Buried beneath the Nick Diaz debacle, the UFC's signing of Alistair Overeem, and the return of Brock Lesnar, the Strikeforce World Grand Prix sits unnoticed. It was considered, at the time of its conception, a grand attraction that would rival anything the UFC could put together within the confines of the heavyweight division in years. Unfortunately, it fell apart at the seams when Fedor Emelianenko lost, Zuffa bought out Strikeforce, and Alistair Overeem was released during contract negotiations under the Zuffa regime. Like anything that relies on a myriad of factors to fall in place, it's nearly impossible for everything to go according to plan.
Despite those setbacks, the Strikeforce World Grand Prix event taking place on Saturday night at the U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, Ohio is top-to-bottom one of the best events conceived this year for the promotion. Josh Barnett, Sergei Kharitonov, Antonio Silva, and Daniel Cormier remain in the fold to capture the Strikeforce World Grand Prix strap. Ronaldo Souza is set to battle unheralded prospect Luke Rockhold in a Strikeforce middleweight championship bout. Muhammed 'King Mo' Lawal faces Roger Gracie. Highly-touted prospects Maximo Blanco,Marcos Rogerio de Lima, Yoel Romero, and Jordan Mein make their Strikeforce debuts. It's must-see mixed martial arts action.
Unfortunately, nobody seems to care or know about the event. Muhammed Lawal summed it up best on Thursday at a pre-fight press conference:
"I don't even know what to say really. I'm just ready to fight on Saturday. I was hoping there would be more people out here, more media and more questions, but really, I guess y'all don't care about us that much. Me and Roger are gonna put on a good fight, it's gonna be a good card, and I think people are gonna miss out on it because everybody is worrying about other issues instead of the fights this weekend. I'm just being real. That's it." (Source: MMAWeekly.com)
The news of Nick Diaz's absence from two consecutive press conferences and his subsequent removal from a UFC welterweight title bout with Georges St. Pierre was huge news midweek. UFC President Dana White's decision to pit Diaz against B.J. Penn in a co-main event was even bigger news last night. Those two stories alone completely buried any interest in the Strikeforce World Grand Prix. Before that, there was hardly any interest at all. Why?
It's ignorant to view the UFC and Strikeforce as two guys with a newfound admiration for each other. Zuffa's primary product is the UFC, and by all indications -- Strikeforce is the red-headed stepchild who has been shipped off to boarding school in a remote region of Vermont.
The marketing for past Strikeforce events under the old regime wasn't excessive or broad-reaching. It was adequate enough for the budget they were working with, but the UFC's marketing machine was supposed to change that, right? There hasn't been any help from Zuffa in marketing this event. It has gone virtually unnoticed. It has become so buried in the news cycle that I actually forgot the event was happening this weekend, and I have invested interest in two of the prospects on the undercard along with a fanatical infatuation with Sergei Kharitonov's iron fist.
It's evident that Strikeforce won't be around in February. Zuffa is souring the potential for the product to succeed on Showtime by ignoring it. Showtime can't possibly want to extend their contract with the promotion if its champions will be released for Zuffa to snatch up, and it will receive almost no support from them. All of the intrigue is being sapped from the promotion.
It doesn't just stop there. The UFC is the primary reason why this event has gone unnoticed. Sure, the fighters aren't drawing powers among casual fans, but it doesn't help that the headlines are flooded with news about the UFC. The announcement of Brock Lesnar vs. Alistair Overeem and the removal of Nick Diaz from the UFC 137 main event are major stories that the MMA media will focus on first and foremost.
The UFC can't guarantee that situations like that of Nick Diaz will happen, but they can avoid trampling over their own money-making ventures. In this case however, it's apparent they don't care. Scheduling a press conference three days before a major event, having Nick Diaz no-show, then making the decision to create a firestorm of news by removing him from the main event and pitting him against B.J. Penn was a death sentence for any promotion of the Strikeforce World Grand Prix. Great for us as fans, but bad for Strikeforce.
Understandably, the press conference news could have trampled the UFC's own events in the following week as both The Ultimate Fighter 14 premeire and UFC Fight Night 25 are scheduled to take place. There is no way the UFC would allow a lessened interest in those events. Thus, here we are, staring at an exceptional event that, as Lawal stated, people will miss out on. It doesn't really matter though. Many of these fighters will find their way into the UFC in 2012, and Strikeforce will be another name on a gravestone.