From the moment Zuffa purchased Strikeforce back in March of 2011 it was obvious Scott Coker's baby was living on borrowed time. With Thursday night's news of the dissolution of Strikeforce the long-moribund brand has finally been put out of its misery and in the process the future of MMA just got a lot more interesting.
In a lot of ways it was easy to see this coming despite Dana White's repeated insistence in the days after the sale that operations at Strikeforce would be "business as usual". In some ways the Strikeforce deal really was "business as usual" in that purchasing promotions with assets Zuffa wants for their own has been a part of their business model dating back to the acquisition of Pride.
What's not business as usual however is the news Strikeforce Women's Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey has signed a UFC deal. This is a watershed moment in the history of American MMA. It wasn't too long ago White was adamant women would never fight inside the Octagon. Now Rousey has broken down the walls for women to compete on the sport's biggest stage. Shortly after news of her signing broke former champ Miesha Tate announced via Twitter that she has signed a UFC contract as well. There are undoubtedly more female signees on the way.
But the ladies aren't the only ones headed to the UFC. After months spent lingering in a career purgatory top Strikeforce talent like Daniel Cormier, Gilbert Melendez, and Luke Rockhold can finally breathe a collective sigh of relief and get on with their careers. This means not only better opportunities for them, but also more exciting matchups for fans.
The demise of Strikeforce is sure to have a number of far reaching effects that will play out over the coming months. Here are just a few of the questions arising out of this landmark announcement.
1) Will the UFC's women's division remain a one woman act? It's no secret female fighters are entering the UFC on the back of Ronda Rousey's star power. What remains unclear is to what extent women will be featured up and down the card. Will the UFC make a big push to get behind a variety of female fighters by featuring them regularly on the broadcast portion of major cards, or will they be relegated to Facebook prelims and weaker cards outside of the occasional title eliminator bout? The answer will go a long way towards telling us how committed Zuffa is to promoting WMMA.
2) What happens if fans initially reject the idea of women in the UFC? While I'm sure the curiosity and hype surrounding Rousey's first fight in the UFC will ensure it does great business, I can't help but wonder if casual fans are going to be quick to embrace the idea of WMMA when it comes to fighters other than the Rowdy One. The recent rejection of the featherweight division by a lot of fans has me thinking that there could be some growing pains early on. Hopefully the UFC looks back at the history of the lightweight division and remembers that with time a division fans don't initially warm up to can become one of the most exciting in the sport.
3) Where do Strikeforce's top male fighters go from here? I know the obvious answer is "to the UFC", but once they arrive what do they do next? Here's a brief rundown of what might lie ahead for some of Strikeforce's biggest names (assuming those fighting in January win their fights that is - seldom a safe assumption in this sport).
- Daniel Cormier: Cormier's immediate future rests in large part on the result of this December's Junior dos Santos vs. Cain Velazquez fight. If Velazquez can recapture his championship then expect Cormier to try to make the cut to light heavyweight in order to avoid fighting his teammate and close friend. The question is whether or not he can even make 205 after damage he did to his kidneys trying to cut weight during the 2008 Olympics. If he can make the weight, a match with champion Jon Jones would be extremely intriguing. Of course with Jones eying a potential late 2013 move to heavyweight, the two might end up meeting there as well. Either way, I expect this fight to finally take place sometime over the next year and a half.
- Josh Barnett: The Warmaster nee Baby Faced Assassin's contentious relationship with the UFC has been well chronicled, but as we've often seen, time and global domination of an industry can have a way of healing old wounds. Barnett is 34 years old and realistically will never be a championship contender, but he is a solid name in a somewhat thin division. If both sides can put aside their differences, and if Barnett can prove he can pass commission drug testing on a regular basis, then he would be a solid acquisition.
- Luke Rockhold: Rockhold is in the unfortunate position of being a middleweight coming into a division ruled over by Anderson Silva. There are already a long list of contenders waiting for a shot, and with Silva eying a superfight with Georges St. Pierre they're going to be left waiting a while longer. Rockhold will find himself "in the mix" vying for an eventual title shot alongside top contenders like Chris Weidman, Tim Boetsch, Michael Bisping, and Alan Belcher.
- Nate Marquardt: When Marquardt was fired from the UFC for having elevated levels of testosterone just days before a scheduled main even, Dana White was adamant he would never fight in the UFC again. With that in mind it will be interesting to see where he is placed on the card when he comes back. Despite holding the Strikeforce welterweight belt I don't see the UFC putting him "in the mix" directly, but he would be there with the right win.
- Gilbert Melendez: Like with Cormier, Melendez's future is going to rest on whether or not a teammate is successful in a bid for the title, in this case the upcoming Benson Henderson/Nate Diaz fight. If Diaz can unseat the champ then Melendez will likely opt not to go for the belt. However, if Henderson retains a Melendez/Henderson title unification match makes all kinds of sense.
4) Will there be life after Strikeforce for MMA on Showtime? All indications are that Showtime still wants to be in the MMA business. It will be interesting to see what develops on this front over the coming months. Last weeks' World Series of Fighting show was a time buy on NBC Sports, which means they currently aren't under any contractual obligation. While their were some problems with the matchmaking, WSOF did put together an impressive television product for a startup. If the purpose of last Saturday's broadcast was to attract a big time partner, the timing of the demise of Strikeforce couldn't be better for them.
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