The big news Thursday night is that Strikeforce’s deal with Showtime is apparently coming to an end. In a joint press release Showtime and Strikeforce announced that this January’s card, headlined by Nate Marquardt defending the welterweight title against Tarec Saffiedine, will be the final held on Showtime. While there’s no confirmation that Strikeforce itself is dead and buried as a company as of this moment, as epitaphs for the company can’t be written quite yet the future is unknown. “What happens next?” is the big question that needs to be answered as right now all we can do is speculate on what indeed will happen next.
At this point the future is cloudy for the organization and for good reason; the bulk of its premier talent has gone to the UFC properly for a while now. Nick Diaz and Alistair Overeem, who should’ve been the two biggest pieces for Strikeforce in the Zuffa era of its ownership, have long since been UFC contracted fighters. Further weakening the company was the talent raid of the heavyweight division, which made the UFC the place with all of the elite heavyweight fighters in the world for the first time in MMA history. Ronda Rousey, the one shining star who emerged from the Challengers series to become one of the more popular fighters of either gender, is now the UFC Women’s Bantamweight champion and the Octagon will house women for the first time in its storied history.
Its future at this point remains whether or not Zuffa can and wants to find another network home for them. Strikeforce managed to find a niche on Showtime and could possibly do so on another network willing to do so. While financially it won’t be as lucrative as the one Showtime gave them, which allowed poorly drawing shows to remain profitable despite poor attendance in both numbers and gate receipts, there is perhaps money to be made with a Zuffa property elsewhere. One imagines that Fuel TV could become Strikeforce’s new home if Zuffa’s deal with Fox allows them to do so as well.
With Showtime no longer being affiliated with Zuffa it’ll be a chance for someone else to come in and find themselves a new player. Showtime could bring in Invicta and/or the World Series of the Fighting to replace Strikeforce (and most likely at a lesser amount) to keep MMA on the pay cable channel. This’ll help those fighters who don’t find themselves in the UFC make a better living, never a bad thing, and competition for the UFC always brings out the best in them. Right now what’ll happen is that Zuffa is going to figure out a cost benefit analysis on whether or not Strikeforce can remain viable in the same manner it did with the WEC.
They acquired and ran that promotion for a significant period of time as its lower weight class company on NBC Sports (then known as Versus) until such time as featherweight and bantamweight fighters were transported wholesale into the UFC. If it remains in business it will continue to be a place for fighters to matriculate to instead of the UFC, albeit to a much lesser degree than before. Right now a handful of fighters in Strikeforce who’ve been waiting for the opportunity to ply their trade in the UFC will have the ability to do so.
If Rousey can make her way into the UFC one imagines that there’ll be homes for Gilbert Melendez, Marquardt, Luke Rockhold, Josh Thomson and other elite fighters languishing in Strikeforce currently inside the UFC properly. Without a television deal it’s hard to think that Zuffa won’t find a way to do for more fighters what it did to get Rousey over; now is the best time to continue the time honored tradition of Zuffa buying their competition and bringing in their best fighters to shore up the ranks some more. Dana White and the UFC have always found ways to bring the best into the fold and there’s plenty of money to be made off of fresh matchups in nearly every significant division. The UFC will truly be the home of 99% of the best fighters in the world outside the few elite fighters that aren’t in the company yet like Bellator’s Ben Askren and Michael Chandler, for example.
The UFC will have more elite fighters to help increase the overall quality of shows; there’s almost an embarrassment of riches on the Zuffa already that’ll only be bulked up by having more elite fighters able to step in and bulk up cards that have been thinned out by the sheer volume of shows. For the rest of the fighters in the company it’ll be a shot at fighting regularly outside the company, something Strikeforce’s lack of shows didn’t account for.
Is Strikeforce done? We don’t know right now and so far no one is going on the record and saying so. But the end Strikeforce on Showtime could mean the landscape of MMA is about to be shaken up a bit, which is never a bad thing.