I was surprised as anyone to hear UFC President Dana White recently talking glowingly about the future of Strikeforce. I assume nearly all of MMA fandom thought the promotion was on its last legs, preparing for inevitable absorption like PRIDE and the WEC before it.
But White is boasting that the future is going to be bright, saying, "Just sit and wait and watch what I do." When pressed, he couldn't give any details and no extension with Showtime has been signed.
Thus the future of talents like Gilbert Melendez, Daniel Cormier, Tyron Woodley and others are still in limbo and we're still waiting to see if Miesha Tate and Sarah Kaufman will ever fight again six months after they last competed. 145-pound champion Cristiane Santos gets her first action in almost TWO YEARS this Saturday.
Since White's comments, I've thought a lot about how Strikeforce could continue. In its current state, it's pointless. The top male stars don't make the money of their UFC cousins and are constantly asked about leaving. There's no pay-per-view. Events draw next to no fans. The future has been in question since the UFC made the announcement this past March, which has hurt the name value they once had.
So how could Strikeforce 3.0 be different? How could they stand out? What could White do with it that would set it far apart from the UFC and make it unique? How could it make money and draw interest? The answer stood out to me like it should be in bold font, so it is: Strikeforce should become a female-only promotion.
Before you shun the idea completely, there's some legitimate reasons I really think this could work:
- We don't need more of the same MMA: talent roster is thin and everyone knows it. There are guys fighting in the UFC solely because they're filling spots -- not because they're among the best fighters in the world. There's enough UFC events in 2012 to get the top Strikeforce talent action and create more exciting cards as a result. If they have to cut guys on either roster, so be it. Take aboard the best and let's get after it already. We simply don't need more of what we've seen this year: events for hardcore fans and constant questions of when the top talent like Melendez are going to shift over. Unless they move a hundred fighters from UFC over to Strikeforce to fill out the roster, what's the purpose in keeping it as is?
- It's a unique idea that hasn't been done on a national stage before: The UFC is on TV all the time. HDNet has hundreds of hours of live events a year. Bellator runs 25+ events a year. None of them have truly embraced women's MMA other than a scant few fights. If a promotion can actually focus solely on putting together the best women in the world, they will lead the pack in something new. Who doesn't want that?
- Zuffa has the money to do it: If there's any company in the world that can afford to take the risk, it's Zuffa. They also have the money and resources to do it right. Focus on two power divisions (130/140 or 135/145) and build from there. Sign everyone you can and make stars. Do what White has said there isn't and create depth by bringing all of this talent under one roof and pay them well to do so.
Run smaller venues and less shows as you build: There's no reason to book 5000 seat arenas. Smaller 1500 seat venues like the Pearl or likewise are just fine, but price tickets accordingly. Book events in hometowns of main eventers like WEC did with Urijah Faber back in the day. Treat Strikeforce like a startup and focus on making six events a year as strong as you can.
Promotion to a new group: A women's only promotion would help in attracting a new audience to educate. Find appropriate sponsors. Play to all audiences. Find a way to build more draws like Ronda Rousey and Tate. If the sport is going to grow, its athletes need a major league to strive for, one that will allow women to train full-time and make some good money for competing. There are other potential stars out there that just need to have airtime to show their skills.
This whole idea may sound crazy but we need something more refreshing from Strikeforce in 2012 and beyond, assuming the Showtime deal is signed. I don't want Challengers events that feature male prospects as that's what UFC undercards and The Ultimate Fighter is for. I want different. I want a national all-women's promotion and I want Zuffa to lead the charge.