With this aquisition, there are some upsides, some downsides, and some serious question marks. For the immediate future, we do know that Strikeforce will continue to be its own brand. Scott Coker, the mastermind behind the brand, will also remain in power as CEO. For the time being, Strikeforce fighters will also remain under contract as employees of Strikeforce, exclusively. Showtime will also continue to be the host for all Strikeforce events (assuming CBS has lost interest).
So really, on the business side, the only thing that changes is that the name at the top. Although this does seem like the same old song and dance that we heard during the PRIDE acquisition, my feeling is that these are two totally seperate stories. As has been widely publicized, PRIDE’s dealings with the Japanese mob were part of their un-doing as a force in Japan. They were losing money hand over fist… and losing it to the people you don’t want to owe money to. The PRIDE brand, even as fondly as I remember it, was badly damaged. Although we heard that PRIDE would go on from Dana White, himself, it simply was not financially or logistically feasible.
With Strikeforce, however, while we don’t know the inner-most workings of their financials, we do know enough to see that they’re not being propped up. They are the number one promotion in California, something that not even the UFC could depose them of. They were set to become the first major US-based promotion to make an impact in Japan. They are also the second promotion (EliteXC being the first) to have their own network broadcast, something that the UFC has also yet to do. The final days of PRIDE (and for that matter DREAM and K-1) had reports of them failing to pay their top draws, let alone undercard talent. So far, we haven’t heard anything of the sort from Strikeforce.
As far as the upsides to this acquisition, there’s certainly plenty of speculating to be done. Technically, Fedor Emelianenko, Josh Barnett, Alistair Overeem, Cain Valasquez, Brock Lesnar, and Antonio Nogueria are all employed by the same company. Although they fight for different promotions, it’s feasible that they may one day cross paths inside the octagon (or the Strikeforce hexagon). It certainly adds an interesting dynamic to the MMA world, scheduling-wise. Zuffa/UFC/Strikeforce certainly have the weight and roster size to put on a show on a weekly basis. As a fan of MMA, that’s exactly what this sport needs: Consistency.
Some will say that having a weekly show could potentially oversaturate the market and somehow devalue the product that is put on display. To those that support that arguement I have a counter: How much do you tire of the NFL? Major League Baseball and it’s 140+ game schedule, which games are played multiple times per week (and even double headers!)? Does one tire of the NBA? In much the same way that those organizations operate, having fights on a regular basis can actually help build some viewership. Between the firepower and clout of Spike, Versus, Showtime, and CBS, finding a time slot shouldn’t be much of an issue. Additionally, under a unified front, you could make the arguement that finding venues (something that Strikeforce has had somewhat of an issue with) might be easier as well. Perhaps we’ll finally see MMA in the promised land of New York?
Another upside to this whole deal is that we’re one step closer to a fighters union. As any developing industry goes, there are certainly promotors and promotions that take care of there employees. But then there are others who will abuse and exploit their employees for financial gain. The verdict is somewhat out on Dana White as an individual, however not once has he failed to pay his fighters their contracted amount. The same can’t be said for smaller, seedier promotions. The failed Nemesis FC comes to mind immediately. They failed to protect and pay everyone on their card. Shine Fights is an example of that very same thing that happened here, domestically.
As far as politics go, I’m not knowledgeable enough to know what role unions play in todays economy. However, if other professional sports are any example, players (or fighters) unions do serve a valuable purpose. They not only protect the atheletes inside of their sport, but some extend the bounds to take care of them even into retirement. With some of the pioneers of this sport wilting away before our very eyes, it’s hard to imagine that a fighter like Mark Coleman can live comfortably for the rest of his days. That’s not a knock against Coleman, but the paydays just don’t add up. Unless he saved virtually all of the money he made fighting, there’s just not a way for him to retire comfortably.
While Dana White has been resistant to unions in the past, so have many other industries. With all of these fighters hanging under the same banner, though, it’s going to be difficult to stop should a significant amount of that roster agree that a union needs to be created. The safer that we can make this sport, the better it is for everyone involved.
But, because this is business, it isn’t going to be all sunshine and rainbows. While Zuffa has demonstrated an impressive history and depth of pockets when bankrolling the UFC. Unfortunatley, when money is involved, there’s NEVER too much to go around. This means that some of the lesser names in both the uFC and Strikeforce might be forced to go elsewhere for a payday.
Potentially worse for the actual “Strikeforce” brand, the possibility remains that they could become the minor leagues for the UFC. Even though the intention is currently to leave things “as-is,” it doesn’t make business sense to create a rival to your main promotion. Zuffa has nothing to gain by leaving Strikeforce as it is currently structured, essentially competing against the household name of the UFC.
Turning Strikeforce into a developmental league could be an interesting, especially if it turns out to be a proving ground for foreign fighters to make the transition into the mainstream US market. But, for history’s sake, looking at the NBADL (the developmental league that was reconstructed out of the defunct CBA). The NBADL was an absolute failure for one of the most popular sports in American history. A UFCDL would almost assuredly not be able to break into the mainstream the way that the UFC has been able to.
Perhaps the most awkward dynamic of this whole situation is that Zuffa and, more notably, Dana White are now paired with characters that swore they would ever support. Josh Barnett, the dethroned UFC heavyweight champion has tested positive for steroids on more than one occasion. He was stripped of his UFC heavyweight belt and shares the blame for bringing about the end of Affliction’s shortlived promotion. He’s now officially on the Zuffa payroll and slated to fight in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix. Paul Daley is also slated to fight Nick Diaz on April 9th. Daley is most remembered in the UFC for his post-fight suckerpunch of Josh Koscheck. After that fight, Daley was cut from the UFC and subsequently banned for life by president Dana White.
The Strikeforce/UFC merger also makes strange bedfellows with Renato “Babalu” Sobral, who was cut because he refused to let go of the Anaconda Choke on David Heath, Fedor Emelianenko and his management team M-1 Global, who have been a thorn in the side of Dana White for years, Dan Henderson, who couldn’t reach an agreement with the UFC when it came to resign, and UFC president, Dana White. Even though White will still be the figurehead for the UFC side of things, the fact remains that now everyone is playing for the same team.
The truth is, only time will tell what will happen with this merger. It’s certainly one of the most historic events that’s ever happened for this sport. Maybe it is Dana White’s evil plan to corner the MMA market (he will certainly control MOST MMA footage after this merger), but I think it’s not necessarily all bad. A unified front can lend credibility to the sport. As MMA continues to grow, the UFC will be the face, at least here, stateside.