Unrealized expectations: The colossal failure of the Strikeforce UFC relationship
[pullquote style="right" quote="dark"]It’s a good-looking product on TV. We started thinking about it a little bit more and just thought that it just made sense to have Strikeforce in the family here.” –Lorenzo Fertitta on the Strikeforce buyout.[/pullquote]
Back when the two big guns in MMA joined forces, I was among the many people just giddy to see what these two monster organizations would create. Maybe a UFC versus Strikeforce tournament with a dual promotional championship belt on the line. There could have been inter-promotion super fights at any and every weight class, or possibly a big women’s super fight taking place on a UFC card (cough, cough). Yet after only a handful of transactions between the two promotions, the fans are left scratching their heads at the inconsistent and rare interaction between them.
Even before the buyout, Strikeforce (like the rest of the MMA world) was long considered a second tier promotion, drafting behind the giant UFC semi truck on the interstate highway. There were ex-UFC fighters like Keith Jardine thriving in Scott Coker’s league like where they could compete. The talent was still a significant potential supplement to the UFC, yet with Nick Diaz and just a handful of other fighters leaving the dying Strikeforce for the UFC, benefits have been significantly limited.
Nick Diaz is the exception to the rule here. The Stockton scrapper has brought immense attention to Dana White and his promotion, and hasn’t damaged Strikeforce too much in that the welterweight division is still somewhat talented. Other than Diaz, poaching guys like Bigfoot Silva, Shane Del Rosario, Lavar Johnson and Alistair Overeem while ignoring possible projects with Gilbert Melendez, Ronda Rousey, Daniel Cormier and Luke Rockhold have been detrimental to Zuffa for a number of reasons. We can only dream of a Rousey super fight taking place in the octagon when primetime champions like Rockhold and Melendez are being ignored too.
The UFC has effectively destroyed Strikeforce’s heavyweight division. Alistair Overeem, the former champion, is now gone along with a number of losing heavyweight grand prix contestants. Now that Cormier won the tournament, he has a belt around his waist that might as well say ‘heavyweight contender to UFC talent’, or ‘last guy hanging out in the uncool room at the party’. The elephant in the room is the giant downward spiral that Strikeforce is in the middle of, but that doesn’t stop the UFC from poaching it’s best talent without giving anything back.
Secondly, since when does the loser of tournament fights earn the coveted ticket to the UFC? Bigfoot lost, but was given a promotion partly because of how slowly and unprofessionally the whole heavyweight grand prix was organized and executed. But mainly because of how out of sorts the management of two separate organizations currently is.
Who are we kidding when we pretend that Strikeforce isn’t dying a slow death? The fans don’t even show up to the fights, and every event pops than the last. The worst part about it is that the fighters aren’t doing anything wrong, and are still part of the world’s best talent pool. It’s the promotion that keeps shooting itself in the foot at everyone’s expense. If Zuffa really wanted to help Strikeforce, they would pay top UFC names big money, which they have and are absolutely capable of paying, and put them in Strikeforce to entertain the lonely and underappreciated talent in the cage with two less sides. Frankie Edgar vs. Gilbert Melendez, Lyoto Machida vs. Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante and Rory Macdonald vs. Tarec Saffeidine are fights that could happen at the next Strikeforce event, and are completely plausible and insanely exciting matchups, but simply won’t. These guys want to fight for an audience and get paid, so why not make it happen? Don’t ask me.
Having Nate Marquardt vehemently banished from the UFC on a cable televised fight night by a vocal Dana White just to end up in his sister promotion months later is indicative of Zuffa’s lackluster approach to this partnership. And while there is no sudden decrease in excitement in the UFC, the promotional management turning a blind eye to the possibilities with the pair of world-class organizations has been a bitter disappointment, and a blown opportunity for everyone.