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Strikeforce Round Table: Was Keeping Strikeforce Alive Good For Business?

PHOENIX - AUGUST 13:  Jason Richey (L) squares off against Edmund Xehili (R) in the Strikeforce Challengers Undercard bout at Dodge Theater on August 13 2010 in Phoenix Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
PHOENIX - AUGUST 13: Jason Richey (L) squares off against Edmund Xehili (R) in the Strikeforce Challengers Undercard bout at Dodge Theater on August 13 2010 in Phoenix Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Matthew Roth: The new deal with Showtime has finally been announced but details are still spotty. What we know is that Zuffa is planning 6-8 Strikeforce cards and that the HW's will be chopped following the Grand Prix. This is a two part question. First: The fact that Zuffa is planning 40 shows in 2012, will we see events not get marketing because of lack of time? Secondly: With the current depth in every division, can Strikeforce survive without an influx of new talent?

T.P. Grant: Ultimately I think this will be good for MMA fans.

Zuffa has been the most successful promotion on the business side of things, so I don't think they would attempt to do 40 shows in one year if they didn't have serious data to show it would work. And if it does fail, I also doubt they haven't thought of that and planned accordingly. I think events are going to serve as marketing also. Get fights on free TV. Get people to watch one card and get them interested in the next card and also Fox has stated that their marketing resources will be brought into play.

It has become cliche at this point to say something will function like the WEC, but that is how I feel Strikeforce will function. Prospects, projects and a few veteran gatekeepers, but I feel like Zuffa will try to keep putting fighters they cut from the UFC to a relative minimum. I don't think it will function so much like a minor league as it will be a developmental league. Of course this is strictly for men's division.

Zuffa does nothing half way, now that it is a Zuffa product I fully expect them to try to turn Strikeforce into the home of the best female fighters in the world. And this again is a good thing for MMA fans because those girls can scrap.

Tim Burke: Who said Strikeforce was staying? Tim said Strikeforce was staying! Anyway, I think that by now, especially with TV events, it's going to be promoted like Vince McMahon promoted the WWF in the 80's - the fighters won't matter, what will draw a crowd is just the three letters - UFC. Sure, some guys will be more popular than others, but the promotion itself is what will get people to watch, because they know they're going to get quality fights no matter what. I think a better question would be - can they always deliver quality fights with this many cards?

In terms of the second part, I still believe you'll see UFC guys moving over there. Or instead of loading up on prospects in the UFC, guys like Michael Kuiper and Ryan Jimmo will be debut in Strikeforce instead of the UFC. It can definitely be a viable second promotion that doesn't need to rely on being a feeder for the UFC.

More after the jump...

SBN coverage of Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Masvidal

Ben Thapa: Forty shows, Dana? Won't you think of Burt Watson and his tired dogs?

On a more serious note, we are discussing the potential of Strikeforce to build young prospects. Both incarnations of Strikeforce pre- and post-Zuffa buyout have an iffy track record of actually building prospects. Ronda Rousey is probably their biggest success and that may be sheer luck in having a dynamic fighter who absolutely obliterates her opponents and gives pretty kickin' interviews. Gilbert Melendez, Luke Rockhold and Tyrone Woodley are their other notable successes and honestly, none of these talented young athletes have been successful at catching the attention of the big audiences like Nick Diaz or the eternal MMA will'o'wisp that is Gina Carano.

What Strikeforce needs is Paul Heyman. Well... maybe not Heyman himself, but someone who is willing to come up with storylines that fans can latch onto readily and embrace. We know Gil is a little bit more brash, impulsive and hotheaded than his generally demure interviews show. I suspect Rockhold has some kookiness behind that bland exterior and ring girl technique videos. Woodley is a golden boy in the mold of GSP. Despite the best efforts of Genghis Cohn and Co., people still don't know Masvidal is not to be slept on. The opportunities for hustle are there with Strikeforce. They just need someone dynamic to take advantage of them - and Scott Coker is not that man. Let him handle the backstage stuff and find a more flamboyant public face to galvanize the slowly-creeping-into-oblivion Strikeforce brand.

As for the new talent, I cannot say Strikeforce has been particularly good or particularly bad. This is an organization that gave us three Bowling/Voelker fights. At the same time, they snatched up prospects like Woodley, Rockhold and a few others like Gian Villante, who didn't immediately catch on fire as expected. Blue chip prospects like Jon Jones are usually easy to find and sign for the UFC. Finding the mid-major prospects, the ones who aren't so enormously physically talented that they can destroy any opposition, is harder and requires more patience. The UFC doesn't have that kind of patience for the ups and downs of those fighters. The WEC did. Can the hybrid of the two companies cultivate that WEC-style attitude in a different organization? I doubt it, but I can hope.

David Castillo: You'll be wrong eventually Tim. I think Zuffa is using this as a bit of an experiment: how will this wider network at their disposal combine together to create an even meaner Zuffa machine? With the concentration on women's MMA, I wonder if they're not looking to attempt a cash-in on the biggest female mixed martial arts fight ala UFC 48, I mean, WEC Aldo vs. Faber. To what degree can female MMA sustain itself when the gate is tallied, and the buyrates come in?

I thought Nason was crazy for a second with his post the other day, but then it made perfect sense: like the WEC, Zuffa was looking to corner the market on the lighter weights. They've already done that. With female MMA, here's yet another market to potentially own. This may seem like a gamble on the surface until you consider that other organizations with the funds to take over something like female MMA, and do it on a stage like Showtime's don't have access as long as Zuffa still has a deal with them. It's Zuffa doing what they've always done: maintaining market dominance.

For how long? Who knows. As to the broader point about the lack of any influx of talent can always be balanced out by bringing over UFC "rejects". And this could always be used as a better barometer for a prospect's abilities in Strikeforce. Not that I want to see the Jardine's of the world fight for their titles, but I have to think Jardine vs. Rockhold is an exception and not the rule. Plus, to be fair, 185 is one of the thinnest divisions in MMA, the UFC included.

Tim Burke: You're crazy if you think they did this just for women's MMA.

Brent Brookhouse: To the original questions. What Strikeforce events get the big marketing push now? Even the Grand Prix died down in terms of the overall push once Zuffa took over. They don't have the time or resources and even if they put a lot of promotional push behind the events, something like Rockhold/Jardine or Rockhold/Kennedy or Rockhold/Jacare isn't going to sell. Nor is anyone at 205. Or anyone at 170. Or anyone at 155 really. I mean, they just don't have guys who are superstars and they don't seem like they have a lot of guys with the intangibles to become superstars. And then the depth gets in the way to where you lack one of the critical elements to creating superstars.

Rockhold has a good look, he's an exciting fighter and he's just got a bit more of an "it factor" than most of the Strikeforce roster. But there's no stars for him to beat, no one that creates a buzz before and after a fight. 205 is a mess unless King Mo can get the title back, but even then...who is there for him to fight to really create much of a buzz? Mousasi again? That's not going to get anyone excited. OSP? Nah. ..etc. Melendez gets past Masvidal and then what?

I get Dana, Coker and Company not wanting to admit that Strikeforce is a second tier promotion, but that's exactly what it is. And they're not going to dump time and energy into promoting these shows with the set-up they currently have.

Yeah, maybe they can fix the depth with smart signings. But it's always going to be an issue that they're at a stage where they don't have marketable stars to build off of. There's no Liddell for someone to come knock out and become a star, or a Couture for someone to beat and gain legitimacy. It's going to be a few years of "I think I heard of that guy and he's fighting who? Never heard of him."

Brent Brookhouse: The idea that this has anything to do with women's MMA is crazy.

Yeah, they want a promotion where they can sign people and hold on to them and keep another promotion for having something unique and "important." But Dana was really clear that depth is a big issue. He joked about having the 135 class "and Cyborg" because thereis no real 145 class. They keep toying with this idea of just smooshing everyone into a single class just to force some compelling fights.

And if I can be honest here for a second, when you have Tate in public whining about Rousey wanting a title shot, it's really obnoxious. How many fights do people really have an interest in seeing? Rousey vs. Tate is probably the biggest women's fight on earth right now (aside from either against Cyborg or a Gina gimmick fight) and Tate is worried about credible title shots. Shut up and fight.

And, I'm sorry, but too heavy of a focus on women's MMA would be death by poor ratings.

Tim Burke: Not everything needs to be compared to the UFC though. This is about carving out a niche in the buffer zone between the UFC and the Ring of Combats of the world. Showtime will make money without superstars if none develop (as will Zuffa), but it's way too early to say "it's gonna fail, no one wants to watch". They don't need a Liddell/Couture/etc. They just need to put on good fights.

Brent Brookhouse: It's not about if it fails or succeeds. It's about putting it in a realistic space.

There's only so much value that a big promotional push for Strikeforce shows would make anyway, so for now it's pointless to focus on a huge marketing push.

Creating superstars generally requires superstars for them to get a rub from. What superstars with any drawing power were created in WEC? Faber and...Faber. Aldo, Cruz, Henderson, Cerrone. Those guys couldn't draw and even Aldo's minor star required Faber to get some shine. What superstars did Strikeforce create with any drawing power? Diaz I guess, but he wasn't exactly blowing the roof off the Showtime ratings. Coming in and beating Penn did more for him than anything he did beating Cyborg or Dailey..etc. Same with Bellator. Lombard is running around beating up bums and no one cares. Alvarez wasn't a special draw or anything.

Their space can be as a place with decent fights and some good fighters and good prospects. But people have to understand that that is what it is, it's nothing more.

KJ Gould: I'd ignore almost everything Dana said the other day. This is a B show, and that's not a bad thing. Fighters that Zuffa like who can't cut it in the UFC get somewhere to develop that's not some rank amateur regional show. There's no way Strikeforce is sustainable with the current roster and you can expect cut UFC talent to end up there providing they were cut on 'good terms' - which basically means didn't do anything to piss Dana White off.

Strikeforce is the perfect stop gap between the regional level and the UFC for those that need a little longer to develop. Not all prospects will be like Jon Jones, but that doesn't mean these prospects can't come into their own if given the time to do so in a promotion that's more competitive than the regionals, but not a sink or swim shark tank like the UFC can often be.

Don't forget, Strikeforce offer the fighter insurance like UFC does and there is a definite path of career progression for fighters that find success. Bellator may be more appealing for short term money, but even its champions have complained about the lack of activity they've seen while stuck with the promotion, and with an absurd champions clause a fighter's ceiling is going to remain low.

Strikeforce can be a viable alternative to Bellator for prospects who aren't ready for the UFC.