Lorenzo Fertitta and Zuffa should consider extending their contract with Showtime, giving them time to plan the eventual merger with Strikeforce's roster. (Photo by Michael Cohen/Getty Images)
Since the news that Zuffa had bought Strikeforce back in March, there has been an enormous amount of speculation among MMA media and fans alike revolving around the future of the promotion. The UFC had been trying to find a way to break into the premium cable market for years, hoping to air their international events on a network like HBO or Showtime. The surprise deal to buy Strikeforce was met with slight speculation that Zuffa would keep Strikeforce alive in order to begin implementing a strategy to take full advantage of the premium cable model in that capacity. But a majority of the talk has revolved around the idea of an eventual merger.
The major counterpoint to the argument has been that the UFC's brand power is overwhelmingly better and more valuable than that of Strikeforce. Many fans and analysts believe using time and money promoting a brand that likely won't ever pay off is a waste. Others have focused on the tangible evidence, i.e. the lack of depth in their roster, the better fights available for Strikeforce fighters in the UFC, and women's MMA being an unfriendly option for casual fans. Those opinions have resulted in talk that the UFC should simply envelope Strikeforce's roster and produce more events. In my mind, however, we've been quick to pull the trigger.
Strikeforce is here for the long haul. They won't be going anywhere for at least a couple years. Woman's MMA is safe, and so are the crazy Russians that fight with us.
The popular opinion following the buyout was that Zuffa would run Strikeforce independently until the contract with Showtime ended in 2012, then jump ship and merge the existing contracts into the UFC. There are, however, downfalls to that idea, most notably the bloat that it would create by immediately increasing the roster by a large amount and putting pressure on the UFC to produce more shows in only one year's time. In the next few years, that will likely become a reality, but in such a short time frame -- it might not be in the UFC's interests to stretch their coffers without trimming the rosters, and producing a few more stars and recognizable names to headline those added events.
If what Kennedy says is true, Zuffa may take the extension to 2014. Not only would it eliminate a television partner for regional promotions eying a deal, but it may allow Zuffa to build a few stars that could transfer to the UFC in a couple of years and begin headlining fights immediately for the increased number of events the merger would add. They may not be viable pay-per-view headliners, but they could fill main event slots on cable network cards.
I'm not sold on the idea that Zuffa should swallow Strikeforce next year. People seem to be quick to believe the UFC can handle such a monumental endeavor, the merging of two enormous rosters into one and producing events as if it's "business as usual". I would be very surprised to see Zuffa go through with a large scale merger of that magnitude in only one year's time.
The best option, in my mind, is to keep Strikeforce alive until 2014 when the extension ends. Zuffa's various avenues to promote their fighters and events should give Strikeforce added viewers. The promotion can act as a landing spot for not-quite-ready prospects (think of a guy like Douglas Lima), old, but popular veteran fighters, and those unlucky fighters who lost consecutive fights but still have value to Zuffa. It would give the UFC the time it needs to work out the details of an eventual merger down the road, along with allowing Zuffa to prepare for the increased number of events it will need to produce in the future. Unless HBO is suddenly interested, keeping Strikeforce alive on Showtime may not be such a bad idea after all.