Showtime Sports president Stephen Espinoza on Monday denied the existence of a list of Strikeforce fighters that are banned from signing with the UFC during the lifetime of the Strikeforce-Showtime deal.
Over the weekend, veteran MMA journalist Dave Meltzer reported that Showtime and Strikeforce and UFC parent company Zuffa had agreed to a list of fighters who could not cross promotional boundaries from Strikeforce to the UFC, even if their contracts expired, making them free agents. According to him, fighters including Gilbert Melendez, Luke Rockhold and Ronda Rousey were on the list.
On Monday's edition of The MMA Hour, Espinoza said the report was erroneous.
Espinoza said that because Showtime isn't an MMA promoter, they have no existing deals with fighters that can limit their movement. What they do have is a contract with Zuffa that allows them to broadcast the talent pool of Strikeforce-contracted talent.
"That roster of talent at the point we entered into the contract is attached to our contract informationally," he said. "But all this stuff about controlling people when they’re free agents and things like that, that’s not true."
Espinoza said that any specific fighters contracts are between them and Zuffa. Using lightweight champion Melendez as an example, he said he had never seen the fighter's contract and had no idea what negotiation or matching rights Strikeforce has when it runs out.
"We've got an arrangement with Strikeforce that gives us rights to Strikeforce fights while they have those fighters under contract to Strikeforce," he said. "Beyond that, the short answer is, that's sort of an issue in the contract between Strikeforce and the fighters. Not us. We're not privy to that stuff."
Espinoza did acknowledge that the UFC could not bring Melendez or any other fighter over from Strikeforce if that fighter had existing fights on his current Strikeforce deal.
"Putting it in context, that’s the case for all other MMA promotions, that's the case for all other professional sports," he said. "If you're under contract in MLS you can't go sign in the European league. If you're under contract in the NBA, you cant go sign in another league while you're under contract with the NBA. It's the same thing. While you're under contract to Strikeforce, you can't go sign a contract with another organization."
So to recap, fighters under Strikeforce contract won't be coming over to the UFC anytime soon, but once their existing deals are up and they become free agents, they can entertain a move from Strikeforce's hexagon to the UFC's octagon with impunity.