMA and pro-wrestling is mostly one way (pro-wrestling fans will crossover into MMA much easier than the other way around) so it isn't a complete reflection of how Lashley would do as an MMA PPV draw but it does show that he isn't moving the needle in terms of the wrestling audience so why would that audience pay to watch him fight? Add to that the fact that he has done nothing to convince MMA fans that he is worth their dollar either and it's not exactly a good sign that he draws anything meaningful.
How about Batista as a draw? Again we turn to Cage Side Seats:
He eventually cooled off, but for most of 2005, WWE PPVs were outdrawing the previous year's event, sometimes dramatically. Most notably, Vengeance, headlined by the Batista-Triple H feud-ending Hell in a Cell match, pulled in around 440,000 buys. The show had drawn about 250,000 the previous year (with Chris Benoit vs Triple H on top) and drew about 340,000 the following year (with Rob Van Dam vs Edge, John Cena vs Sabu, and the reuniting DX vs The Spirit Squad as the top matches). He was also in one of the two title matches (vs The Undertaker for the first time) at the aforementioned Wrestlemania 23.
Batista definitely has the potential to draw. If Strike Force is going to try to run PPVs, then business-wise, this is probably the best fight to headline with.
I violently disagree with the last paragraph there. Is this a fight that maybe does a little bit of business on shear freakish curiosity? Yes. But where do you go from there? Do you put the winner in against a Werdum or Overeem? That would be murder. It's a PPV with no long term gain. This would be a one-off event appealing to the worst our sport has to offer. A couple of aging former pro wrestlers who have not proven anything in the sport clashing on PPV while Strikeforce, who has shown no true ability to create stars, likely wastes any views they get by not properly utilizing any true talent.
When Herschel Walker, a man with far more cultural currency in the sports world than either of these two men, got Strikeforce a nice bump in attention what did they do with it? Nothing. As much as I like the cards they put on CBS and Showtime, this is not a promotion that understands how to promote.
Dynamite!! USA pulled in 35,000 PPV buys when they had Brock Lesnar, a major WWE star during his run, headline. It took the UFC's promotional power and legitimate fights to make Lesnar into the crossover MMA star that he is now. It isn't as easy as just sticking a guy in the cage and letting the money roll in.
I'm sure there is something more going on that is forcing Strikeforce to push to fill out a card with fights they think will draw. But this is a fight that is almost certainly to be of the lowest quality and will not draw the eyeballs that Strikeforce thinks it will when they write it off as not being a "free TV" fight.