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By: Zach Arnold, MMATorch Special Guest Columnist
The only consistent narrative about Strikeforce is that there is always chaos happening in the organization.
That's the conclusion fans came away with from last Saturday's event at HP Pavilion in San Jose. FEDOR, the one-named God of MMA, lost to a not-usually-Top-10-ranked Heavyweight in Fabricio Werdum. He not only lost, but he also tapped out in the process. An estimated 500,000 fans watched this on Showtime. This was not what the suits wanted the fans to see, however.
Strikeforce has been trying to rehabilitate its image since the debacle last April in Nashville on CBS. It was such a terrible show on so many levels. You had title fights for titles that the fans don't care about. Therefore, you had five round fights involving fighters who have shown throughout their careers that they can go five rounds a fight.
After killing the crowd with King Mo vs. Gegard Mousasi, Gilbert Melendez vs. Shin'ya Aoki, and Jake Shields vs. Dan Henderson, proponents of having most MMA fights go five rounds got burned. Then there was the riot at the end of the Nashville event with the Diaz Brothers going after Mayhem Miller. On top of that, the ratings were atrocious for the CBS broadcast. Put that all together and you found Strikeforce in a desperate situation to try to get back onto CBS.
The June 26th event from San Jose was supposed to be a show that rehabilitated the brand so the suits at CBS would give the promotion one more crack. So what did the suits see? They saw a fight between a natural 170-pounder in Cris Cyborg versus a natural 140 pounder in Jan Finney with a .500 record, a fight that should have never been sanctioned by the California State Athletic Commission. However, it was sanctioned and it was every bit the beating that everyone thought it would be. Unfortunately, it exceeded expectations and disgusted a lot of people who were watching.
After that fight, the suits watched 38-year Cung Le work his San Shou magic and obliterate Scott Smith in their revenge rematch. Smith pulled out a win last December and gave Cung his first loss. Cung has been spending time making movies and do out-of-the-cage activities in his life. So, naturally, Scott Coker decided to book their revenge match and announce it to the public... two weeks before the show took place. On top of that, he announced that the winner of the fight would be in the promotion's upcoming 8-man Middleweight tournament now that Jake Shields is all but gone to UFC and will vacate his belt.
First of all, the idea that Smith could get eliminated from the Middleweight tournament was ridiculous. Second, the fact that Coker actually counted on Cung Le being interested in fighting in a tournament with all of his extracurricular activities is dumb. Third, hoping that you can draw local fans with Cung Le by announcing his fight with only two weeks of hype time is crazy. The end result, as Dave Meltzer reported, is that a large portion of the 12,000+ plus at HP Pavilion were not local fans.
That alone is a big enough problem for Scott Coker. Coker likes to go around saying that Strikeforce isn't the UFC but at the same time he loves to claim that he's "a national promotion" now. Really? Then why did you say you wanted to "reward the fans" in San Jose at your "home base" if you're no longer a regional play? The end result is that more and more of the local fans that had supported Strikeforce aren't showing up any more for the events in San Jose.
For pro-wrestling fans, this phenomena is eerily similar to what happened to two famous promoters in the 1980s, Jim Crockett and Bill Watts. Crockett Promotions had been huge in the Carolinas and the Mid-Atlantic area. Suddenly, Crockett got sucked into getting into a war with Vince McMahon who was taking his Northeastern promotion national. The end result was big mistakes, such as running events in McMahon's backyard at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York and drawing a few thousand fans. Crockett Promotions was run out of the business.
Watts, who had built Mid-South into a regional juggernaut and drew big crowds at the Superdome in New Orleans, decided to go national. He ditched his home base of Shreveport, Louisiana and adopted Tulsa, Oklahoma. He ditched his long-time announcer (and one of the most underrated people ever in wrestling), Boyd Pierce, because he felt Boyd was "too Southern" for television. The end result is that Watts ran for a couple of years under the UWF banner and had to get out of the business to Ted Turner's NWA/WCW organization.
In other words, Crockett and Watts had been wildly successful as regional promoters and decided that they wanted to become "national," but risked everything they had by not being true to themselves and changing who they really were. It cost them in the end and it could very well be the same principle that costs Strikeforce it's long-term viability in the end as well.
Scott Coker finds himself in a very precarious position. He doesn't have the infrastructure to be a national promotion, and yet they are operating as such. Showtime is handling a lot of the production and dealing with venues across the country. The office simply doesn't have the same kind of firepower that UFC's office in Las Vegas does.
However, the biggest problem Coker faces is that he's not really respected or feared by anyone in his company. Take for instance, Jake Shields. A week after Shields upset Dan Henderson on the CBS show, he appeared at the WEC PPV at Arco Arena in Sacramento and appeared on camera with a smiling Dana White. It was the ultimate slap in the face to Coker, who had spent resources to build up Shields as one of the best fighters in the game. Unfortunately for Scott, there are plenty of examples in which his fighters don't listen to him or respect him enough to listen to his ideas about who they should be fighting next on future cards.
Rather than answering some of the organization's unresolved questions, last Saturday's event in San Jose just created more dilemmas for the company. Fedor Emelianenko was supposed to headline the promotion's first PPV against Alistair Overeem. Now that Fedor's lost, he seems all but locked into a revenge rematch with Fabricio Werdum.
Alistair Overeem, who has already fought Werdum in the past, is on the outside-looking-in and he's the company's champion. More than likely, Overeem will take another hiatus from the organization and continue fighting in Japan. The idea of a Fedor/Werdum rematch makes sense at the box office, but it also halts any sort of progression in matchmaking for the company.
Strikeforce has had a booking pattern of always looking towards rematches or towards the past. MMA fans are not boxing fans -- they like rematches but they also like the future. It's such an addictive sport and it's so fast-paced and multi-faceted that the fans the sport attracts want to see things move at a faster speed in all areas of the game.
The biggest problem with Strikeforce is that they tend to latch onto certain personalities or gimmicks that are built on a deck of cards. Yes, it's true in MMA that mega-stars who lose don't lose their drawing power all that much. At the same time, however, no one's persona was built on being 'undefeated' more than Fedor.
Now that he's lost, Fedor is still an amazingly great fighter and all-time legend, but he's no longer FEDOR in the psyche of so many of his supporters. It's an emotional letdown now. Plus, the fact that he lost to a fighter who most people didn't have ranked in the Top 10 of MMA Heavyweights has all but obliterated any sense of importance about Strikeforce's Heavyweight picture.
The truth is that nothing that happens in Strikeforce amongst the Heavyweights will impact the scene at all any more. Because there were such gaps in disparity between the major stars in Strikeforce's Heavyweight division, one top guy falling suddenly collapses the whole picture.
UFC already was able to say that they had the best heavyweights 2-through-5 and also some talent on the bottom of the Top 10 list. Now they are able to clearly say that the winner of the UFC 116 main event is the #1 Heavyweight in the world. The promotion is able to say with a straight face that all the best Heavyweights fight under the Zuffa banner. The Heavyweight division is still the glamour division in fighting in America. Strikeforce just lost any chance of having an impact in that department.
However, it's not just building a promotion around Fedor that has this promotion in trouble. The organization, which is heavily influenced by Showtime, is always looking for the next gimmick. Last January, it was Herschel Walker. Herschel is almost 50 years old, but he's a serious athlete and he has a tremendous life story. He beat a tomato can named Greg Nagy in Miami. That's great. The problem? His fight aired on Showtime and not on CBS.
On top of that, Herschel made it clear when he took the fight that he might fight once or twice again but that MMA was not going to be his career, but rather something he wanted to do to test himself mentally and physically. In an organization that needs both star power and long-term talent depth, Herschel Walker only gives you one pop of the former and none of the latter.
Which brings us to Dave Batista. Dave Meltzer has been stating that if Scott Coker signs Batista that it will be a brilliant move and shows that he's thinking about the long-term future of the company. What? Signing a 41-year old former pro-wrestler who has no athletic background that transfers into Mixed Martial Arts has nothing to do with long-term business.
The argument about bringing in Batista is that he will somehow pop a big rating in a fight against Bobby Lashley on CBS. I hate to break it to everyone, but WWE wrestlers over the last decade on network television have tanked hard in the ratings. Batista would be lucky if his fight drew a third of the ratings that Chris Jericho's new game show on ABC is drawing. Seriously. Building fights based on fighters who are gimmicks or constructed on quicksand is not the way to encourage long-term stability.
What drives fans nuts about Strikeforce is that Strikeforce and Showtime seem completely oblivious to valid criticism about how their operation is going. They don't want you to think that they're competing with UFC but at the same time Scott Coker loves to go around in the media talking about how they're "national" all the time. Well, if you're a national player, you want to be in the big leagues.
Unfortunately for Strikeforce, Showtime is the sugar daddy and they rightfully control the direction of the promotion. Right now, Strikeforce is a "super fight" promotion that drives a lot of hardcore fans crazy and many of those fans have been conditioned to accept what is done right and wrong in MMA based on how successful UFC has been in the marketplace. It's really no different than how pro-wrestling fans who think that if you don't do things the WWE way that you're simply not major-league.
Recently, Sherdog writer Jordan Breen publicly claimed that after Showtime executives read a transcript of comments he made on his radio show about how Showtime runs the ship and Strikeforce doesn't, they contacted him and were very angry. Well, I was the one who wrote the transcript of his radio show comments and he was telling his listeners why matchmakers like Rich Chou don't have power.
And now after this column, perhaps I should expect a not-so-rosy call from the Showtime suits as well.
Zach Arnold is the Owner/Writer of FightOpinion.com. Check out the site for more from Zach daily.
RELATED STORY: PENICK: A Fedor vs. Werdum rematch makes sense for the fighters but a terrible idea for Strikeforce : [CLICK TO READ FULL ARTICLE]
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