Sometimes I think an idea or meme circulates the MMA blogsphere that begins to have a life of it's own independent of the evidence supporting it. The idea Lesnar was immune to punches, wrestling and submissions due to his muscles being one of them. The idea the UFC isn't mainstream, or could never be mainstream is another.
(I don't see Strikeforce on this tombstone yet)
The recent days and weeks have seen a lot of chatter about the impending demise of Strikeforce, but a critical look at what an immediate end to the promotion would mean to Zuffa can only lead one to believe that Strikeforce, while clearly restructured and changed, has to survive for the immediate and foreseeable future. After the jump we'll get into specifics but there are several issues at hand here ;
- Does moving the PPV caliber elite of Strikeforce over to the UFC and the PPV side of the business, when Zuffa is a PPV company first and foremost, really signify the end of the entire Strikeforce promotion?
- The number of fighters under contract to Zuffa in relation to UFC events.
- The existence of two ever growing female divisions and the resigning of Cyborg, Gina and the promotion of rising star Ronda Rousey.
- The need for Strikeforce to serve as a place holder for other networks, akin to the WEC/Verses.
- What value would a "feeder" league have and what do networks "really want"?
- Is the UFC going to giftwrap that many assets to Bellator in one fell swoop?
The crux of the idea that Strikeforce is a dead organization walking is the fact it's biggest names, Diaz, Fedor, Miller, Overeem and Dan Henderson, have all left the promotion for one reason or another. The idea is that without these fighters, there is no point in retaining a second brand. However, it doesn't make much sense to make this leap. I have a hard time envisioning a scenario where Zuffa, again, a PPV company, doesn't re-shift it's PPV caliber assets to the PPV side of the company, no matter what they try to do with Strikeforce. It has to be assumed this would always happen. Did the UFC spend 40 million on six fighter contracts? I find this hard to believe. I see no reason to assume that because PPV quality fighters were moved to that side of the company, that the Strikeforce brand has suddenly lost all value. I think it is clear though, that a significant shift in the business model is at hand. The business as usual mantra is six months dated. However, a change does not mean the same thing as an end, or a merger.
Right now, Strikeforce has 104 fighter contracts. Of those between 50 and 60 are male fighters with winning records in Strikeforce, or name value. Strikeforce is simply too large a promotion to be assimilated into the UFC immediately. The terms of the new Fox deal are exclusive. They cannot add any more shows. The UFC cannot put on enough events to justify this many fighters on the roster under the current deal. In order to make room for all these fighters, an extensive period of cutting would take place where many fighters with talent, skill, name value, regional market value and potential would be cut when they otherwise wouldn't. One loss cuts would be rampant. The market would be flooded with quality fighters. Competitors like Bellator would have all 32 picks in next years draft. You also have to consider that the UFC has publicly stated 125 is coming to the UFC in 2012. 125 pound stud Jon Dodsen has signed to compete on TUF at 135. The division is coming. That further restricts the number of fighters Zuffa can carry. They'll have to trim the fat anyway, even without a merger. Strikeforce is simply too large to be merged at this time.
(I'd hit. Take that however you want.)
This week Strikeforce and Cyborg Santos came to terms on a deal her manager claims makes her the highest paid female athlete. Hyperbole aside, it is clear that she is making good money. It makes little sense to pay her this kind of scratch, just to give her walking papers within four or six months. Brazil has just been blown wide open, and based on the reaction Paulo Thiago got, the best WMMA fighter will be very well received there as well.
"I don't have a problem with women fighting," White states. "As (women's MMA) continues to grow, if there are more and more women where you can create an entire division with a lot of talent women, I am all about it"
With Gina making a return in December, Cyborg's return and the arrival and promotion of Rhoda Rosey, it is clear that Strikeforce has not abandoned 145 pounds. Why then would Zuffa spend time promotion and fixing up the division immediately before releasing it to Bellator, their competitor with a great foothold in the sub 135 pound divisions? I cannot remember Dana ever being so generous.
135 pounds is already stacked in terms of WMMA and only getting better with prospects like Sarah McMahon on the horizon. I liken this situation to the WEC in 2007. Miguel Torres used to fight in barn burners against undersized Japanese nationals flown in to fight on a weeks notice. But now the division is loaded with contenders. There are enough women in boxing, wrestling, judo and kickboxing to produce an exciting division. We're almost there. Give it time.
(Julia Stiles evil, asskicking twin)
This is where the internet meme behavior is at its worst. "I don't like WMMA" morphs into "Nobody likes WMMA, the UFC will make it go away". That just isn't true. The ratings for WMMA have been strong on Showtime. WMMA has a market. A niche within a niche. When a boxing or baseball writer says "nobody likes MMA" it isn't true either.
People continually point out the WEC was eventually merged. This cannot be denied, but when we look at why it was merged, when it happened and the factors that lead to the initial purchase, the course of the WEC's lifestyle tends to suggest Strikeforce will be safe in a similar role for the foreseeable future. The WEC was purchased to keep the IFL off of the emerging Versus. network while the UFC was locked into an exclusive deal with Spike. Currently, the UFC is now locked into an exclusive deal with Fox. The channel that build the brand is now being courted by Bellator. It makes little sense for the UFC to give up Spike, or any other network for that matter, without a fight. I disagree entirely with the idea that free MMA on Spike TV could not hurt the UFC's bottom line when they charge 55 bucks a pop to view the fight. Every lost buy hurts. Free MMA on Spike will hurt the UFC. Unless that content is loaded with PPV advertisements of course. Strikeforce broadcasts would be. It would be the ideal scenario for Zuffa and Fox for that matter.
The WEC was only merged when the divisions had grown to UFC levels and the UFC was promoting events themselves on VS. The WMMA divisions are not ready yet, and they cannot promote on Spike. The UFC also took on considerably less contracts when they merged the divisions. The UFC was not adding other divisions besides the WEC ones either. Zuffa changed the WEC's model and they will change Strikeforce's model.
Finally, I don't think it is fair to say a network, Spike or otherwise, wouldn't want a "feeder league". There is this idea that networks only get into MMA if they believe they can have serious growth or challenge the UFC. At this point, that is completely unreasonable. I believe a network, especially Spike, would rather do business with the same stable company they have been, using a brand with UFC affiliations, than they would a risky upstart in Bellator. Less risk, much more reward. UFC on Fox advertising muscle. As long as Strikeforce is redefined, I think it could do just fine on a Spike TV that promotes the fighters there as future UFC stars. It would be an easy sell - the winners on this show move on to the UFC. It would be another avenue for the UFC to generate contenders. If a Lorenz Larkin won the 205 pound title for instance, it wouldn't take long for fans to begin clamoring for him to test himself against the UFC elite. Zuffa would also stand to generate money from a Spike(or where ever) TV deal. They did not pay 40 million for six contracts.
The bottom line is that the UFC is not going to hand over two popular female divisions and stack Bellator Spike TV tournaments with UFC caliber fighters in one fell swoop. Does this seem like something Zuffa would ever do?