But after the upstart San Jose, Calif.-based promotion signed coveted free agent and heavyweight star Fedor Emelianenko, the gloves are off, and the first shots of the UFC-Strikeforce war have been fired.
While White still holds a personal respect for Coker, he pulled no punches in bashing the company Coker runs in the moments after a UFC 101 press conference, calling it "Strike-Farce" and characterizing it as a "regional show."
"They have no money, no fighters. They're a small-town show," White said. "Cung Le hasn't defended the title since like 1997. Josh Thomson hasn't defended the belt in like two years. Who's their other champion? Alistair Overeem? He hasn't defended the belt in like two years. It's Strike-Farce. It's a little regional show with no one in it."
Emelianenko became a free agent hours after his scheduled opponent tested positive for steroids and Affliction canceled the event and closed the promotion. While White was overseas on UFC business, he and Zuffa co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta engaged in intense negotiations with Emelianenko's camp, but even after making what he termed a "great" deal, they could not come to terms with the Russian, undone by a co-promotional stipulation that they would not agree to.
Asked what Emelianenko's effect on Strikeforce would be, White was characteristically blunt.
"He'll put them out of business," he said. "They have no money and no distribution. You know how many people watch their fights? Their last fight [on Showtime cable], 245,000 people watched that fight. That's nothing."
After hearing Emelianenko had spurned the UFC for Strikeforce, White said that he was literally miserable for two days, but was buoyed by e-mails fans sent the company thanking them for making a run at Fedor.
"Then I said, 'f*** him," White said. "There was no way in hell that deal was going to happen. I offered him a great deal. I guarantee you the Strikeforce deal wasn't in the same universe with ours. it wasn't close. They probably didn't even pay him as much as Affliction was."
After digesting it all, White says he believes that from the start, Emelianenko had no desire to end up in the UFC.
"It was completely obvious they didn't want to do a deal," he said. "He just didn't want to be in the UFC."
Asked about rumors that the UFC had sent a cease-and-desist letter to Strikeforce to stop the scheduled Gegard Mousasi-Renato "Babalu" Sobral matchup, White had no answer.
"I honestly don't know," he said, intimating that his legal team might have acted without his knowledge. "Maybe we did. You know me. I'd tell you if I knew we did."
But in the last few years, White has seen the IFL, EliteXC and now Affliction go up in flames. Strikeforce is now the latest in a long line of promotions that hope to gain some market share at UFC's expense.
The war is just beginning.
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