twitter google

The Future of Strikeforce and the Elephant in the Room

In a way, I almost feel sorry for Miesha Tate.

Here’s a woman who won her opportunity to compete for a title almost a year ago, only to have it given to someone else after she was sidelined with an injury. After nearly a year away from the cage Miesha returned and gave an outstanding performance to win the Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Championship. There can be little doubt that this will be one of the greatest moments of her mixed martial arts career.

Will any of it matter in a year’s time? Will there still be a women’s division in Strikeforce next summer? Will there still be a Strikeforce next summer?

We don’t know much about the deal that Zuffa made to acquire Strikeforce this past March, but we do know that part of the deal includes finishing out the myriad of contracts Scott Coker and Co. had signed over the years. Hence the now hilariously ironic phrase “business as usual,” repeated over and over during Dana White’s announcement of the sale. The idea he was pushing was that Strikeforce would continue to operate as a separate unit while the UFC did their own thing. Zuffa would own the two top MMA organizations in the world and pretend that they had no control over Strikeforce.

The problem is that everybody knows how this story ends. Strikeforce as an MMA organization is living on borrowed time. They have contracts with broadcasters and fighters and those contracts need to be honored, but once that business is done it would be foolish for anyone to believe the Strikeforce will live on as a separate brand in this sport. Every other MMA promotion that has been purchased by Zuffa has ceased to exist sooner or later.

The end is nigh, but nobody wants to look at the crazy guy on the street holding the sign. The promoters, the fighters, the fans and the media want to continue acting as though Strikeforce is a real promotion with a real future. Why?

The Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion took three years to defend his belt only to eventually be released by the organization over the weekend. Their lightweight champion recently spent a year on the sidelines waiting for the company to line up a challenger (and he has no current fight scheduled). They also left their other women’s champion on the sidelines due to a lack of challengers, then spent no time or effort towards building new opponents for her. Their middleweight belt has been abandoned almost as many times as it’s been defended.

The championships of Strikeforce already had little value beyond the metal and leather they were made of before the Zuffa purchase, and unfortunately that value has all but evaporated now that the more prestigious UFC titles are just an arm’s length away.

This leads us to former Strikeforce Welterweight Champion Nick Diaz. He had eliminated all challengers within the Strikeforce welterweight division, and at the same time he was hungry for bigger fights with better paydays. He started running some reports that he was going to try his hand at boxing, but this was merely leverage to get what he really wanted: a shot at UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre.

Diaz does have the valid point of having no big money fights left in Strikeforce, but now that one champion has jumped ship to the UFC how long can it be before other title holders start to want the same kind of treatment?

It’s not just champions either. Former Strikeforce poster boy and current B-movie star Cung Le has publicly stated that he will not be coming back to Strikeforce, and if he does make a return to MMA it will only be for the UFC. Jason “Mayhem” Miller was snatched up by the UFC shortly after the sale and will soon be seen as one of the head coaches on The Ultimate Fighter. Several other contracted Strikeforce fighters have taken to calling out guys under the UFC banner.

It’s clear that most of the fighters are ready to move on to the brighter lights and bigger paydays of the UFC, but there can be little done in the face of those aforementioned pre-existing contracts. Strikeforce is obligated to deliver so many events for Showtime, fighters are guaranteed so many fights, and of course certain fighters have their special allowances written in. Diaz had a clause that allowed him to box, and without it who knows if he would have gotten the fight with GSP?

The point I’m making here is that while Strikeforce can continue to put on entertaining events (as they did this past weekend) I will continue to watch. However I refuse to pretend that those belts Coker is wrapping around fighters’ waists have that much value beyond the shiny precious metals so carefully arranged on their surface.

I’ll leave you with this question that I posed on Twitter this past Saturday night: If Tarec Saffiedine were to be offered a shot at the Strikeforce Welterweight Championship or a pre-lim spot on a UFC PPV, which one do you think he would pick?


Follow 5OZ