Sunday, March 13, 2011

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em

Dana White not only resembles Lex Luther, Superman's number one arch villain, but he also possesses the smarts of the brain savvy criminal mastermind as well. In a stunning move yesterday that shook the mixed martial arts world, White, President of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, announced that the UFC ownership group Zuffa, Inc. had purchased the Strikeforce promotion. Apparently, Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker figured if he couldn't beat them, he may as well join them.

While no specific details of the buyout have been released a/o yet, White did reiterate one point over and over. That is, for the time being Strikeforce will continue to operate as its own entity; in other words it's business as usual for Strikeforce. He noted that a television contract with Showtime still has to be honored along with all current fighter contracts as well. Thus, it appears the only change for now is the ownership banner. However, what does this all mean for MMA in the long term?

As with any business move of this magnitude, there are pros and cons that come with it. One thing is for sure though, over the last decade, White, along with his Zuffa partners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, have always seemed to make the right move in terms of the UFC and the sport. One only needs to take a look at how both have grown in the last ten years to know that as far as business goes, these guys know what they're doing. However, this particular move in having Strikeforce remain its own entity reminds of a similar move that took place around ten years ago.

The World Wrestling Entertainment after years of "Monday Night Wars" with its chief rival World Championship Wrestling, shocked the pro wrestling world one Monday night by announcing that they too had purchased the rights to their chief counterpart. At the time, the storyline was that Shane McMahon, son of WWE CEO Vince McMahon, had bought the company to compete against his father. They played out that storyline and determined that WCW would similarly remain as its own entity.

The "Invasion" angle, as it was called, eventually didn't work and inevitably the WWE absorbed all WCW operations, including their wrestlers, under one banner. Dana White has publicly stated on more than one occasion that he's always respected Vince McMahon and loosely followed his business model over the years in building the UFC promotion. Is this another case of that? If so, are we headed toward the same results? The WWE and pro wrestling have suffered immensely in its popularity since that move, albeit some may argue that the growth of MMA has had something to do with that.

However, most people argue that it was the lack of competition that ruined the WWE product. That it was the monopoly of talent by McMahon that eventually saturated and watered down his product. In the last few years the UFC has bought and taken over all their chief rivals including Pride, WEC and now Strikeforce. To this point they've been able to handle the mergers well and prosper; but in this case they have taken over their number one North American rival. Other than the Bellator Fighting Championships, who are still in their infancy, but making great strides, there are no other national counterparts to deal with.

Personally, I think this is a good move, not so much for the UFC, but for MMA. One of the biggest issues with boxing over the last few years is the number of different organizations involved and the alphabet list of "world" champions. A question that consistently surfaces in boxing these days is who is the heavyweight champion? There are so many, it's hard to tell. While not immediately, ultimately that question will be answered as far as MMA is concerned. Especially if the Strikeforce heavyweight tourney continues as planned. Though the name Fedor Emelianenko may not be among them.

M-1 Global, Emelianenko's management company, who was in partnership with Strikeforce, or so we thought, has said their deal is with Showtime. Thus, they state this buyout would not affect any deal they have with the cable television network. White and M-1 have always been at odds with one another and this situation should prove no different; although the cards are definitely in White's favor considering Emelianenko, M-1's number one commodity, has lost his last two fights.

There are other lingering questions as well. Women's MMA for instance, what happens now? White who has steadfastly always been opposed to women's MMA, now inherits a women's division that possesses the best and most exciting female fighter in the world in Cristiana 'Cyborg' Santos. It also features the impending return of the most well known female fighter in the sport Gina Carano. Also, Paul Daley, who the UFC parted ways with last year and who White has stated will never fight for the organization again is scheduled to fight for the Strikeforce welterweight championship next month. What if he wins? If there's one thing we have learned this weekend is "never say never."

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