CHICAGO -- During a short trip through Chicago, Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker energetically promoted the upcoming bout with Fedor Emelianenko and Dan Henderson. Much has changed for Coker since Zuffa, the UFC's holding company, purchased Strikeforce, but not the pride he shows in his fighters.
He said that the transition since the Zuffa purchase has been smooth, and that Zuffa's resources have been a huge help moving forward.
"We were running a national fight company with 12 people on staff, and a lot of contractors. With the Zuffa operation, they have 150 people in the Vegas office, and 50 worldwide. They have 200 personnel that you have access to, and are very good at what they do."
But he can't help but reflect upon what he and a small band of Strikeforce staff built over the years, and be proud.
"We're proud of that. For the team that we had, to put on the fights that we did. It was pretty impressive. It was a testament to the people who worked for us. It was a lot of stress and 16-hour days. It's bittersweet. It's like, your baby. You founded it when it was kickboxing league on ESPN in '92. It will be a great thing for the fighters because I think eventually they'll all be able to fight each other. At the end of the day, I know it's in good hands, and I feel a little relief in that."
Coker is excited about the match-up between UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre and Strikeforce welterweight champ Nick Diaz, and made it clear that he was cheering on Diaz. He wants to see more Strikeforce champ vs. UFC champ match-ups.
"It's a good possibility that those will happen eventually. As a fan, I would like them to happen. These are fights that could be big pay-per-views. In my opinion, Gilbert's the no. 1 lightweight in the world. Gil vs. Frankie Edgar? What a great fight!"
Television, Barnett and Carano
One of the defining marks of Strikeforce is their presence on Showtime and CBS, which is a relationship that can continue on for much longer if both Zuffa and Showtime agree.
"The Showtime relationship is healthy. It's going to be a ratings and subscriber-based decision. Are we still going to drive the subscriptions to Showtime? And I think we have. We've helped them build their younger demographic and we've had great ratings and great fights. That's what the network will base it off of."
The last time Strikeforce appeared on CBS, Jason "Mayhem" Miller jumped into the cage and touched off a melee with Jake Shields' corner that gave the sport a black eye. Coker hasn't given up hope on a return to network television.
"CBS is still out there. It's going to be the matter of getting the right card to them. The Mayhem Miller thing didn't help. It's a much bigger issue than you might have imagined. It was definitely an issue. It took months to get resolved."
But for the next planned events, it's Showtime. Josh Barnett, a fighter who has had licensing issues in the past, will fight at Strikeforce's June 18 card in Dallas. Though he was not licensed at the time of Coker's interview, Coker doesn't anticipate a problem.
"He has to get licensed with the state, and he's getting his bloodwork in, his testing in, his paperwork done. You can only get the bloodwork done within 30 days of the fight. That's how the process works. We had a conversation with Josh a few weeks ago, saying what needs to be done, and he's been doing it. He has to clear his medicals, but we're not foreseeing any issues."
Another Strikeforce star, Gina Carano, had to pull off that card because of medical issues. Coker said he would open to having her on the July 30 card, but doesn't know what her timetable is.
"I know she was scheduled to do more testing. I heard her doctor wouldn't clear her to fight. it's the same doctor who cleared her two weeks ago."
The future for Henderson and more
One of Coker's best-known achievements was signing Dan Henderson away from the UFC. Hendo's bout with Emelianenko on July 30 is the last bout on that contract, but both Coker and Henderson expect for him to stay put.
"Are you going to show me the money?" Henderson said with a smile.
"Dan's a legend in the sport. He's paid his dues. The last deal, I think it was a fair deal," Coker said.
"I wasn't complaining. It pulled me away from the UFC, which was kind of a security blanket at the time, and I've been happy," Henderson said.
"How often does a free-agent like Dan or Fedor come along?" Coker added.
Coker expects that the Zuffa purchase of Strikeforce means that the promotions will both generate more money, and that means better paydays for all fighters, not just the big names at the top of the card.
"When there's more revenue, there's more revenue to share. Even though the sale happened, athletes will still make more than the year before. And they have no problem asking for it," Coker said.
Henderson wasn't so easily convinced that the purchase is good for fighters.
"It does make me nervous, because I don't know yet. Originally, I didn't feel like it was the best thing for a lot of the up and comer things. They don't have any drawing power to bargain with," Henderson said.
"I agree with Dan that the perception could be that, but Challengers is still going to be there. The Ultimate Fight Nights, Ultimate Fighter finales will still be there. Strikeforce and UFC combined are probably doing about 55, 60 shows a year. It's creating a lot of jobs for a lot of fighters," Coker said.
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