Invicta returned last weekend. Strikeforce is about to make its curtain call. Bellator is preparing for its Spike TV debut. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson is getting ready what he's calling his final UFC fight. The UFC is preparing for its women's MMA debut.
As you can see, we're all about beginnings and endings here at the start of 2013. So let's get started with another edition of the MMA Roundtable. My colleague Mike Chiappetta and I look at the end of Strikeforce from multiple perspectives, UFC 157 ticket sales, and which upcoming fights we're looking forward to watching.
1) With the last Strikeforce event just days away, what is the organization's legacy?
Chiappetta: From beginning to end, the life span of Strikeforce as an MMA-only promotion lasted less than seven years, but what an impact they made. Think about all the memories they gave us, from Frank Shamrock vs. Cung Le to Gina Carano vs. Cris Cyborg to the CBS brawl to watching Fedor Emelianenko's historic win streak evaporate, they were many.
More than anything, Strikeforce should be remembered as a legitimate and credible alternative for fighters and fans during a time when the UFC was consolidating its power. Strikeforce made bold steps with signings of bona fide stars like Emelianenko, Dan Henderson, Alistair Overeem, Nick Diaz and more. Company president Scott Coker also had a deft touch in spotting talent before it exploded, as evidenced by the way he cultivated names like Gilbert Melendez, Daniel Cormier, and Ronda Rousey.
The existence of Strikeforce and the competition it provided forced the UFC to up its game. Dana White and company pride themselves on being the best at what they do, but that designation is essentially meaningless if they're the only one at what they do. From a respectful yet competitive distance, Strikeforce challenged, pushed and prodded the UFC, and made the MMA world better for it.
Doyle: I can't disagree with anything Mike said here. Scott Coker provided a model for smart mixed martial arts promotion. Other companies burned through millions of dollars with no real rhyme or reason. Coker understood he had an exceptional talent base in Northern California and gave local fans what they wanted. Frank Shamrock and Cung Le were already established drawing cards. Coker's cards also gave the likes of Gilbert Melendez and Josh Thomson chances to hone their games under a bigger spotlight that they might have gotten.
Eventually, Strikeforce got caught up in bigger forces than they could control. They either had to stay a San Jose-centered "little company that could" or they had to make the jump up with the big boys. While they couldn't make it work in the long run, they provided fans with plenty of memories along the way. If nothing else, Coker and Co. will never go through life wondering "what if." They gave it their best shot. The fact Strikeforce got as much mileage out of its brand as it did is a testament to their promotional acumen.
But while Strikeforce provided a model for how the little guy could succeed, I'm not sure lessons learned in 2006 necessarily apply to today's MMA world. There are few, if any, Frank Shamrocks out there, legends of the sport who can fill a major arena and still has gas left in the tank. Nor are there entire region's worth of burgeoning talent which haven't already been snapped up by the UFC or Bellator. So while Strikeforce showed how it could be done years ago, it will probably go down more as a historical chapter than a model going forward.
2) What fighter from the Strikeforce roster do you think is best equipped for success in the UFC?
Chiappetta: I'll skip the obvious answer of Ronda Rousey since she already signed a UFC contract and is scheduled for a fight. Instead, I'll go with the runner-up obvious answer of Daniel Cormier. In watching him fight, Cormier seems to have an excellent blend of power, striking technique, wrestling proficiency and ground skills, traits that can take him far in the UFC. The only question is in which division he'll ultimately end up. After his teammate Cain Velasquez recaptured the heavyweight title, it seems that Cormier is destined to move to light-heavyweight, where he'll be at a gigantic reach disadvantage if he matches up against champ Jon Jones. But there are some concerns about whether Cormier can actually make the weight.
If he can safely get down to 205, he is a legitimate threat and a surefire contender. If he can't, the same holds true of his heavyweight prospects. If he does stay in his longtime divisional home, there is simply no championship as an endgame as long as Velasquez is holding the belt, and it would be a shame not to see that tussle play out.
Doyle: If Rousey's the obvious answer, and Cormier is the next in line, then I'm going to go ahead and say I'm looking forward to seeing what Nate Marquardt can accomplish. Marquardt has been there before. He knows what it takes to succeed on the elite level. He's been through it all. Now, add in the fact he looks like a fighter with a new lease on life at welterweight, and you assume he's going to treat a return to the UFC like the last, best chance that it is and will fight with an appropriate level of urgency. Put that all together and you've got someone worth following.
3. Word came out last week that UFC 157 ticket sales are off to something of a slow start. Is this a surprise, and do you expect things to pick up?
Doyle: I'm not too surprised. UFC 157 is being held in Southern California. On any given winter night, if you're looking to run a sports event, you're potentially going up against the Lakers, Clippers, Kings, Ducks, and USC and/or UCLA basketball. You're also running against an array of music and other entertainment options that only New York can match.
The UFC's always had a bit of trouble drawing big paid crowds in SoCal. Not only are there all the other entertainment options in town, but, if you're an MMA fan, UFC events in Las Vegas are an easy trip. So unlike when the UFC hits other cities, where it might be the only time big-league MMA is anywhere within hundreds of miles of your town all year long, if you live in the Los Angeles area, you've got your chance to pick and choose which events you want to go to over the course of the year. Which means you might decide on a weekend trip to Vegas which includes an Anderson Silva fight over a card in your backyard.
That said, my gut feeling is that UFC 157 will be a late bloomer of a ticket seller. Once the ball really gets rolling with with the PR push for this show, I think the SoCal MMA fan who is on the fence will take a closer look and see that the card also has Dan Henderson vs. Lyoto Machida and Urijah Faber vs. Ivan Menjivar, and will end up buying tickets the week of the fight.
Chiappetta: First of all, I'm going to go against the grain and say that ticket sales aren't all that bad. At the time MMA Fighting's Dave Meltzer reported numbers last week, about 5,000 tickets had been sold for a card that was nearly eight weeks away. Tickets went on sale right as the holidays were ending, at a time when many people were spending heavily on Christmas gifts and New Year's celebrations. It's the time of year when discretionary cash is at its lowest.
On top of that, with the injuries woes that rattled 2012's fight schedule, there could be some wariness in the market about buying tickets too early, or the willingness to wait and see how things shake out before taking the plunge. Throw in the fact that Ronda Rousey's opponent Liz Carmouche is a total unknown to mainstream sports fans and even many regular fight fans, and you have a recipe for slow sales. But the UFC has an ace up its sleeve in the form of Rousey's crossover fame. The feeling is that she will make appearances on major shows and have mentions in mainstream publications that will get the word out and spark more widespread interest, thereby triggering late sales.
As Dave notes, Southern California is a hellish market to navigate. Consider that in Nov. 2011, Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos managed to draw just 9,864 paid tickets to Anaheim's Honda Center, failing to sell out a highly marketed event that featured the UFC heavyweight championship as a main event. If Rousey and Carmouche come close to reaching that number, it has to be seen as a live gate home run.
4. Which fight in the month of January are you most looking forward to seeing?
Doyle: It's easy to look ahead to upcoming months and see Jose Aldo Jr. vs. Frankie Edgar next month, the welterweight tripleheader in March, etc., and forget there's a sneaky good slate of fights on the docket this month.
I'm looking forward to the Bellator title doubleheader on Jan. 17 and to the Vitor Belfort vs. Michael Bisping fight two nights later. Donald Cerrone vs. Anthony Pettis at UFC on FOX 6 promises fireworks, too.
But if I have to pick just one, I'm actually looking forward to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson vs. Glover Teixeira in Chicago on Jan. 26 in its own weird way. My gut feeling is that we'll see Teixeira's star turn on national television. But what if? What if a year away has left "Rampage" motivated for one last memorable moment, a la Tito Ortiz's win over Ryan Bader? Yeah, Jackson has looked past his prime in his last several fights. But if nothing else, he deserves credit for taking a fight a whole lot of other light heavyweight don't seem to want, and hey, you never know when they lock the Octagon gate, which is the beauty of the sport.
Chiappetta: There's certainly no shortage of quality fights in January, and since there are no rules at the old roundtable, I'm taking the liberty of picking two fights.
While I too am intrigued by Jackson's possible UFC finale -- and with all due apologies to Demetrious Johnson vs. John Dodson, another stellar bout -- I'm most looking forward to the Donald Cerrone vs. Anthony Pettis fight on the same UFC on FOX 6 card. First of all, their skill sets match up in a way that makes the bout a guaranteed action thriller and potential show stealer. Secondly, the two have been trading barbs in the media for an eternity, which should ratchet up the bout's drama even further.
Number 1a) on my list is the Bellator lightweight title fight between Michael Chandler and Rick Hawn. These are two super aggressive, well-rounded, power-punching 155-pounders who are top caliber talents.