MMA has a habit of causing you to question the reality of its universe. 'Wait, wasn't Mirko Filipovic supposed to do that to Gabriel Gonzaga?', we once asked with our mouths agape (or in my case, my bottle of Fat Tire on the dorm floor with my roommate screaming at me to stop laughing in shock and clean it up). When Dana White tortures the phrase "business as usual", I just take it to mean, 'as the inimitably chaotic world of MMA turns'. Yesterday was no different, with the news that Zuffa had bought yet another MMA organization. A total disaster? Unless you're Josh Barnett, or Paul Daley...not really. So what does this all mean, and why the hell are you reading my opinion about it? Will I intelligently illuminate some ignored element of the situation? Hell no. But I will try to stand in between the fanboy optimism of people like Subo, and the hungover pessimism of our own Tim Burke without being wishy washy (which isn't meant to be a slight on either).
For as many articles, and editorials as have been written about the subject, you'd think we know a lot. When we really don't. Dana's interview with Ariel Helwani is fairly vague, and it paints the picture of a promotion (Strikeforce) that for now, will operate independently. We know this isn't true, but I'm not interested in picking apart Dana's words. He's a promoter that often has to speak in abstractions so that when the real moves are made, they will feel fresh, and Dana's justifications for his actions can appear valid. But the parallels can be understood in crayon.
When Zuffa bought Pride, Dana's narrative was strikingly similar. Pride would be kept around, it was said. And even the circumstances surrounding the current buyout seem to exist in the same space. ProElite Inc., the parent company of EliteXC, took an active interest in the purchase of Strikeforce before Zuffa made it officially theirs; a fact said to have potentially hastened Zuffa's decision. Similarly, before Zuffa purchased Pride, it was the then President of Pride USA and gaming honcho, Ed Fishman, who took a vested interest in Pride's "65 million" dollar price tag. With this pattern, I'm not so sure it's that Zuffa is cynically crushing its competitors so much so that it's about them being control freaks: when your primary competitors stick a 'for sale' on their front lawn, it might as well be you that buys the house instead of an unfamiliar face. Or maybe it's all a perfect storm for Zuffa to assume true dominance over the MMA landscape with its 'shock and awe' brand of business.
And maybe there's a bit of learning curve at play too. The Pride buyout never seemed like much of a success, with its pesky personal service contracts for its fighters, the FujiTV situation, and Japanese politics; the negatives appeared to outweigh the positives not just for its fans, but for Zuffa's business. In buying Strikeforce, Zuffa inherits their TV contracts, which are reportedly their primary asset, as their rumored 25 million in television licensing fees are valid until next year. On top of that, the contract situation isn't as messy, and the only politics they have to deal with are those with Showtime (though they could be significant). In any case, on the surface, it looks like a really good deal for Zuffa. They're not getting a bunch of unknown commodities, familiar only to hardcores, as they did with Pride. Strikeforce was actually successful, having moved well beyond the modest roots they established back in 2006. Many of their fighters even have a nice American following. So what's the big picture?