The life of a fighter is, in a word, hell. Fiscal responsibility is hard enough in this day and age without throwing in the uncertainty that a sport like MMA provides. A serious injury can leave a fighter unable to earn a living for several months at best, a year or more at worst. On top of that consider the physical stress a fighter’s body must endure to continue competing (and winning), and as such the window for success is relatively narrow against a person’s total lifespan.
None of this is news to anyone who follows the sport with any sort of seriousness. So why are so many fighters under contract to the world’s second largest mixed martial arts organization having trouble getting fights?
2010 was a year in which Strikeforce saw record growth across the board. They ran eight regular events and seven smaller Challengers cards, branching out past their West Coast roots to hold shows across the country. They’ve made some great additions to their roster with newly crowned Strikeforce 205-pound champ Dan Henderson being the most notable of the group. There were setbacks of course; the disastrous “Strikeforce: Nashville” was easily one of the worst events of the year for a number of reasons. Most Strikeforce events have been met with great reactions from fans and press alike, and ratings for Showtime have been good and even occasionally great.
At the same time the company has neglected the careers of several of their fighters under contract. Few fighters have been perpetually screwed in quite the same way as Jay Hieron. He recently spoke about his split from Strikeforce and it’s easy to see why he was so unhappy during his time there. He was signed in 2009 and slotted into an immediate title fight with Nick Diaz, but then when Diaz missed a drug test (for some unknown reason) Hieron was moved down to the prelims to fight “TUF” reject/professional pants-wetter Jesse Taylor. Five months later he scored his second win in Strikeforce against Joe Riggs which was the last fight on his contract. Contract negotiations kept the former IFL champion out of the cage for the next year, and Strikeforce seemingly refused to give Hieron the title fight he’d already been scheduled for once. He bolted for Bellator where he won his promotional debut this past weekend, thereby moving into the semi-finals of the welterweight tournament. If he wins the tournament he’ll be fighting at least three more times this year, and he’ll be guaranteed a title shot. Given all those factors it’s easy enough to see why Hieron took a hefty pay cut to sign with Bellator. He needed to get back to fighting and right now that’s a pretty good place to do exactly that.
Hieron moved on to new opportunities but there are plenty of fighters still locked up with Strikeforce while waiting to fight again. Tim Kennedy did get to compete this past weekend (breaking an almost seven month layoff), but he made plenty of noise in recent months about his difficulties in finding some competition. He was victorious against Melvin Manhoef on Saturday and afterwards he revealed that he had acquired a cut on his chin during training, but he covered it with makeup to make sure the athletic commission didn’t deny him his chance to compete. Kennedy also revealed that after making an attempt at fighting full-time he has gone back to his other love: shooting people with a sniper rifle in service of his country.
Kennedy was originally slated to take part in a third fight with his old arch-nemesis Jason “Mayhem” Miller, but Miller was yanked from the fight with no reason given and Manhoef took his spot instead. Is Miller being booked for another fight? Unfortunately we don’t know. What we do know is that “Mayhem” has not been inside the cage since the aforementioned Strikeforce: Nashville card. For those of you keeping score at home that show was eleven months ago. Since then Miller has fought once in Japan and continued in his duties of bringing MMA to tweens everywhere on his MTV2 show Bully Beatdown (now in its third season). You would think that Strikeforce would be making more of an attempt to book one of their biggest stars, but then again you (probably) don’t work for Strikeforce.
Then there were the rumors that surfaced last week surrounding Strikeforce Women’s Middleweight Champion Cris “Cyborg” Santos. The rumors that popped up came from Brazil and were attributed to the infamous “sources close to the fighter,” and they claimed that “Cyborg” was considering signing a contract with the WWE. Those rumors have yet to be officially confirmed or denied, but with Santos having not fought since June of last year (and with no fights on the horizon) it really doesn’t seem all that crazy to consider that she might be getting restless.
Several other fighters like Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante and Lyle Beerbohm have also expressed displeasure with their bookings (and lack thereof), but I don’t think it’s unfair to say that anybody has recently been treated more unfairly by Strikeforce than Dutch-Afghan fighter Siyar Bahadurzada. Siyar was contacted by Strikeforce and offered a contract with the company in April of 2010. He signed the contract and sent it back. He then waited 10 months for a call from Strikeforce matchmaker Rich Chou but that call never came. Then earlier this year he found out that the reason he hadn’t gotten a fight yet was because Strikeforce had not signed his contract.
Does that make any sense at all? Strikeforce reached out to Bahadurzada and his management to have him fight in the organization. They sent him a contract. He signed it. They ignored the signed contract and left a fighter in the cold for almost a year. Siyar was able to continue competing overseas, but to this day he is still waiting to make his American debut.
Just for the record; Bahadurzada holds a win over Evangelista Santos, who was the last man to compete for the Strikeforce Welterweight Championship,
It’s clear that Strikeforce has a problem, but what’s the solution? To me (a company outsider with little-to-no knowledge of the inner workings at an MMA promotion) the answers seem simple. First I’d stop running the Challengers events immediately and turn those timeslots into normal Strikeforce events. Stop doubling (or even tripling) up on title fights and spread those bouts out. Strikeforce has seven championships so there’s no real reason why they couldn’t have at least 14 title fights a year. If your champion won’t defend their belt (no names necessary here, I hope) then strip them of the title and get it on somebody who wants it. Lock more fighters into exclusive contracts and be more aggressive in contract negotiations.
Strikeforce needs to keep their fighters happy if they intend to continue their growth as a company, and they’ll need as many good fighters as they can get if they ever want to become a serious competitor to the UFC. When a fighter sits on the sidelines it takes money out of his or her pocket, and it costs the company future profits that could be earned by letting their stars go to waste. A fighter like Kennedy has the kind of life story that could earn the company extensive crossover appeal. Miller already has a devoted following of fans and enough charisma to sell just about any match-up. Cyborg is the most feared female fighter in the world and a modern-day pioneer for women’s MMA.
Let your fighters fight Strikeforce. It’s better for everybody that way.