March 12, 2011. The MMA world shook as the announcement became official. Zuffa, UFC’s parent company, had purchased Strikeforce and swallowed up its only real competition in the MMA landscape.
MMA fans and pundits alike wondered aloud if it was the end of the promotion. The UFC’s acquisition of Pride and WEC signalled the eventual demise of both promotions. Questions ranged from whether the company would be swallowed whole, the fighters would be absorbed into the UFC or become free agents, the status of the heavyweight grand prix, the partnership with Showtime, everything about Strikeforce seemed like it could possibly be blown apart.
The message from Dana White was three succinct words: “business as usual”.
The mantra was repeated over and over in his interview/announcement with Ariel Helwani. The phrase was repeated a grand total of 11 times, as if he was trying to convince himself as much as he was trying to convince others. White also claimed that there would be no superfights between champions and no layoffs ofStrikeforce staff.
Fast forward to the present day, almost five months later. 10 of the 12 full-time staff in the Strikeforce office have been laid off. Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz threatened to go to professional boxing, and was rewarded with a champion vs. champion superfight against Georges St. Pierre. Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Dan Henderson’s contract expired with his KO of Fedor Emelianenko and he is now publicly clamouring for the winner of the upcoming UFC light heavyweight title fight between Jon Jones and Rampage Jackson. Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem was recently dropped from the organization altogether.
Business as usual.
That makes three of the Strikeforce champions that are no longer under contract, with lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez jumping to UFC when he is able to do so all but a certainty. Although in Overeem’s case it appears to be that Zuffa simply no longer wanted him around their organization any longer. There have been rumours of ridiculously high demands and strong-arm tactics coming from Overeem’s camp. Loretta Hunt reported today that Golden Glory is looking at promoting shows in the US. Put the two together, and Zuffa appears to have made the decision that Golden Glory alumni are not worth the hassle of dealing with, cutting Overeem, his brother Valentijn, UFC heavyweight John Olav Einemo and former women’s 135 pound champion Marloes Coenen.
Inside the cage, Strikeforce put on one of the most entertaining shows in the company’s history on Saturday night. But less than five days later neither of the fighters involved in the thrilling main event are under contract with the company, neither is one half of the fight of the night. The heavyweight grand prix tournament was once the most intriguing thing happening in the promotion; it has been tarred with the uncertainty of dates and venues, the lacklustre Overeem-Werdum fight, the subsequent replacement of Overeem with Daniel Cormier and the persisting rumours of Josh Barnett facing licensing difficulties.
Business as usual.
The future for Strikeforce seems uncertain at best. Strikeforce has an agreement to provide MMA shows for the Showtime network, an agreement that Dana pegged at continuing for two more years in the Helwani interview. In the interim, Dana is free to poach any fighter whose Strikeforce contract expires. When that contract expires, UFC will be free to either absorb the company entirely, let it become defunct, or use it as a feeder league for prospects on their way up and veterans looking to re-establish their name with Zuffa. Dana has had no love for Showtime over the years, and it appears that Zuffa could just be waiting out the period of dealing with the network until UFC is free to become the only major name in the MMA market.
Business as usual.