In July, former PRIDE champion and UFC veteran Dan Henderson entered the cage at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Illinois against Fedor Emelianenko, considered by many to be one of the greatest mixed martial arts fighters of all-time. The importance of winning for Henderson wasn't solely to write a page in the history books as one of the only men to ever defeat a fighter who was once considered invincible. Henderson had other motivations, most importantly the consequences that a momentous victory could have on his pocketbook.
Not only did Henderson defeat Emelianenko with an impressive first round blitz, he cashed in an $800,000 check. The event earned the 4th highest ratings in the Showtime-Strikeforce partnership history, a 1.7 household rating that averaged 571,000 viewers. It peaked at 778,000 viewers during the main event. Emelianenko was rumored to have earned over $1 million dollars in defeat and between the two main event fighters -- the purse likely exceeded $2 million bucks. To say that the ratings were a bit of a disappointment for Zuffa is an understatement when we consider the capital it took to pay both fighters and promote the event.
Dan Henderson doesn't see it that way. In fact, he's hoping he can get more money since his contract with Strikeforce expired after his win over Fedor. In an interview with Clinch Gear Radio, Henderson spoke about an increase in pay if he signs a new deal under Zuffa (transcibed by MMAJunkie.com):
"I definitely feel like there's still a possibility for me to defend that belt in Strikeforce, but I think now that the UFC has bought Strikeforce, they need to make money off me, and I need to make money, so we'll see what happens. But I'd like to work out a deal where I'm fighting in both promotions."
"The pay-per-view definitely could make a bigger difference, and I think either way I'm hoping to get a pay increase over my last three fights," he said. "So we'll see."
"There are some definitely interesting fights (in the UFC). They obviously have a little more depth over at the UFC, but there definitely are some guys who would be a tough fight and an interesting matchup in Strikeforce. I'd love to be able to defend my belt in Strikeforce and be able go over to the unify the belt in the UFC and fight a couple fights over there."
Sound like a familiar scenario to anyone? Henderson asked for major bucks in early 2010, and the UFC refused. The climate has changed since then. Strikeforce is a property of Zuffa, and there aren't any other promotions that have the talent to pit against Henderson to produce as big of paydays as the UFC.
I suppose the pertinent question is what the definition of "hoping" is for Dan Henderson in a situation in which he understands what Zuffa's stance will be going forward in contract negotiations. He has already attempted to squeeze huge cash from Zuffa in the past, only to be told no. He had another option willing to pay him the big bucks back then. Zuffa is the only cash cow in town now, even if Henderson is coming off one of the biggest wins of his career. $800,000 bucks? Henderson won't see that kind of cash unless he's fighting a major pay-per-view player and it involved a cut of the buys.
The UFC holds all of the marbles in this situation. They've locked up all of the top light heavyweights in the world, even some very promising prospects. Henderson, by some bizarre logic, thinks he can get more money out of them. The only optimism is the tone of his voice. It seems like he may be wishfully looking for more if he can get it, but willing to take less if he can't. The latter is reality in this case.
If it weren't enough that his options are very limited, the historical evidence doesn't exist to put Henderson into the elite group that can draw fans. UFC 93 is the best snapshot we have of his drawing power without the support of other major players. He drew a surprisingly good 320,000 buys against Rich Franklin at that event. UFC 100 had both Lesnar and GSP, so I doubt fans thought Henderson was the tipping point for them to buy the card.
Strikeforce numbers weren't impressive for Henderson. His highest draw on Showtime was 571,000 viewers against Fedor, the 4th best all-time in Strikeforce-Showtime history. He only did 2.9 million viewers at Strikeforce: Nashville on CBS, only the 4th best out of 5 events on CBS. Fans weren't exactly digging into their wallets to subscribe to Showtime because of Dan Henderson, and they certainly didn't tune into CBS in droves either.
Strangely, Dan Henderson is in the worst possible situation he could be in after winning one of the biggest fights of his career. The UFC owns his weight class. There isn't anyone out there willing to pay him the money he has garnered in the past to fight nobodies. Henderson may have gotten $250,000 bucks under Strikeforce, but the UFC certainly doesn't need to guarantee that in his new contract. In reality, the UFC will be doing Henderson a favor if they throw him anything close to what he was making under the Strikeforce banner, and he should take it before it's gone.