Blame Japan Plans, Not Josh Barnett for Strikeforce Tourney Delay

Judging by the comments, it appears that Josh Barnett is taking most of the blame for the second installment of the Strikeforce heavyweight tournament being delayed. 

First off, let me say I don't think it's a huge deal in the end. The April 9th card will feature two incredible fights in Nick Diaz vs Paul Daley and Gilbert Melendez vs Tatsuya Kawajiri. Diaz and Daley should be good for a lot of pre-fight trash talk and I expect ratings to be solid, if not spectacular.

Be that as it may, it's unfair to blame Barnett's continuing issues with the California State Athletic Commission for the delay. It was Scott Coker's ambitious plan of holding the event in Japan that couldn't be done. There are plenty of venues where Barnett can fight, no problem. Places Strikeforce has been to before like Texas and Missouri. 

For those with short memories, Josh Gross was the first to report the April 9th date and that Japan was the desired location:

While venues in the U.S., Canada and Brazil remain in play for a card featuring Alistair Overeem against Fabricio Werdum, Josh Barnett versus Brett Rogers, and, Coker confirmed, the return of Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez, Japan appears to be the front runner.

Sotaro Shinoda, a representative for Real Entertainment, the Japanese company that co-produced Pride events before partnering with FEG to form Dream in 2008, is expected to meet with Coker Thursday evening to discuss details about bringing the Showtime-televised card to Tokyo.

Strikeforce and Dream have partnered several times in fighter exchanges. The April card would mark Strikeforce's first event in Japan -- a goal of Coker's since he entered the mixed martial arts business in 2006. Producing a live broadcast to the U.S. at 10 p.m. ET Saturday, would require a start time in Japan on April 10 at noon. Coker ruled out famed Saitama Super Arena, host to many Pride and Dream events, as the location.

But they didn't want to settle for that, they wanted to pull off the big international show.

Zach Arnold vents:

...the fact that Scott Coker really did push all of his chips to try to run the April 9th date in Japan is absurd. Yes, I predicted that Strikeforce would try to run some if not all of Barnett's fights in Japan, but you would have to be a clueless idiot in 2011 to try to run that market - especially if you are a foreigner. What it goes to show you is what a mark Scott Coker is when it comes to Japan to ignore all the realities that were facing him and to proceed ahead as if he was running into a brick wall just for the fun of it. I'm not angry at Mr. Coker, I'm just embarrassed for him at this point.

Third, the delay in the HW GP should absolutely raise red flags in the minds of fans that this ‘tournament' will even get completed. I'm not saying 100% that it won't happen be finished, but it certainly has a larger chance of not getting finished within the 2011 calendar frame. The delay also makes all the advertising for April 9th on the February show with Fedor look like a joke. Yes, there will be an April 9th event and the card will be very good, but it's not the HW GP and that's the problem you run into when you run these gimmicks, these tournaments. They suck all the oxygen out of the all for booking because that what the fans only care about it. It's like throwing a plate of red meat at a lion in a cage and then coming back for round two and giving the lion a platter full of broccoli & sprouts. Fans should have every right to be upset about the delay and what they may perceive as ‘false advertising' when it's really more or less incompetence.

I don't know how many times I need to repeat this, but I will do so again: MMA fans want competency and consistency. Not one or the other, but both. Demonstrate that and you will win over fan trust.

Arnold is probably overreacting a bit, but it can't be denied that this is the first misstep of the year for Strikeforce. 

Personally I don't blame Scott Coker for overreaching a bit in trying to pull off a return of big time MMA to Japan. Zach Arnold laid out the plus side of that move a few weeks back:

It's a fascinating move by Scott Coker to really consider a deep involvement in Japan given the current climate of the industry there and yet, it's a calculated move. The risk is high - lack of money, shaky television situation, long-term uncertainty with K-1. However, what makes the prospects of Strikeforce working with K-1 in Japan realistic is that SF can turn the tables on K-1 and use the K-1 financial model to benefit. With Showtime paying Strikeforce a certain amount of money per show, the promotion can afford to work with someone like K-1 if K-1/DREAM is willing to run the show and cover the costs. Sounds familiar? It was Kazuyoshi Ishii's strategy when PRIDE collapsed and now, unfortunately for K-1, it's a failing business model for the Japanese. Which means that the idea of Strikeforce using that same model against the grandmaster who built his empire on it is extremely thick in irony.

For K-1, it would be an interesting image booster in Japan. They could conceivably tell the fans that they are bringing some of the best, if not the best, foreign MMA fighters in the world to Japan to fight in a ring and not a cage. All of this is big for the psyche of the Japanese fans.

For Strikeforce, the ability to make money while running big fights in the big non-American MMA market will be a win that UFC will not be able to obtain. It's a move where both SF & K-1 can combine forces to try to diminish the prospects of UFC making a big dent in the country. Each party (SF & K-1) has something at stake and right now the stakes are pretty high for both parties. Desperate times call for desperate measures. If K-1 can use Alistair, Fedor, and others to try to get leverage for television security, then it's worth it to play ball in the end.

Right now I'm betting that the next major MMA event held in Japan is put on by the UFC. 

UPDATE: Couple more points I wanted to make after reading the comments.

The real damage this has done is not to Strikeforce's relationships with fans as much as it is to its TV partners and to the fighters. 

Showtime can't be happy with post-poning the second installment of the tournament after advertising April 9th heavily on the Fedor vs Silva broadcast.

Even worse, the fighters who were in mid-camp preparing for fights in early April now have to recalibrate their training schedules to peak in early June. Not to mention they won't get paid for another 60 days and extending their camps will mean paying their trainers, coaches and sparring partners almost double the amount for a normal camp. For someone like Brett Rogers I imagine that's a pretty big deal.

Being screwed around like that has to make someone like Alistair Overeem consider his options when it comes time to re-sign. There is a very limited amount of top end talent in MMA willing to go with Strikeforce over the UFC and it's headliners who sell fight cards. Strikeforce can't afford to alienate the eventual tournament winner and lose them to the UFC. 

Then there are the fighters who won in January -- Antonio Silva for example will now have to endure an eight month layoff waiting for the quater-finals in September rather than fighting in June. Strikeforce has been very generous about letting their fighters get cage time outside the organization, but that creates a lot of ugly possibilities for a tourny participant getting hurt or losing a "tune up" fight during the delay.

And Luke Thomas has some more details and comments on the April 9th card:

Now they'll be a new Strikeforce event in April Valley View Casino Center in San Diego, California, formerly the San Diego Sports Arena. That will feature two title fights, the first and headliner will be Nick Diaz defending his Strikeforce welterweight title against Brit Paul Daley. Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilber Melendez will put his title on the line in a rematch against Tatsuya Kawajiri. Japanese grappler Shinya Aoki could also appear on this card.


The April card is also coming together nicely. The Gegard Mousasi vs. Mike Kyle fight is nothing to write home about, but the two title fights are. And it's a nice little consolation prize while we wait for the next leg of the tournament to kick off. These aren't ideal circumstances, of course, but all of this will serve to keep Strikeforce in the headlines in a way where most of the talk is centered on future events. That's not an unappealing outcome.

More SBN Coverage of Strikeforce: Diaz vs Daley

More SBN Coverage of Strikeforce Overeem vs Werdum

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