The announcement Saturday morning that Zuffa purchased the Strikeforce promotion changes the entire face of the mixed martial arts industry.
The deal, announced by UFC president Dana White in an interview with Ariel Helwani on MMAfighting.com, was one that happened quickly, according to White. He did not disclose the purchase price, nor did he talk about the details that led to the purchase. He only said that the deal went down quickly and was finalized this morning.
Scott Coker, the CEO of Strikeforce, will remain in the same position, according to White. Coker did not return phone or e-mail requests for comment. Ken Hershman, the executive vice president of Showtime Sports, which broadcasts Strikeforce, declined comment.
Strikeforce, a San Jose-based promotion started by Coker to originally promote kickboxing, turned to mixed martial arts in 2006 when Coker was talked into giving the sport a chance by Frank Shamrock, the company’s biggest draw in its early years. The company was financially backed by Silicon Valley Sports and Entertainment, which owns both the HP Pavilion in San Jose and the NHL's San Jose Sharks. It had been known for the past year that the company was looking for additional investor money.
Strikeforce was the most successful regional promotion in the country, frequently drawing more than 10,000 fans to events in San Jose. Two of its three events this year on Showtime were two of Showtime’s most-watched MMA events ever. After the folding of EliteXC, Strikeforce became a national promotion, which led to frequent events all over the country. It has already put on five events on Showtime this year.
The UFC has purchased several competing organizations in the past, to get both key fighter contracts as well as videotape libraries. The purchases range from the one-and-done World Fighting Alliance, which led to getting Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Lyoto Machida, to the highly publicized Pride Fighting Championship purchase, which led to acquiring Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and a valuable library, as well as World Extreme Cagefighting.
But this, White said, will be different.
"It’s going to be business as usual," he said.
The key is that Strikeforce and UFC will, at least for the time being, be run as separate companies, with separate rosters and separate shows. The Strikeforce events on the schedule and deal with Showtime will continue.
White said Coker will remain in charge of Strikeforce and he will be given a budget, and that there will be no cross-promotional fights, such as the potential blockbusters such as Fedor Emelianenko vs. Brock Lesnar, Cain Velasquez vs. Alistair Overeem or Gilbert Melendez vs. Frankie Edgar.
"When I say business as usual, we don’t co-promote," White said in the interview. "Even when we own them, we don’t co-promote. They have an office up in San Jose, business as usual, Scott Coker will continue to run Strikeforce. Can we supplement them and help them grow, help them internationally? Absolutely."
It should be noted that the same type of talk was done when the Pride deal went down, and Pride ended up folding without ever running another show. But this will be different. Pride was a complete mess, a Japanese brand that, due to scandal, had lost television rights. The inability for a foreign group to negotiate a viable television deal is what killed Pride.
The only visible first change would be that the upcoming major Strikeforce events, such as April 8 in San Diego and June 18 in Dallas, will now be advertised on UFC events. This will create something UFC has attempted to avoid, the watering down of championships, since it will be promoting champions in two different organizations at the same time.
And there will be no unification matches.
With both the Dream and Sengoku promotions in Japan both hanging by a thread, with neither group having announced a future date, it means that at the major league level, the MMA business on a worldwide level will be controlled by the same company.
White said all contracts would be honored, including the one with M-1 Global, the Russian promotional organization that controls and is part-owned by Emelianenko, as well as the deals with Frank Shamrock and Josh Barnett, with whom White has verbally sparred with in the past.
White said that because he had so many enemies within Strikeforce due to comments in the past, he probably would not attend the promotion's shows. But he did indicate others would likely attend, including co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta or matchmaker Joe Silva.
"The beauty in a business like this is there are … partners – Frank, Lorenzo, myself, and Abu Dhabi," said White. "Lorenzo can go over there and deal with Showtime. I’m sure the last thing Showtime wants is for me to show up at their footsteps."
Frank Fertitta III and brother Lorenzo Fertitta own 40.5 percent of Zuffa, while Dana White owns nine percent and an arm of the Abu Dhabi government owns 10 percent.
White said that fighters will not go back-and-forth between groups, similar to how UFC and WEC operated for years. However, when talent contracts expire, if there are matches the public wants to see, it's inevitable that the rosters will be handled with that in mind. But keep in mind, White said publicly that the two companies will both try to sign talent they want.
In addition, Strikeforce would likely wind up as a landing spot for talent cut by the UFC. That way, the fighters have the potential to remain in the public eye instead of going to a competing company, whether that may be Bellator or another group that springs up.
The elimination of Strikeforce as a rival promotion will also keep fighter salaries from spiraling out of control, as fighters would not be able to play one company against the other.
But it is also inevitable that top talent will end up in another organization a few years down the line, just as it was inevitable that the WEC would at some point merge with the UFC. The last thing White wants is for MMA to be like boxing, with multiple championships that no longer mean anything to the public, and fights that people want to see that aren't taking place.
- Dana White