Many of us have praised the California-based MMA upstart organization, Strikeforce, for its continuing efforts to bring a level playing field to the world of MMA here in the United States. For the past few years, they have done a great job at putting out an exciting product while creating new stars and elevating fighters that needed that stage to perform when the UFC shut their doors on them. Now, the game is slowly changing. With EliteXC now defunct, Strikeforce was able to pick up some of the pieces left behind and move forward. However I feel the time is now for them to forge their name in the limelight and go from a regional show to the big leagues. Can they do it? I'd like to analyze what they are doing and if it will pay off in the long run or not.
More after the jump
Scott Coker, the man behind Strikeforce, has slowly built his little empire and has done so with mostly success thus far. Now, he has to try to put on his best Dana White outfit and move his company beyond a simple ‘bored at home with nothing else on' alternative to ‘must see' TV. However, this transition must be done strategically and be done at a moderate pace. We have all seen what happens when you try to gain maximum exposure too quick. EliteXC shot for the moon and ended up crashing and burning. The IFL attempted to bridge the gap between team sports and MMA, didn't pan out. Affliction tried to be the Wrestlemania of MMA and died a quick painful death. Now Strikeforce needs to take it upon themselves to pick up the pieces of each of these failed organizations and figure out the puzzle. So I'll give a yay or nay on their business practices thus far:
Fedor Emelianenko - In the middle on this one. While I feel like M-1's demands for co-promotion are just silly because of them basically being regional (in my opinion) themselves, it might be a minor issue in the scheme of things. I just hope that Strikeforce do not fall into the same trap as Affliction and EliteXC and put all their bank, hopes, and dreams into one fighter and their prestige. If done right, people will flock to see Fedor fight in Strikeforce. That is something they obviously know and that is why they have saved his debut for the CBS show instead of a Showtime effort. However, they do not want to put him at the forefront of the company...just yet. He is a huge signing and this does send a big blow to UFC's management, he's still a fighter and he still has to win to stay relevant. As the adage goes, ‘You're only as good as your last fight' and say Strikeforce makes a fuss over Fedor like EliteXC did over Kimbo and Fedor loses to Brett Rogers on November 7th? Luckily they are in a better situation than Elite since Brett Rogers is somewhat marketable if he does win unlike Seth Petruzelli but it still will be a huge blow to them as it lessens his impact on the promotion in general. So we will see whether the Fedor/Strikeforce marriage is a good or bad thing.
Strikeforce/DREAM Partnership - Nay. I wanted to give this a ‘Yay' but then I got to thinking and reading through some information. While I'm not certain on the extent of the partnership, I understand that it allows Strikeforce fighters to fight in DREAM and DREAM fighters to fight in Strikeforce. I have also read that they plan on using guys that will have a hard time getting licensed in California such as Nick Diaz and possibly Antonio Silva for DREAM. Now I do not know how much pull Strikeforce has with the matchmaking over in DREAM but say Diaz or Silva go over there and lose. It potentially hurts big money fights that the duo could be involved with in the States. Same goes for DREAM. How much would it hurt if they sent their golden boy Shinyo Aoki (highly unlikely but still) over to a Strikeforce show and he gets pummeled by Gilbert Melendez? I hope they take these kind of thoughts into consideration because I am sure this could be a potential problem and Strikeforce or DREAM sending lesser known fighters to participate in each other's shows really doesn't utilize the partnership in a profitable way. The good to this though, is when fighters get injured both companies have a rich talent pool to pull from. Which is always a plus.
Matchmaking - Yay. This is another issue I'm torn on. In the past their matchmaking has been good. The Cung Le/Frank Shamrock bout, Gina Carano/Cristiane Santos bout, Jakes Shields/Robbie Lawler bout, Gegard Mousasi/Renato Sobral bout, etc. have all used their cream of the crop and placed them in good competitive match ups. Now you can throw Fedor Emelianenko/Brett Rogers into the fold. They seem to understand that while a slow build or contender matches are good, when you have two guys that are great fighters, why not go ahead and put them in the cage together? It's that simple and sometimes the UFC has a tendency to overbook itself and matchups that we think should happen end up taking longer to happen due to those fighters being held up and losing steam on the contest. With Strikeforce they seem pretty adamant on putting together the bouts that make the most sense at that time.
Showcasing of Champions - Nay. This is not entirely Strikeforce's fault but it is something that they need to realize and take control of if they want to be a major player as they go along. Most people have no idea who their Heavyweight champion is. Alistair Overeem has not fought for them since he won the belt NEARLY TWO YEARS AGO. Not to mention, their middleweight champion, Cung Le won their belt in dramatic fashion and promptly headed to Hollywood and has been seen only live on an MMA card once since then...and that was at a UFC! Their lightweight champion has been suffering with injuries and that is not his or their fault, that type of stuff happens and is understandable. You see, those are/were your champions and none have made any sort of impact in their respective divisions since winning their belts. Now with Gegard Mousasi as the light heavyweight champion, hopefully we will see them highlight him and put that belt on the forefront and make it mean something. Also, it seems that Jake Shields and Jason ‘Mayhem' Miller will fight for the middleweight title, which is also a very good thing and a positive as they move forward. I think this is an important thing for any company to do. You have to have fighting champions and you have to let it be known who your champions are.
Marketing - Nay. This is where Strikeforce is going to have to step it up. They did a media blitz for the Carano/Cyborg fight and rightfully so. While the numbers on Showtime can not really be compared to those on basic cable television, the numbers were quite high for the event and garnered much buzz. This is how they should do all of their major events. Even though they do not have an event every month like the UFC and there's are more sporadic, that should give them even more reason to push, push, and push more for advertising and TV time. I suggest plenty of viral marketing because in this day and age, if you are not on the web, you're either in a retirement home or in the womb. Therefore, much like the UFC does, they should do video banners on frequently visited sites. I always see when I go to youtube, a commercial for the upcoming UFC PPV events and that is a great way to pull in eyes which is what they desperately need to continue to grow.
The Product Itself - Yay. I had many gripes when they started having their own shows on Strikeforce, mainly that they used the same format as EliteXC and that they should separate themselves from that. However, I understand that Showtime probably has a bigger say in how it is presented then the people at Strikeforce, which is not their fault. The shows are usually well paced and they do not (as far as I can remember) have the silly dancing girls on the runway in between fights. Their three man team of Mauro Ranallo , Gus Johnson, and Frank Shamrock is usually bearable although they have a tendency to talk over one another, which is why I feel a two man team is much more effective. They have not quite mastered the art of video hype package before fights but in due time and the one they did for Gina Carano/Cris Cyborg was fantastic and really put the fight over as something special, they need to continue this in the future.
All in all, I think Strikeforce is moving in the right direction at the semi-right pace. It will be interesting to see how they handle a fighter like Hershel Walker and if this is solely a move to bring in nostalgic NFL fans or if it is just a freakshow silly way to get some media attention. They also HAVE to put together cards in quicker fashion. If you have not been paying attention, their CBS debut is less than a month away. Their card thus far...has only one confirmed fight and one semi-confirmed fight. Couple that with the fact that Gegard Mousasi is scheduled to defend his light heavyweight title against an unannounced opponent that will have less than a month to prepare for this fight. I am not suggesting they put together shows months in advance like the UFC, because as we know, things change so rapidly in a day to day environment that cards can drastically change within a couple weeks but they still need a gameplan and blueprint on what and who they want at each show. So, while I think Strikeforce has been doing the right things, we will see if they can keep it up. What do you think? Is Strikeforce handling their chance to shine properly or are the setting themselves up for failure in the long run?