"There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact."
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Adventure's of Sherlock Holmes
Zuffa is lucky if nothing else. How else to explain the recent turn of events with Alistair Overeem?
A few weeks ago he was injured and notified the powers that be that he would be unable to participate in the next round of Strikeforce's Grand Prix, which, Showtime is apparently determined to hold through hell or high water only three months after the completion of the first round and a full month earlier than the original date Scott Coker had given to him. Nevermind that the tournament has proven to be incredibly successful, their schedule demands have to be followed no matter how many subscribers they pissed off. Thus we get Bigfoot against Cormier in lieu of the Champion.
To add insult to injury, shortly after being bounced from the tournament Overeem was then reportedly stripped of his belt and bounced from Strikeforce. The reason? Either his management was trying to leverage his belt into an outrageously overpriced new contract, and/or Golden Glory was unable and unwilling to allow their fighters to be paid directly. Either way, bridges had been burned and it seemed as if Overeem was doomed to wander the Wilderness of non-Zuffa MMA for the rest of his career.
Oh, but time really does heal all wounds, although I doubt Chaucer would have imagined it could take as little as six weeks when he wrote that. In that short span, Zuffa and Golden Glory has not only patched up their differences, but have managed to sign the already under contract Alistair to a new contract, with the UFC no less, and have also booked him to fight Brock Lesnar on the eve of New Year's Eve, in what is surely to be the biggest selling show of the year. As unfortunate as it is that Overeem will be unable to participate on this Saturday's Showtime event, thanks to this concurrence of events, we now get to see him in a dream match that will probably generate twenty fold the revenue to Zuffa's coffers than any match on cable would have (if it does take place, I have my doubts). The only loosers in the whole thing? Those fans who signed yearlong subscriptions to Showtime. Strange how things worked out in Zuffa's favor.There has been some discussion's lately as to whether or not Strikeforce lives past March of 2012, the end of their current contract with Showtime. Some have argued that the promotion will carry on, including Monsieur Tim Burke, who dedicated a rant to the subject. But recent developments seem to point in the direction that Strikeforce is as good as dead.
Welterweight Champion Nick Diaz set the precedent. Having become perhaps the second biggest draw in Strikeforce behind only Fedor Emelianenko - another fighter that has received his walking papers - and recently having signed a contract extension he was quickly moved to the UFC after he threatened to take up a boxing match, which was, of course, allowed by his current contract. Instead of Jeff Lacey in a ring or Tyron Woodley in a cage he will be co-headling a massive selling card with George St-Pierre. (Or maybe not)
Dan Henderson, too, seems days away from signing with the UFC. Never-mind that he is the promotions current Light Heavyweight Champion, and, according to Hendo, Strikeforce has an option for another fight if the are willing to pay the bonus that comes with it, the writing is on the wall: he will next be fighting in the UFC. Can Gilbert Melendez be far behind?
Some will argue that none of this spells Strikeforce's doom, that it could easily live on as some sort of ‘feeder league". But then we should ask, who wants a "feeder league'? Not the UFC. They have no need in developing talent, only in making sure they can poach and monopolize the top talent. Not Showtime. While it is true, as many have noted, that the Challenger and M1 broadcasts have generated good ratings as defined by Showtime, what they fail to note is that the audience they are attracting subscribed to watch Fedor, Diaz, and the Grand Prix, not Gurgel , Voelker and Fodor. These are bonus events, meant to placate subscribers waiting for the next big Champions event, not meant to carry the channel. How many of those 250,00 Challenger viewers would still be watching if there is no Diaz, Henderson, Fedor, Overeem, and Melendez being offered on the Champions shows? Few, if any, I'd wager.
Of course, the decision is solely Showtime's and perhaps they will decide to extend their option past March of 2012, but their and Zuffa's actions suggest otherwise. To me nothing speaks clearer about Showtime's intentions than the fact that after announcing they would host 10 Champion and 10 Challenger shows this year they will instead air their contractually obligated minimum of 8 and 8 instead. And nothing speaks louder of Zuffa's intentions than the continuous strip-mining of marketable champions and replacing them with - Jason High and Maximo Blanco? No name fighters from the UFC have come over to reinforce the Strikeforce brand, that is for sure. Zuffa's strategy seems clear: slowly take anyone of value out, leaving behind a promotion that Showtime will feel compelled to eliminate. Is it any wonder "King" Mo Lawal described Strikeforce as "dying like a cancer patient"?
Could Strikeforce live on outside of Showtime? A persistent rumor is that they will be moved to Spike in order to block anyone from benefitting from the UFC's work on that network. But the recent airings of Bellator prelims belays such talk. And, besides, would it be wise for a company under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission for anti-trust behavior, engage in what could be easily be viewed as anti-trust behavior?
All of this reminds me of the opening lines of dialogue in the classic film noir D.O.A, when Frank Bigelow, as played by the great Edmond O'Brien, walks into a police station:
Homicide Detective: Can I help you?
Frank Bigelow: I'd like to see the man in charge.
Homicide Detective: In here...
Frank Bigelow: I want to report a murder.
Homicide Captain: Sit down. Where was this murder committed?
Frank Bigelow: San Francisco, last night.
Homicide Captain: Who was murdered?
Frank Bigelow: I was.
Strikeforce has been murdered, it just isn't dead yet.
"Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth."
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet