UFC Buys Strikeforce: The Case of the Curious Announcement

A sport's spiritual home says a lot about it, explains its temperament, the entire vibe of the game. Springfield, Massachusetts, the home of James Naismith's basketball was a hub of the industrial revolution, a place where the first ever gas powered automobile was invented and offered for sale. Baller enough to be the home of Rolls Royce in North America. A fitting home for an inventive and powerfully urban game.

Canton, Ohio, where the Pro Football Hall of Fame broke ground at an old car dealership, is as gritty as the men who made football in America. Football is a miserable game, full of breaking bones, blood, and perpetual pain. What better spiritual homeland than Canton, a place Forbes Magazine called one of the most miserable cities in America?

For mixed martial arts, Las Vegas is the anchorage of spirit as Henry James put it. The glitz and glitter of the strip whitewash a multitude of sins. The lions and sharks, the dancing girls, the giant fountains spewing water in tune to the amazement of Iowans out for a good time - they all mask the truth about Las Vegas. While you are distracted by the bright lights, they are reaching into your pocket and taking everything they can. No one can claim to be unaware. The government makes the casinos tell tourists exactly how they are going to be fleeced, even making them explain the odds.  But some people, well, they want to believe.

Yesterday Dana White told the world that Zuffa had purchased their top competitor, Strikeforce. He claimed to Ariel Helwani that the motivation, however, wasn't to remove a fast growing rival:

"As we continue to grow and expand into all these other countries...we need more fights. We need more fights, more fights, and let's face the facts...as we continue to go into these other countries, as we continue to grow and expand the business - I've been saying this for a year and a half. We need more fighters."

Yahoo's Kevin Iole got the same spiel:

White said the UFC needed the fighters, which was Zuffa’s impetus for the deal. He said it plans to increase the number of shows it runs and said it’s conceivable it could, down the road, have more than one show running in different countries on the same night.

While both men dutifully wrote down what the Zuffa President said, the kind of stenography that is the backbone of modern journalism, the recent past calls that conclusion, that bizarre spin, into question. The UFC, the promotion White claims made this deal because they needed fighters, has been marauding through their lighter weight divisions, cutting multiple fighters after each show.

The common consensus was that the UFC had too many fighters. At least that was last week's consensus. This week the MMA media has new marching orders. Truth is less important than a good story well told. These, as they say, are the times.

More on the curious nature of the announcement after the jump.


Dana White sits slumped in his chair, wearing a Mike Tyson t-shirt and answering the carefully crafted questions of Ariel Helwani from MMAFighting.com. Helwani, wearing a red flannel shirt, is there to help Dana get his message out. This is a press release in video form. On the coffee table sits E. Casey Lyndon, a videographer with allelbows.com. The site does some phenomenal work - but this video won't be on the reel. It's an awkward two shot that doesn't flatter either White or Helwani. It looks like something you might see on a cable access show or a small market local newscast, the kind of interview you get when a harried shooter didn't have a chance to set up his tripod before they got started.

For a sport so desperate to put its best foot forward, to prove it belongs in the same sentence with the titans of the industry like the NFL and the NBA, this is a curious choice. They say you dress for the job you want, not the job you have. The UFC wants to be a big player in the sports world. So why is it releasing major news on what is by most estimates only the fourth biggest website in the niche MMA genre?

Perception is reality. To a mainstream audience, major sports are covered by ESPN and in their local paper. They don't make big announcements on genre websites. And moves like this can damage their chances with an outlet like ESPN going forward. Sources say that officials with ESPN were furious that they weren't given this story. It would have been featured on SportsCenter, White front and center in a professional interview. Instead, we got the standard guerrilla style low budget MMA Fighting interview. Now some ESPN insiders are questioning the value of covering the UFC at all on their programming.

When I read Helwani's announcement on Twitter, I looked to UFC.com for answers. There was no story. Even now the only link on their official site connects directly to White's interview with the MMA Fighting team. It's certainly a very curious move for a company still seeking mainstream approval. It's not like White to yield control to anyone - lack of any UFC coverage of the event means he must feel he has control of the narrative with Helwani and MMA Fighting - a kind of control he'll never have with ESPN.


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