We here at LiverKick.com pride ourselves on our kickboxing coverage, but from time to time find it important to discuss the MMA world as well. There is a lot of crossover between the two worlds, and at times, they go hand in hand. Strikeforce has a storied past, as does its promoter, Scott Coker. Coker had worked the kickboxing market in the West coast for years before working for K-1 to bring their USA shows to fans. His baby, Strikeforce, was a kickboxing promotion before it was a MMA promotion. It was local talent like Cung Le and Frank Shamrock working with Coker to put on MMA shows that got the ball rolling and Strikeforce became the best regional promotion in the country. It didn't take much, just using big names on the main event slots with local big names to fill out the rest of the card and young, local up and comers on the undercard.
It worked, and soon Strikeforce was in a position to purchase EliteXC's poison assets. Or so we thought. We all assumed anything affiliated with EliteXC was awful and doomed, but Coker and Co. showed that with a better business plan and some patience, you can make anything work. Today something happened, something big. Ariel Helwani posted a video of Dana White discussing Zuffa's purchase of Strikeforce. I had to look twice at the date and make sure it wasn't April 1st, because sometimes time just moves quickly. It isn't, it is March 12, 2011. Remember that date.
People on Twitter immediately freaked out; co-promotion? Will Strikeforce immediately die? Does this mean Fedor, Barnett, Overeem, Diaz, Daley, etc. in the UFC? Watch the video and you get a feel for what is happening. Dana White claims over and over again, "business as usual." This means that as long as Strikeforce has their television deals; CBS and Showtime, it is its own entity. There will be no co-promotion, and fighters stay where they are, of course, unless they decide differently. Scott Coker and his crew are still in control of Strikeforce for the time being. If you are a Strikeforce fighter, you are one until Strikeforce is gone or your contract is up. Same goes for UFC.
If you know how Zuffa works and remember their history with acquisitions, you should understand where the concern comes from. I've heard many herald this move as a great move for the sport and one step closer to the holy grail in fighting; a fighters union. I appreciate and applaud the enthusiasm, but Zuffa is not acting like a sport league as much as it is a corporation, a business.
I worked in the PR world with some of the heavy hitters of modern industry for four years, with some of the biggest companies in the world; AT&T, Apple, Microsoft, Motorola and Boeing to name a few. Before someone calls my BS on this, there were people in each company I was on a first name basis with and spoke to daily for years. I'm simply painting a picture here for people to illustrate a point that I've worked with huge corporations in a public relations and investor relations setting and know how the big dogs do business.
Zuffa's past acquisitions do not come across like anything a major sports league has done. The PRIDE acquisition did not create what the NFL created when it merged with the AFL in 1966, nor will the Strikeforce acquisition. What Zuffa does is corporate expansion, plain and simple. You acquire a company, let it maintain until you figure out what you want to do with it, and then gut it, take what you need and discard the rest. The WFA, Affliction, IFL, WEC, look at what happened to all of those promotions. The WEC continued on as long as they had a TV deal, when it came time to negotiate, the UFC, the 'top brand' took the TV deal, gave WEC an expiration date and gutted the company.
I've seen many people mention the WEC as a reason why Strikeforce won't be gutted, but the truth is, it was an experiment. Zuffa wanted to see if they could promote a second brand and make it popular. They couldn't. Fighters in the WEC were making less money, getting less exposure and begging to be taken on in the UFC. Strikeforce has two things going for it; television deals and a functioning infrastructure. The cream of the crop in the business will be taken into the fold while the rest are cut loose, and when the television deals are up do not expect Zuffa to negotiate new contracts. Dana White has made it clear that he does not like the idea of working with CBS or Showtime unless Zuffa is in complete control of the programming, and neither network is a fan of that. If they could come to terms, do not expect a 'lesser brand' to be given prime real estate instead of the 'big boys.'
In my opinion, that is when Strikeforce will be gutted. Zuffa knows that the UFC brand sells, not the sport of MMA. MMA on its own does OK, but the UFC name is what elevates a MMA show from popular to mainstream.
This creates a monopoly and leaves fighters with no viable options, nowhere to go. When Zuffa bought PRIDE, the company itself was able to splinter and create new promotions; World Victory Road and Real Entertainment, which promoted with FEG to create DREAM. At the time, the fighters who didn't want to work for Zuffa had an option, but Japan is in complete disarray right now and UFC just purchased its only viable competitor in the United States, if not the world. They already have a bloated roster that needs to be trimmed and have all of the infrastructure that they need. This was an asset purchase, another notch in Dana White's bed post and if you truly believe that this is a good for the fighting world, I implore you to convince me.