Strikeforce - Disarray in LA?

June, 16, 2010
6/16/10
11:07
AM CT
After Strikeforce signed Fedor Emelianenko to their rosters a little under a year ago, effectively snatching him from the hands of a very eager UFC, one would have assumed the sky was the limit for the up-and-coming organization. With arguably the best pound-for-pound heavyweight on their payroll, it would have been virtually impossible for the organization to veer off course. Right?

Early on, fans seemed pretty happy with the way Strikeforce had been handling their company. They’ve hosted some high-caliber fights like Carano vs. Cyborg, Le vs. Smith, Shields vs. Miller, Shields vs. Henderson and countless other bouts that created some of the best MMA action in years. I’ve been very complimentary in regards to how the promotion has developed their fan base, methodically engineered their brand and prevented any knee-jerk Affliction-like hoopla.

With all that said, it seems like the organization has completely unraveled as of late and has lost much of their focus. Several relevant fights have not come to fruition and a number of bouts that I consider less than meaningful have been allowed to be the lead attraction on numerous fight cards.

Perhaps it’s the constant pressure by the UFC machine or the well produced and structured events by fellow up-and-comer, Bellator, but Strikeforce seems a bit lost. They’ve made several questionable decisions that have left many fans scratching their heads. Let’s take a look at the unpleasantness of Strikeforce’s last six months.

Fedor roams free -- The organization never really seemed to get a full handle over their big conquest. Despite being arguably the best heavyweight on the planet, they’ve yet to put Fedor in a title fight. Finally a clash between the Russian and the Champ Alistair Overeem is looming (if Fedor gets past Werdum in a couple weeks), but what took so long? Fedor should have been immediately given a title shot upon signing with the organization. Some of the delay can be attributed to Overeem’s reluctance to fight in the US or M-1 Global’s influences on Fedor, but allowing him to compete for the belt should have been a priority for Strikeforce.

Where’s Gina Carano? -- I understand that the bulk of the decision to return to MMA lies on Carano’s shoulders, but for the organization to remain fairly quiet about the future of one of their biggest stars is quite odd to say the least.

Where are the tourneys? -- Over the last year, Strikeforce has promised to implement multiple tournaments in order to address pecking order issues within certain divisions, including a 135 and 145 pound women’s division. They also wanted to address a welterweight division, which will likely cause them lose their champion Jake Shields to the UFC. Instead of tourney’s, the fans have just gotten a lot of hot air from the promotion, because the promised competitions have yet to come to fruition. As for the post-Shields middleweight tournament, the organization is now leaning towards a Lawler/Jacare championship matchup in the event that Shields leaves the organization. The 145 pound women’s tournament is off the table according to Strikeforce. And the 135 women’s competition originally scheduled to start in April might happen later this year.

Poor choice in main events -- For whatever reason, the organization allowed Brett Rogers, who just lost to Fedor, to face Alistair Overeem for the heavyweight belt. Perhaps a reluctant M-1 Global/Fedor was to blame for the miscue, but nonetheless, it was a poor choice. Another flawed decision by Strikeforce was to allow Herschel Walker to be part of the main card at Strikeforce: Miami. Yes, he’s a huge draw, but this fight was his debut as a mixed martial artists. I certainly didn’t take issue with him fighting at the event, but getting higher billing than other more deserving fighters on the card is a disgrace in my opinion.

Odd title fight scenarios -- Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker, indicated last week that either Lawler (a middleweight) or Sobral (a light heavyweight), who are the main event for the LA show, could get a title shot in their respective divisions with a win on Wednesday. So, let me get this straight. Sobral, who hasn’t fought since August and hasn’t won in 17 months, gets a light heavyweight title shot if he beats a middleweight fighter in a 195 pound catchweight match-up? Huh? The scenario doesn’t make much more sense for Lawler either, although he’s at least won a fight recently. It’s obvious the organization is hurting for skilled and marketable talent, which brings us to the next topic.

Shallow Fighter Pool -- As with any newer organization, it takes a while to build a strong bench of proven fighters and develop an effective “farm system” to keep the flow of new talent pumping. With their Showtime Challenger’s series in place and the infusion of top-notch fighters after the implosion of Affliction, Strikeforce was certainly off to a good start. But since their early recruiting successes, they haven't been able to move the needle. Yes, they are always bringing in new talent, but they seem to regurgitate a few of their more marketable fighters in each division over and over again. For example, I like Scott Smith’s fighting style and all, but should he be on every other fight card? ‘Hands of Steel’ has been on 5 out of the last 10 Strikeforce shows. To make things worse, their current middleweight champ, Jake Shields, may potentially be making the move to the UFC.

A Wednesday event? -- I truly do understand that hosting the show at the same time that the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is being held, will likely create some buzz in regards to their inclusion in the upcoming mixed martial arts game by EA Sports called MMA. Several of the organization’s fighters, including Fedor, are including on the roster of the new game that will eventually hit shelves this fall. Despite the possible synergies that could be created by timing the fight to coincide with E3, a midweek fight seems like a horrible waste of time when it comes to drawing in fans, which should be the promotions main focus. Of course the die-hard fans will always watch these events regardless of timing, but Strikeforce will absolutely lose out when it comes to recruiting the casual fan, which they desperately need in order to grow their organization. I would have much rather seen them take the bulk of the fights on the LA card and move them over to the Fedor vs. Werdum card to be held just ten days later. It would have been a much better event and would have allowed for the Jake Shields tug-of-war between the UFC and Strikeforce to be addressed.

The brawl -- In Strikeforce’s last CBS show, the event ended when a fight broke out between Jason Miller, Gilbert Melendez, Jake Shields, the Diaz brothers and several others. Some might say that the brawl was not something that Strikeforce could have controlled, due to the unpredictable nature of Miller and the Diaz brothers. That might be the case, but the situation in my opinion has hurt their image in the eyes of the CBS viewing audience and more importantly the CBS execs. Time will tell if CBS will be willing to test the waters with Strikeforce on Saturday night once again.

Obviously, not all of the situations identified above were controllable by Strikeforce, but the multitude of issues does demonstrate that something is flawed with the organizations current strategy. What lies squarely on their shoulders at this point in time is how they react to all of these situations in the near future. Most importantly, Strikeforce needs to take a hard look at how they develop their championship bouts and how they approach fight card construction. If they don’t take a serious look in the mirror real soon, I think it will be a rough road ahead for the #2 MMA organization.

Strikeforce: Los Angeles will be broadcast Wednesday, June 16, from the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles on Showtime.

Fight Card:

Main Card
  • Robbie Lawler vs. Renato "Babalu" Sobral (195-pound catchweight fight)
  • Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos vs. Marius Zaramoskis
  • Tim Kennedy vs. Trevor Prangley
  • Conor Heun vs. K.J. Noons
Preliminary Card
  • R.J. Clifford vs. Jeremy Umphries
  • Marcus Kowal vs. Hugo Sandoval

Andrew Plante

ESPNDallas.com
Andrew Plante covers Mixed Martial Arts for ESPNDallas.com.

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