After drawing great ratings its last two events, can Strikeforce maintain its growing momentum or are these numbers a flash in the pan?
Scott Coker and Ken Hershman have to be smiling following the release of the ratings for Saturday's "Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva," an event that broke the one million viewer mark for the first time for Strikeforce. The show also drew an average of 741,000 viewers, demolishing the old record of 576,000 set in August 2009 for "Carano vs. Cyborg."
On top of this success, last month's "Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Cyborg" also drew a solid number for Showtime, averaging 561,000 viewers for Nick Diaz's welterweight title defense against Evangelista Santos.
For the first time in the promotion's history with Showtime, it appears it is building some forward momentum instead of just treading water. Can this forward progress be sustained, though? If Strikeforce plays its cards right, there's no reason for it not to be.
Saturday's broadcast from IZOD Center in New Jersey was probably the best all-around broadcast Strikeforce and Showtime have done in terms of letting you know, "Hey, this is kind of a big deal." For the first time in a long time, I felt like these fights had meaning and weren't just randomly matched fights that didn't lead to anything in the future. These fights had purpose. For the remainder of this tournament, that's going to be the case. One of the things the UFC does well is to make sure you have a reason to care about its bigger fights. Whether billing a fight as a No. 1 contender bout, or having championship fights the fans care about, they are great at this. To be fair, it's easy to be great at it when you have the best fighters in the world.
That means Strikeforce has to work extra hard at getting people to care about its product. The promotion went through a stretch following the CBS show in Nashville where it was very difficult to get into what the promotion was doing. Now, Strikeforce is giving me reason to care, and care a lot, and that's why things are shaping up to be very good for the promotion in 2011 if nothing goes awry.
Coker and Friends have lined things up very well for this year. Obviously the World Grand Prix Heavyweight Tournament is a big reason why people are excited about Strikeforce. Add in the possible return of Herschel Walker and the comeback of Gina Carano and you have the needed ingredients to get back on CBS, something that would be huge this year if they can pull it off. In addition, Fedor Emelianenko should still be a ratings attraction despite losing two in a row for the first time in his career and Fabricio Werdum and Antonio Silva should be bigger stars now having beaten Emelianenko. Then you add in people like Diaz and Strikeforce's other exciting champions and things could be on the upswing.
The real key is going to be the March 5 show in Columbus, Ohio featuring a Rafael Cavalcante light-heavyweight title defense against Dan Henderson. Henderson's last show, headlining against Renato Sobral in December, averaged 341,000 viewers. Cavalcante's last fight, against "King Mo" Lawal in August, averaged 367,000 viewers. If these two have a good ratings outing on Showtime, the proof will be in the pudding. That's momentum. If not, well, the return of the heavyweight tournament will only be a month later and, in theory, should do good numbers considering the success of Saturday's show.
As is always the case, time will be the judge of this, but there's no doubt Strikeforce is starting to get the very important little things right. That should lead to success in the future.