Monday, November 12, 2012

Strikeforce Going Out of Business as Usual: Rousey and Tate Among Early Transfers to UFC

By: Rich Bergeron

Showtime's failure to renew their broadcasting contract with Strikeforce was the straw that broke the camel's back.

The latest Zuffa-acquired fight league finally fell not too long after promising to be a promotion that tried to buck the trend of being broken up immediately by Zuffa owners. It was a slow, choking death for Strikeforce and Showtime as the UFC looted some brawlers from the smaller promotion and didn't exactly follow their "business as usual promises" to the letter.

Though there did seem to be something oddly different about this arrangement between Zuffa and Strikeforce, the UFC was always going to be Zuffa's marquee fight league. Strikeforce could never survive and prosper with everybody wondering when the looting would finally begin.

Zuffa ownership would tolerate Strikeforce's sputtering on aimlessly for only so long before making sure market coniditions made it impossible for the brand to continue. The majority owners of the UFC are the Fertitta Brothers: Lorenzo and Frank III. They are also major owners in Station Casinos, a prominent Las Vegas locals chain of gambling halls and hotels worth hundreds of billions. They know how to play poker and win, and they know the house always wins in the end. They extended Strikeforce some credit and let them play the MMA tables for a while, handicapping them whenever they seemed to make a little progress. The fold always seemed pre-determined for so many media pundits and rabid fans. Those in the know realized it wouldn't be if--but when--as far as Strikeforce falling apart at some point. This time around, it was just painfully and pathetically slow.

Scott Coker and his once-promising promotion had a great run, but their luck finally ran out with the tolling of the final bell for Strikeforce. Coker told me in a conference call a few months ago that the partnership with Showtime was strong. He explained that as long as Strikeforce was on Showtime the league would be fine. Apparently he was betting on a renewal of the league's contract with the cable channel that never came to pass.

The circuit's final show will be January 12, 2013 in Oklahoma City, and the fold will be followed by a new shuffle. Some Strikeforce fighters may likely end up stranded while others make a smooth and immediate tranisition to fighting under the UFC banner. Show cancellations in recent months likely motivated the decision to shutter the organization once and for all.

Previously, the UFC's parent company acquired PRIDE, WEC, and the IFL. Only the WEC grew as a new Zuffa entity. PRIDE and the IFL collapsed nearly overnight. Even the WEC eventually became entirely part of the UFC fold. Many of the fighters who fought for PRIDE and the IFL would never glove up in the UFC, but some who did became signature fighters.

A surprise side effect of the Strikeforce shutdown is the immediate signing of Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey to the UFC, obviously hinting at the creation of a women's division or two in the top dog MMA promotion. This is a huge development for women fighters out there who would do anything to fight in the UFC. That gives them an opportunity to enter the cage as true pioneers representing the natural growth and popularity of women's MMA. Rousey picked up where MMA Fighter-turned Actress Gina Carano left off, and her star power will take the sport to a new level. A rematch with Tate seems made to order with both being revealed as the UFC women's division's inaugural members.

The extinction of Strikeforce will also represent somewhat of an evolution of the UFC if many of the league's marquee fighters cross over. Wikipedia lists 78 current Strikeforce combatants on the company roster. Among them are: Daniel Cormier, Josh Barnett, Gilbert Melendez, Gegard Mousasi, Luke Rockhold, Tim Kennedy, Robbie Lawler, Nate Marquardt, Pat Healy, and Jorge Masvidal.

The real casualty of any crossover experience for these fighters will be their inability to fight for outside promotions. Strikeforce did maintain an open-ended contract with multiple fighters even after the Zuffa buyout. If the Strikeforce matchmakers couldn't use them, they fought elsewhere. That won't happen if they sign a UFC contract.

Now, at least there will be enough of an influx of new talent flowing into the UFC that Matchmaker Joe Silva will be captivated by the possibilities and the potential for some epic confrontations never before possible. The sport will be better as a result, but the Strikeforce people who don't make the jump to the next stage will see it as a slap in the face. To them, Strikeforce was something that could have been a contender, and it could have gone on for a long time with a new TV deal. The only problem was it was always marked for ultimate destruction.

Zuffa quickly stripped the club of the heavyweights and some select personnel, and suddenly it seemed obvious Strikeforce had officially become the second fiddle MMA squad. Questions swirled as to when select fighters would have to move to the UFC since there were no options in Strikeforce for them to fight in a competitive match. The media never seemed fooled by the promotion stumbling forward through all the operational moves of a company that doesn't know it's really doomed. Instead, the call seemed to be going out for a quicker collapse this time. There was no outrage for the tactics and the ethical pitfalls of a such a muscle-in-and-dismantle scheme. The choreography was too much for many of the sport's experts and dedicated followers to tolerate. They just salivated over the prospective match-ups between UFC and Strikeforce champions.

This is the MMA world we live in. The Romans in the Coliseum gave the thumbs down to Strikeforce months ago, but Dana White and the Fertittas let it all play out like a bad movie, pretending there might be a different ending. It's going to be a slow train wreck, but Strikeforce is headed for the end of the track. The last hurrah fight card slated for January 12 includes title fights featuring: Gilbert Melendez defending the lightweight strap against Pat Healy; Nate Marquardt trying to keep his welterweight belt in a battle with Tarec Saffiedine; and Luke Rockhold putting his middleweight title on the line against Lorenz Larkin. Heavyweight Daniel Cormier will also be back in action against Dion Staring.

Another Zuffa acquisition is going out of usual.
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