Dana White is a man who feels little pain. Since he was installed as the acting front-man for the UFC things have generally come up roses for him at every turn. He has presided over the spectacular growth of mixed martial arts into a major sport. He has made his investors and himself hundreds of millions of dollars. He has dispatched competitors as if he was Jon Jones and they were anyone else in the Light Heavyweight division. Indeed, what Dana wants, Dana gets. So all encompassing is his power in the world of mixed martial arts that perhaps the next Bloody Elbow research challenge should be to detail and discuss a situation in which Dana White failed to get his way.
And early on in 2011 it has been no different. Over the weekend, White announced that Zuffa had purchased Strikeforce, the biggest North American competitor to the UFC. I'm not sure what went through your mind when you saw the headlines, but the first thing I thought was that I had stumbled on a piece of fan fiction. Once I realized it was a real story and not the fantasies of some stoner guy, the next thing through my head was the voice of Bruce Buffer..."and the new UFC Heavyweight champion, ALISTAIR OVEREEEEEEEEM". Perhaps the scenario was a little different for you, but my point remains: For fans, the best case scenario resulting from this move is getting all the Strikeforce champions and contenders into the UFC for fights against their counterparts as soon as possible.
Alas, contractual obligations stemming from Strikeforce's relationship with cable network Showtime is likely to prevent those superfights from happening right away. Strikeforce will remain a separate entity from the UFC for the foreseeable future and Dana White and the rest of the Zuffa team are going to have to do some creative thinking if they are going to have any success running the promotion. After all, Dana used to refer to the organization as "Strikefarce". If it's business as usual, why would fans of the UFC want to tune in?
Which brings me back to where I started. One of the only things that has plagued Dana in recent years is the unwillingness of fighters (or more specifically, contenders) who train at the same camp to fight one another. Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch have been the poster boys for this attitude this until very recently, when top contenders Jon Jones and Rashad Evans came out and said that they would not fight each other, should one of them take the LHW belt from Shogun Rua. While they have recently warmed up to the idea thanks to some verbal sparring in the press, the issue remains. Dana hates this and whenever it is brought up to him a stream of profanity is sure to follow.
This is where Strikeforce fits right in. As details regarding the acquisition emerge, it has become clear that Zuffa had been negotiating with Scott Coker since around December of last year, or right around the time that Strikeforce announced that they would be holding a Heavyweight Grand Prix, with a handful of top 10 heavyweights participating. Their GP is the first major MMA tournament in years and has garnered a ton of attention from media and fans alike. It wouldn't be a stretch to think that Dana White and the Fertitta bros. were pretty impressed with Coker's ability to pull off such a coup. It also wouldn't be a stretch to think that they are watching the event closely to see how it turns out, with an eye on holding future grand prixs under the Strikeforce banner. If it can overcome the scheduling hurdles it is currently working through and the final includes one of the big names of Overeem, Werdum or Barnett, it is likely going to be a great success.
As I said above, Fitch and Koscheck refuse to face each other. They fight at Welterweight. Jones and Evans are Light heavies. The solution? Send one of the troublemakers off to Strikeforce to compete in a grand prix.
When you look at the talent spread across both the UFC and Strikeforce in either division, it isn't hard to find 8 fighters that fans would love to see fight in a tournament format. Fighters seem to like tournaments and if the competition/compensation was good I couldn't see top UFC talent turning down an invitation. Off the top of my head, here is my opening round matchups for both a Welterweight and Light Heavyweight Grand Prix:
Strikeforce has Diaz and Daley scheduled to fight in April. However that turns out, it'd be sweet to see Koshceck take care of Paul Daley again. Think of it as an opportunity for Paul to redeem himself, i.e. to get taken down and layed on for 15 minutes without throwing a sucker punch after. Penn vs Diaz needs no explanation. Carlos Condit and Chris Lytle have been trying to fight each other for years and while Condit is probably more interested in a title fight, he'd be a much hotter commodity coming off a deep run in a grand prix. Sanchez? As a fan favorite who has little chance of making a run at the UFC title, he'd bring fans and the guarantee of an exciting fight.
Aside from the fourth fight, those are incredible fights that would have me super excited. Rampage seems to be a win away from a title shot with the UFC so he may not be available. But we'll have to wait and see how things play out. Randy and Fedor might not be the all time classic that it once could have been, but it would still be a huge fight at the box office. Again, I feel that Evans vs Hendo needs no explanation. As for Tito, it's an opportunity for him to have that last hurrah he so desperately craves before finally hanging it up.
As I said, it is going to take some creative thinking to make up for the lack of immediate super fights. But if Dana wants to ease both his pain and that of the fans, another grand prix or two just might do the trick.