If recent rumors prove to be true it would appear the demise of Strikeforce may be coming sooner rather than later. On this past Monday's episode of Inside MMA host Kenny Rice confirmed that "multiple sources" were reporting the end was near for the business partnership between Showtime and Strikeforce. That these rumors have yet to make a big splash is indicative of just how moribund the Strikeforce brand has become since being purchased by Zuffa eighteen months ago. Strikeforce my have have once been the number two promotion in mixed martial arts, but right now it feels about as long for this Earth as Old Yeller after contracting rabies. For all parties involved it would be best to take the brand behind the shed and put it out of its misery as soon as possible.
Really there's nothing to lose for either Showtime or Zuffa by parting ways. Showtime supposedly still wants to be in the MMA business but it's hard to gain traction with a decimated roster populated by unknowns, journeymen, and a mere handful of fighters who can conceivably draw as headliners. When lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez was forced to withdraw from last month's card in Sacramento due to injury, it was Showtime who made the call to pull the plug. Their position was that the show wouldn't draw without Melendez, which speaks volumes about how thin Strikeforce's current roster is.
Now there are rumblings that next month's show in Oklahoma City on November 3rd may be in jeopardy as well, with Zuffa apparently unable to find an opponent for headliner Daniel Cormier and middleweight champ Luke Rockhold pulling out with a wrist injury. According to a report from MMAJunkie.com Strikeforce has yet to submit a request for a promoter's license to the Oklahoma State Athletic Commission. For those of you keeping track at home the only fight currently intact on the card is Jorge Masvidal vs. Bobby Green. No disrespect to either fighter, but it's hard to see what Showtime can do besides cancel its second Strikeforce show in a row with nothing but a single bout between two mid-level fighters announced three weeks before the event.
The thing is though, these are by and large the kind of fighters that make up Strikeforce's roster. Outside of the departing Cormier the only names Strikeforce has that can conceivably headline a card are Melendez, Rockhold, Nate Marquardt, and Ronda Rousey. When you factor in the injury bug that looks to be an inextricable part of MMA for the foreseeable future you are left with a situation where every Strikeforce show is like a precariously stacked house of cards that's just one torn ACL from crumbling down.
If Showtime really thinks they can draw ratings with MMA going forward in 2013 - and recent ratings trends would suggest that is far from a safe bet - they need to drop Strikeforce like a bad habit. They'd be far better served starting from scratch with a new promotion that doesn't have the baggage of being Zuffa's red headed step child. In order for a promotion to differentiate itself in a UFC dominated landscape it needs an identity of its own. A brand that's seen as Zuffa's "other" promotion with a fraction of the star power isn't going to cut it.
From Zuffa's perspective running two brands long term makes little sense. Back when the company purchased World Extreme Cagefighting they saw it less as an investment in a viable long term brand and more as a chess piece they could use to block the short-lived International Fight League from making a broadcast deal with Versus. The Strikeforce purchase served the dual purposes of eliminating their largest competitor and acquiring fresh talent for the UFC.
However, Showtime still had a television show to promote and they weren't happy when Zuffa moved top Strikeforce talent like Nick Diaz and Dan Henderson to the UFC. This led to a situation were Strikeforce fighters got locked into contracts stating they couldn't move to the UFC as long as Zuffa and Showtime were still in business together.
The UFC are running more shows than ever and they need all the top fighters they can get. A sudden influx of Strikeforce talent would provide them with the shot in the arm necessary to bolster what have at times lately been anemic cards lacking in name fighters.
This would also potentially open the door for the first ever female fights in the UFC. Dana White has said, that while he's unsure about the viability of a full fledged women's division, he would be open to the idea of rising phenom Ronda Rousey fighting on a UFC event. It's hard to say how immediately successful a potential UFC women's division would be given a reluctance on some fan's parts to accept the lighter weight classes the UFC has added in recent years. However, even an occasional UFC card featuring Rousey would give female fighters plying their trade on smaller shows the hope of one day competing on the sport's biggest stage.
Perhaps nobody has more to gain from the dissolution of Strikeforce than the fighters currently under contract to them. Most people who become professional fighters do so for two reasons: money and competition. The UFC provides far better opportunities for both than the languishing Strikeforce brand. The exposure that comes with fighting on a UFC card means more money in sponsorships. UFC fighters also compete with the knowledge they can earn a post fight bonuses; an incentive system Strikeforce lacks. If a fighter is successful during his UFC tenure he will be able to negotiate for a far better contract than anything other promotions can offer. In a sport where the window of opportunity to make money is notoriously short there's no better place for fighters at the moment than the UFC.
The same holds true when it comes to competition. It's hard not to feel for fighters like Gilbert Melendez who remain unable to test themselves against the best fighters in their weight classes. Melendez is in such an unenviable spot he's actually contemplated a fourth fight with Josh Thompson recently. He deserves better than spending his athletic prime recycling the same opponents while being forced to watch the action in the UFC lightweight division from the outside looking in.
Right now a Strikeforce contract is like a restraining order preventing fighters from chasing their dreams. Here's hoping Zuffa and Showtime have finally shown the good sense to stop using fighter's livelihoods as bargaining chips in a pointless game where nobody wins and everybody loses.