On Wednesday two Strikeforce title fights were revealed.
Gilbert Melendez defends against Pat Healy on Sept. 29. Daniel Cormier gets Frank Mir (you read that right) not long after.
The first contest signifies everything wrong about how Strikeforce fighters can be handled by Zuffa and Showtime. The second, almost the exact opposite, brings to light the partnership's vast potential.
While it's tremendous that Cormier has an opportunity in his first defense to fight an established former UFC champion, an ideal stepping stone into the Octagon, it's no less maddening to witness Melendez squander his best years against mostly durable, unspectacular opponents.
We know Cormier's next bout will be his last for Strikeforce. The promotion’s heavyweight division on Showtime is shuttered regardless of what happens when Cormier (10-0) tangles with Mir. We also know Melendez remains one of Strikeforce's lone promotable commodities, having signed a lucrative extension just prior to Zuffa taking control of Scott Coker's company.
Yet the vast difference in upward mobility between Cormier and Melendez is mind boggling, and it's apparently due to parameters established by Showtime and Zuffa.
"My career has played out where I've advanced at every step, from one guy to the next to the next,” Cormier told ESPN.com. “I wasn't sure if there were too many guys outside of UFC who fit that. Frank Mir does that and even more.”
That’s terrific. Take nothing away from Cormier. He deserves a chance like this. But contrasted against Melendez’s experience, where it seems as if he’s bound to purgatory, it doesn’t sit so well.
Melendez is ranked in the top five of ESPN.com’s lightweight rankings, yet isn’t free to challenge himself on a regular basis against the toughest men at 155 pounds?
Cormier doesn’t deserve to advance his career more than Melendez. The opposite is probably true. Melendez has been in the game five years longer. He’s been a champion longer. He’s accomplished more. Yet he can’t. He’s stuck. He’s stuck while the possibility of so much more dangles in front of him.
Take Healy. The 29-year-old veteran may have done enough to earn a title shot in Strikeforce, but he’s not a contender that will inspire fans to want to watch. He won’t do a thing to elevate Melendez. He wouldn’t sniff a title fight in the UFC. And thus far, lightweights assigned to the UFC have no interest in moving to Strikeforce to meet Melendez on Showtime.
Where is the lightweight Frank Mir? It’s way past time to get something like that done for Melendez, the network to which he’s bound, and fans dying to see him tested.
Much was made in media reports recently about Showtime's control over the talent that fights on Strikeforce cards. Essentially if a fighter is signed to Strikeforce, he or she is prohibited from moving to the UFC in the vast majority of instances until their contract is over.
Now, you can't blame Showtime for wanting to maintain some semblance of control over the fighters whose fights it airs.
When Zuffa first purchased Strikeforce it almost immediately began plucking away talent, much to Showtime's chagrin, who had some leverage to play with. Nick Diaz, perhaps the network's most consistent name and talent, renegotiated a flexible deal that allowed him to box for a chance to fight Georges St. Pierre. Alistair Overeem had just one contest left on his contract, yet he was lined up for two more because of his participation in the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix, so Zuffa "cut" him while retaining exclusive rights of negotiation and he ended up in the UFC.
Showtime was left with little more than a degrading fighter roster.
The network was forced to protect itself. It couldn't be in the business of building up talent, only to see fighters yanked away to UFC when they matured enough to deliver a return on investment. Showtime stepped into MMA because of the belief the sport could help build its subscriber base. If the reason people signed up -- the fighters they loved to watch -- were no longer there, then what was the point?
Unfortunately, the melding of boxing and MMA business models essentially meant that fighters had little say over how their careers would transpire.
If a boxer doesn’t want to appear on Showtime, he (or she) can negotiate a deal with HBO. Not so in MMA.
So, we’re left with Cormier as an aberration, and Melendez as the rule. That needs to change for the betterment of everyone involved.