As we reported yesterday, in what must obviously be considered another fly in the UFC’s ointment, rival MMA promotion Strikeforce has formally agreed with CBS to air its second event on the major television network in April of 2010.
Although a date and venue have not been finalized, the UFC’s nemesis expects to use this outing to showcase two of its brightest stars: Fedor “The Emperor” Emelianenko and recent signee Dan “Hendo” Henderson.
UFC brass initially took a big brother approach towards Strikeforce and its seemingly affable President, Scott Coker. In fact, UFC top gun Dana White offered the following praise of Coker in an interview with Kevin Lole of Yahoo! Sports back on August 27, 2008, “This sport needs more guys like Scott Coker… He puts on a good show and I think if you talked to his fighters about him, they’d all have good things to say.”
Well, much has changed since those kinds words slipped from Mr. White’s mouth. Strikeforce is no longer a fledgling mid-major just happy to exist on the borders of the industry. Strikeforce is now a prominent player in MMA and a legitimate competitor to the colossal UFC.
The amicable relationship between the promotions suffered a significant blow in August of this year when Strikeforce signed MMA superstar Fedor Emelianenko, arguably the best pound for pound fighter in the world. Fedor had been involved in a protracted and uneventful negotiation with the UFC, but the two sides could not come to terms as the UFC was neither willing to meet The Emperor’s price nor accept his request for his fights to be co-promoted by his company, M-1 Global.
This impasse opened the door for Coker, who was more than willing to accommodate the requests of the reigning World Alliance of Mixed Martial Arts (WAMMA) Heavyweight Champion. Coker’s signing of Fedor brought out the fangs of the UFC. In August of 2009, at a pre-fight press conference for UFC 101, White shared his thoughts on the matter, “They [Strikeforce] have no fighters; they have nobody for him to fight… They’re a small time show; they’re trying to act like they have something. `Strike-farce’. It’s a joke. It’s a tiny little regional show with nobody in it… They should have stayed where they were. We’ll see what happens. You want to fight me we’re going to fight, and you know how that goes and we know how that ends.”
To add insult to injury, Strikeforce has now added former UFC star and two-division PRIDE champion Henderson to its roster. Similar to the Fedor situation, the UFC and Hendo were at odds over contract negotiations. The accounts over the fall out are inconsistent. Hendo, the coach of season 9 of The Ultimate Fighter, was annoyed with UFC management for selecting Vitor Belfort to challenge UFC middleweight champion Anderson “The Spider” Silva, instead of himself or even Nate “The Great” Marquardt. UFC brass contended that Hendo had unrealistic compensation demands and that they basically pushed him out of the organization. In any event, Coker seized the opportunity and signed Henderson to a four fight 16 month deal on December 5, 2009.
With Fedor and Henderson leading the charge, Strikeforce’s April telecast will certainly make ripples on the MMA scene. Strikeforce’s “Fedor vs. Rogers”, the promotions first televised event on CBS, aired on November 7, 2009 and was the ninth most watched live fight in U.S. history. It reached 4.04 million homes and peaked during the main event to reach 5.46 million viewers. The upcoming event should eclipse those numbers given the growing mainstream popularity of Fedor and the expected infusion of UFC fans that will migrate to CBS to follow Henderson.
Although the UFC remains paramount in the world of MMA, Strikeforce is stealing stars and headlines from the industry leader. Long criticized by White and others for not having a formidable collection of fighters, it is clear that Strikeforce is working overtime to correct that apparent weakness. With the acquisition of MMA greats Fedor and Henderson, the recent signing of football legend Herschel Walker, and the pole position on female MMA promotion through its stars Gina Carano and Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos, Strikforce can no longer be dismissed as an inconsequential organization.
Coker’s promotion now hosts some of the biggest names in the MMA industry along with an asset that for whatever reason has remained elusive to the UFC, a major network television deal.
With all due respect to Dana White, the UFC President may want to reconsider his position on `Strike-farce’, as that little California based promotion appears to be making all the right moves.