Big Questions Remain After UFC Purchase of Strikeforce

Photo by Michael Cohen/Getty Images

The MMA world is still working to digest the implications of Zuffa's purchase of Strikeforce. Dana White's mantra of "business as usual" should not be taken literally, unless you're familiar with how Dana White and the UFC do business. It's a lock that the UFC will digest Strikeforce as fast as it can.

White spoke to Kevin Iole and clarified some of the implications for the fighters:

"One thing we always do is honor our contracts. Showtime has a contract with Strikeforce and it will continue. They pull decent ratings. Showtime is happy with Strikeforce and Strikeforce is happy with Showtime. We plan to operate them as they are now, as a separate company from the UFC."

That is largely because Zuffa doesn't plan to interfere with the contracts that Strikeforce has with its fighters. Fighters currently under Strikeforce won't be able to move to the UFC, no matter how good they are, until their Strikeforce deals expire.

However, those who sign deals with Zuffa now and in the future could find themselves shuttling between leagues. Eventually, when all of the current Strikeforce contracts expire, all Zuffa-contracted fighters will be free to float between leagues to create the best matchups.

Iole also got White to clarify what this will mean for those folks on the Strikeforce roster who are not favorites of Dana White:

"When we make decisions, we all get together as a team and make them and now that team includes Scott. But he's running Strikeforce. Let's be honest here: There are some people there, the Showtime executives, M-1, Henderson, who aren't big fans of mine. But I don't want them to be uncomfortable in their own league. Strikeforce is Showtime's league and they have a contract with Strikeforce and we'll let it run as it has."

White said the changes that would be made would be mostly behind the scenes. He wouldn't say if he would change Showtime's announcing teams, though he said, "Showtime controls the production [for Strikeforce]."

"We'll make some back-of-house improvements so the fighters will notice that things may run more smoothly, and the media may see a difference in how we do things, but this is still going to be Strikeforce," White said.

Luke Thomas raises some remaining questions:

...what does this mean for the UFC's alleged impending deal with NBC? With CBS, Showtime and Spike under the Viacom umbrella, is this move solidifying the UFC-Viacom partnership or an asset acquisition designed to woo a reluctant NBC-Comcast?

One also wonders what this means for a potential Strikeforce pay-per-view. I suspect those plans are on ice. Pushing that heavy a price tag on consumers would be difficult regardless and borderline highway robbery now that Strikeforce is part of the Zuffa stable.

Personally I'm most curious about a few things:

  • What does this mean for EA Games? They have partnered with Strikeforce to compete with THQ's UFC video game. 
  • Where does this leave Bellator? I said today on the BE radio show that if their ratings slide they could be off MTV2 in six weeks, but currently I'm thinking Viacom keeps them around until Spike TV concludes its negotiations with the UFC. If the UFC leaves Spike TV, Bellator could step into the vacuum.

Zuffa_purchases_strikeforce_medium

Gareth Davies has some suggestions:

Arguably, given that problem with dual world champions, maybe Strikeforce should have a super-middleweight division with the likes of Dan Henderson, and a new roster of fighters such as Rashad EvansMichael Bisping and others who are not big enough to be light-heavyweights in the UFC.  

...
In Strikeforce, perhaps they should consider having just Grand Prix champions, and women's divisions, so they stay as a separate entity. Or arguably, a feeder organisation.
...
One answer could be twelve Strikeforce events a year for women's title fights and for men's Grand Prix titles. That way, it would give Strikeforce a chance to have their own identity separate from the UFC, and not just have B-listers as a feeder fighting organisation.

Strikeforce fighter Paul Daley, whom Dana White cut for an after the bell cheap shot against Josh Koscheck at UFC 113 is angry about this and speaking out on Facebook:

Business as usual, what if i dont wanna fight for DANA WHITE/ZUFFA?......Dana white bans me for life from the UFC, Then buys STRIKEFORCE, and thinks im still gonna be EASY and fight on one of the most anticipated fights of the year (vs Diaz)? Which will no doubt make ZUFFA/Dana White money.

Daley vs Diaz still on?.....Someone better holla at my manager real quick.

Scott Christ of Bad Left Hook chimes in with his thoughts on what this will mean for boxing:

Now, Showtime has not yet "lost" Strikeforce. The company line at Zuffa is what they're saying, and in the short-term, Strikeforce will still be on Showtime, with big fights and big shows. But that's not going to last, because the upside for UFC just isn't there, unless they can possibly strike some kind of huge deal with Showtime to promote special, non-PPV UFC events on the network after the Strikeforce TV deal ends. Is that likely? Probably not. UFC does quite good business without the help of Showtime or HBO or anyone else. Their brand is such a force in the niche sports world that they've managed to turn SpikeTV into "that channel with UFC." They don't need the "higher class" association of a premium cable network, and they aren't struggling to get their shows exposure. In other words, while boxing promoters are largely at the mercy of the few TV networks that give a damn about their product, UFC is not.

As for boxing fans, this could go one of two ways, but in the near future I'd expect this to be a positive. Showtime has to be expecting HBO to come hard in the boxing rivalry in the second half of 2011 and beyond. The potential for losing Strikeforce could make Showtime more ready than ever to batten down the hatches and go to war with their rivals in boxing, as significant losses in the boxing landscape could cripple their sports division in terms of being that sort of legitimate competitor and even industry-leader. HBO has the money to throw at any problem. Showtime has the vision to beat them, and it seems like they've taken HBO by surprise this year. How much of a curveball this development throws at Showtime remains to be seen, but needless to say, it's a major story and could have a big impact on what we see going forward, even if you don't care one lick for MMA.

Dave Meltzer rejects the notion that this is about signing fighters on his radio show:

  • "The UFC can run enough shows to keep 200 fighters busy. Right now they've got 260 fighters under contract."
  • "Strikeforce has too many fighters under contract. The UFC has too many fighters under contract."
  • "At some point down the road they'd like to be running events in Europe on the same night they're doing events in the U.S. but that's not the situation now."
  • "Can the UFC give up mega-fights it needs for pay-per-view for a network show on CBS? It's tricky."
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