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Strikeforce to Limp Another Year

In a somewhat surprising recent press release Strikeforce announced it had renewed its Showtime deal for 2012. Strikeforce promises up to eight events and to retain its marque fighters. They also promise to “put on some really amazing events”, which seems unlikely when they’ve lost so many fighters that they’re giving Keith Jardine a title-shot (against current middleweight champion Luke Rockhold). It’s really hard to see the positive for any players involved in this deal.

Matthew Tosh flickr

This is bad news for the UFC. Dana White has said the UFC is going to stop cherry-picking the elite talent from Strikeforce. So, instead they’re going to have the few remaining top talents in Strikeforce go to waste, laboring another year in crumbling organization? UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva and welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre have nearly run out of opponents. Those weight classes could use an infusion of some new contenders. Light-heavyweight kingpin Jon Jones ran through four top-ten opponents in 2011. Right now, there are only three fighters who can realistically be considered a top contender for his belt. And one of them just left Strikeforce.

This isn’t really good news for Strikeforce. Sometime last year, Bellator overtook Strikeforce as the number two North American promotion. Of Strikeforce’s five men’s weight classes, only two have champions. The other three divisions lost their belt-holders to the UFC. Apparently, after the current heavyweight tournament is over that division will be disbanded. But does anyone care about the SF championship anymore? Let me state this again, Keith Jardine is getting a title fight. Jardine who lost his last four fights in the UFC and should have lost his only fight in Strikeforce (it was a Draw on a terrible decision). Defending your belt against him means nothing.

Which is why keeping world-ranked fighters like Gilbert Melendez, Luke Rockhold, and Daniel Cormier in Strikeforce for another year, amounts to a waste of year for them. Sure, they won’t be thrown to the lions right away like they would be in the UFC, but no one in Strikeforce gets them closer to a UFC title-shot. They’re losing valuable experience and a year in their prime by being forced to stay in Strikeforce. I know I’m beating a dead horse, but Luke Rockhold would benefit more by fighting on a UFC undercard against someone like Demain Maia or Vitor Belfort than by defending his Strikeforce belt.

Strikeforce began as an admirable attempt to stage world-class fights outside of the UFC. At the time it was needed, because the UFC stranglehold on the sport could have killed its momentum. Because of Strikeforce, the UFC had deliver quality, it had to continue to increase its presence on cable, and it had to treat its fighters fairly. But now, Strikeforce is just a part of UFC and an increasingly less relevant one. Like a fighter past their prime, Strikeforce should have ended before it got embarrassing to watch. Or it should have been turned into a minor league. Instead MMA fans get to watch a year of a formerly important organization become a joke.


The UFC Needs a Minor League – Point/Counterpoint:Part 2

Last week, we discussed why the UFC needs a secondary league. This week we are going to look at the negative side of a minor-league creation. This isn’t a reply to the points raised in the last article but rather a separate list of the disadvantages.

The UFC has too much programming to fill to cut the Roster
The UFC just signed a huge deal seven year deal with Fox. Fox will broadcast 10-12 events a year in addition to two seasons of The Ultimate Fighter. With that amount of fights to program, the UFC will no longer need to create pay-per-view events. But if they do or don’t, that’s lot of events that are going to need fights and fighters to fight.

The Showtime deal becomes meaningless if Strikeforce becomes Triple A

When Strikeforce had elite MMA artists in their fold and the majority of the UFC events had to be watched on pay-per-view, the league was an appealing option for Showtime. Now, that the UFC is going to have the large presence on network TV and basic cable, why would you watch its lesser promotion on a pay cable channel? It loses a lot of it appeal, especially since Bellator is also on basic cable and is quickly surpassing Strikeforce as the #2 North American organization.

The Contenders shake themselves out naturally
There is an idea that current roster bloat in the UFC means that not everyone gets the shot they deserve. This is not true; it’s simply harder to get to the top of the mountain of challengers. A good demonstration of this is in the trio of welterweights Charlie Brenneman, Rick Story, and Anthony “Rumble” Johnson”.

A few months ago Brenneman replaced Nate Marquardt as Rick Story’s opponent at a UFC Live event. The Story-Marquardt matchup would have had title implications as Story was hot up-and-comer with five wins in a row, and Marquardt had contended for the UFC middleweight belt before. Brenneman surprised everyone by soundly out-wrestling Story and winning by decision. At the UFC Live event on October 1st, Brenneman’s opponent was Johnson, another fighter on a roll. Brenneman was vastly outmatched by Rumble and quickly TKO’d.

While some fighters have obvious style advantages over others, a UFC title contender has to be well-rounded in all aspects nowadays.  In two fights we learned that neither Brenneman nor Story is a legitimate title threat right now and that Anthony Johnson likely is.

The Ultimate Fighter and a minor league are redundant
The main reason the UFC doesn’t need a minor league is that they basically already have one with The Ultimate Fighter. While the reality contest has not produced a justifiable championship contender in recent seasons that is not its ultimate goal. The overarching goal is to supply the UFC with fresh blood. It does that fine.

The recent TUF winners and runner-ups will likely fight a few years in the UFC, hovering around the top ten in their weight-class. Then they’ll either be dropped from the UFC, become gatekeepers, or become belt-challengers. Not every move to the majors produces a star in any sport. But simply adding new guys to the conversation is enough to consider it a successful minor league.

So, what’s the actual conclusion? I don’t know. I’ve just made the arguments for both sides of the issue and each point I’ve made can be countered against. I do know that the UFC has successfully helped move itself and MMA into the mainstream media. That alone is exciting and I’m looking forward to see what develops next.