Speculation has run rampant since March whether Zuffa's "business as usual" motto would hold true heading into 2012. The consensus opinion is that Zuffa will fold the promotion into the ranks of the UFC. It would swell the size of the roster substantially and increase the quality of the fights they promote.
UFC chairman and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta spoke about the possibilities with MMAWeekly.com this week, stating that Zuffa will reevaluate the Strikeforce product when their deal with Showtime expires in February of next year:
Fertitta dismissed rumors like these and, again, stressed Zuffa's contractual obligation, but the sense that they will reevaluate their position with Strikeforce is strong. In fact, Fertitta said once the contract is done, they'll take a look at their options.
"At the end of the day, Showtime is contracted to receive a product, and we're going to keep giving it to them," he said. "They want us to do the eight Strikeforce shows, the Challengers shows. We're going to do no different than what we've been doing the last four or five months, since we owned the company; keep delivering great fights and keep that going as long as the contract says, and then, at that time, we'll reevaluate."
The most intriguing idea that's been conceived from the recent UFC on Fox deal is the notion that Zuffa could move the Strikeforce brand to Spike TV. It would effectively block other promotions from filling in the void, and it would allow the UFC to build Strikeforce on a cable network with more viewers.
Zuffa will undoubtedly leave Showtime next year. They've already dumped some of the promotion's biggest stars. The entire Golden Glory roster with the exception of Sergei Kharitonov were given their pink slips. Alistair Overeem is now in talks with the UFC. Dan Henderson is likely on his way back to the big show, possibly in November against Anderson Silva.
Ratings and gate revenue haven't been as high as Zuffa would have hoped either. Fedor vs. Henderson drew 571,000 viewers, but the word on the street is that those ratings were below Zuffa's expectations for such a big fight. Strikeforce Challengers 18 drew an abysmal 549 paying fans at the gate, which barely paid for half of the total payroll for the event.
Zuffa is foreshadowing their exit, but what's the best move? Absorbing what's left of Strikeforce? Or moving the brand to Spike TV?
The hurdles that the UFC would need to jump in order to successfully transition Strikeforce to Spike TV are high. Spike TV won't settle for poor ratings. They won't expect what they got in the past either. The UFC would need to make an effort to fill those cards with, at the very least, aging veterans who can bring in some fans in order to put eyes on prospects. That problem ties into the notion that the roster will be stretched thin with the UFC's new Fox deal.
Believe it or not, there isn't a plethora of talent that the UFC can simply scrape off the street to fill these events. Even if the pure focus of the show is to introduce new fighters to the fanbase, Bellator already has the edge in that department. The UFC would need to change its tune in regards to talent development and attempt to snatch up prospects earlier.
Cost is another major talking point. Why throw money at the Strikeforce brand when the UFC can bring in prospects to fill their preliminary cards under their primary brand? Simply to block a competing promotion from gaining some share on Spike TV? I think Zuffa is smarter than that, and I don't believe that Spike TV is willing to bring in a brand that would directly compete with another brand that sits underneath their parent company's umbrella.
Let's be realistic. The benefits of folding Strikeforce into the UFC far exceed the nightmare of shifting a dying property to a new network. The UFC can create a few marquee fights that would draw in fans, and they can add some of Strikeforce's most promising prospects to The Ultimate Fighter finale shows or UFC Fight Nights. They may even promote those fighters on Fuel TV if they move the preliminary cards to the smaller network. It's cheaper, and it doesn't create a logistical hell or potential financial pitfall.