The Slow Death of Strikeforce

November 26, 2012

Scott CokerSome might say the fall of Strikeforce started on March 12, 2011.

The promotion was seemingly on the rise with the recent implementation of the first ever Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, ratings were better than ever, and the roster of fighters seemed to be growing at a promising rate.

So it was no secret that as the competition got better, the owners at the UFC were bound to pay more and more attention.

Just as Strikeforce was ready to claim the clear cut No. 2 spot in the MMA hierarchy, financial problems beset them as has happened to so many promotions before them, and as they searched for a new backer, the road led to only one buyer.

Zuffa, LLC, the parent company of the UFC, purchased Strikeforce, and in the days after the sale was made official, UFC president Dana White sounded very much like a broken record promising nothing was changing and the phrase “business as usual” became his calling card.

Unfortunately, business was never usual for Strikeforce again after Zuffa purchased the one-time successful regional promotion.

The relationship between Zuffa officials and the executives at Showtime, the network airing Strikeforce at the time, could be described as rocky at best, and the entire deal seemed to be holding on by a very thin wire.

In September 2011, Strikeforce held the semifinals for its Heavyweight Grand Prix in Cincinnati, and if you didn’t search hard to find the show, you’d never even know it was taking place. The advertising and promotion for the card was almost zero compared to other Strikeforce shows in the past, and the live audience in Ohio didn’t turn out at all for the card featuring two Heavyweight Grand Prix bouts plus a middleweight title fight.

Things didn’t get much better when a month later White said that he was in the process of migrating much of Strikeforce’s talent over to the Octagon. Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez was the first on the roster mentioned to move, and while the switch never actually took place, the writing was on the wall that the promotion’s days were numbered.

Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz did make the move to the UFC, as did light heavyweight champion Dan Henderson, and as 2011 started to wind down, everyone was just waiting for the final nail to be planted in the coffin of the San Jose, Calif., promotion.

So it was with some shock and surprise that in December 2011, just a few months after White had all but signaled the end of the promotion, they announced that Strikeforce and Showtime had negotiated a new deal, keeping the organization alive for at least another year.

The heavyweight division would be eliminated after the finals of the Grand Prix, but all of the other weight classes and champions would remain in the promotion, and White promised to get more hands on with Strikeforce to ensure its success.

Unfortunately that approach never worked, as a few months later for whatever reason, White’s relationship with Showtime executives soured and he was back to being the guy in charge of the UFC who wanted nothing to do with answering any questions about Strikeforce.

Since that time, Strikeforce has continued to flounder and fumble at every turn.

Rarely was any new talent added to the promotion outside of a few prospects, and the fighters that were already on the roster were held to iron-clad contracts that prevented them from jumping ship to the UFC. Recycled fighters and contenders were the only ones available for title bouts, and sometimes someone would pop out of nowhere to get a title shot because they were the only ones that would take it (see Keith Jardine vs. Luke Rockhold).

The only thing that flourished under Zuffa’s reign of Strikeforce was the women’s division, but that was mainly due to the timely rise of former Olympian Ronda Rousey, and her well publicized feud with Miesha Tate. The rivalry paid off as Rousey’s undeniable appeal both in the cage and on camera produced a new superstar.

Outside of that one shining moment, however, Strikeforce has only continued to crumble in the last few months.

Injuries decimated two cards in September and November, and with a roster as thin as a sheet of paper, there were no replacements available that could be plugged in to help sell a card. Even the excitement that came from the announcement that former UFC champion Frank Mir would make the move to Strikeforce for a single fight to give Daniel Cormier one final challenge before moving to the Octagon never actually came to fruition.

Mir ended up getting injured and two other UFC heavyweights (Matt Mitrione and Cheick Kongo) both said thanks but no thanks when asked to go over to Strikeforce to face Cormier.

After two cancelled shows, Strikeforce appeared all but dead in the water, but the promotion along with Showtime decided to give it one more go for a mega-show in January titled “Champions.”

The idea was that all of the reigning titleholders under Strikeforce’s banner would put their belts on the line along with Cormier’s final bout for the promotion. In the midst of these negotiations, Strikeforce signed away its biggest star, Ronda Rousey, who now becomes the first ever women’s champion in the UFC.

The concept of a championship super show was great in theory, but within weeks it started to unravel.

Lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez was the first to fall by the wayside after the shoulder injury that forced him off the scheduled show in September was deemed unfit for a January return to action.

Days later, middleweight champion Luke Rockhold dropped off the card as well under similar circumstances with a wrist injury that just isn’t healed up enough yet to go ahead with a Jan. 12 fight against Lorenz Larkin.

Strikeforce and Showtime officials have yet to make any statements about the reports that two title fights have now been scrapped, and all that’s left for their January show is a welterweight title bout between Nate Marquardt and Tarec Saffiedine, and a heavyweight fight between Cormier and the relatively unknown Dion Staring.

The other fight confirmed for the show is a light heavyweight bout between Gegard Mousasi and Mike Kyle, which has less than stellar chances of actually happening because this will be the fourth time the pairing has been made and, needless to say, the first three times the fight never actually took place.

The future of Strikeforce in the big picture had to be written the day that Zuffa purchased the promotion.

Over the past few years, Zuffa has purchased several other promotions and they are all currently sharing space in the same MMA graveyard.

Pride Fighting Championships, World Extreme Cagefighting, and World Fighting Alliance were all gobbled up by the Zuffa machine, and eventually all of them were folded with talent ending up in the UFC. It’s no secret why that happened.

Why pay to keep a separate promotion alive with a different fight roster, different employees, different TV deals, and different schedules when the UFC is a thriving, monster of a business?

On the day Strikeforce was purchased by Zuffa, the questions about the future of the promotion started flying and they never stopped, and with good reason. The track record of the company showed that Strikeforce was on life support and it was just a matter of time before they yanked the cord.

Now with just over six weeks until the final Strikeforce card is set to air, this show already has missed the boat on going off without a hitch. Two title fights have already been scrapped, and it seems pessimistic, yet realistic, to believe that more changes will likely happen before January rolls around.

Strikeforce will go away after one more show (assuming it happens) and the talent will be folded into the UFC like so many promotions before it.

It can’t be ignored, however, what Strikeforce was able to do in only five years of producing MMA shows, and how it took just over a year to dismantle it all down to a pile of rubble.

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