Dan Henderson? Check.
Alistair Overeem? Check.
Nick Diaz? Check.
Going down the list, it would seem that the UFC was gunning for all of Strikeforce’s champions. UFC president Dana White, at one time, even made it clear that he intended to move Gilbert Melendez, Strikeforce’s lightweight champ, over to the Octagon.
“We’re looking at bringing Gilbert Melendez over ASAP,” White told MMAWeekly.com in early October. “We’re bringing Gilbert Melendez over here.”
The relationship between Zuffa and Showtime seemed rather bleak at the time as well, leading most industry insiders to believe that the Zuffa-owned Strikeforce and its deal with Showtime was dead in the water.
That was then and this is now. Things changed rather quickly after that day.
There was a change in the decision-making team at Showtime, and White jumped headfirst into the negotiations between Strikeforce and the premium cable network. All of a sudden, Melendez was sticking around for his next title defense, the sun broke through the clouds, and a deal was struck, keeping Strikeforce on Showtime for at least the next year.
Oh, and the mass exodus of Strikeforce champions came to a screeching halt.
“That was just a situation of the Showtime agreement,” Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker revealed following Melendez’s successful title defense on Saturday night in San Diego. “That was part of the deal, that these fighters (Melendez and middleweight champion Luke Rockhold) would stay.
“UFC feels that they have enough challengers in their divisions now. We’re going to keep building our league and keep plugging in new fighters that aren’t fighting for the UFC into Strikeforce. There’s plenty of fighters out there and we’re gonna keep building them.”
That sounds good in principle, but it might be a hard sell to mixed martial arts fans that see the UFC brand as the be-all, end-all. Strikeforce faces an uphill battle in proving to the world that its brand doesn’t play second fiddle to the UFC, but that doesn’t bother Coker, who is just glad to keep Melendez in the fold.
“Gilbert fought for Strikeforce in 2006. He’s one of the cornerstones of Strikeforce. I’m so happy that he is with us and he’s gonna stay with us. I feel that he is still the No. 1 lightweight in the world. I’m proud to say that he’s our champion and we’re going to continue getting him great fights.”