Saturday’s announcement that Zuffa purchased Strikeforce represented such a monumental shift in the MMA landscape that it was hard to process all at once. There are so many ways that this thing could play out, it’s almost useless to speculate about what might happen. Then again, what else are we going to do? Here are the possible effects that the Strikeforce buyout will (maybe) produce in the coming months, years, and decades…
Strikeforce will go the way of the WEC
When Zuffa bought the WEC in December 2006, they also vowed to keep “business as usual.” And for four years, they did; the WEC existed as a separate entity, and their consistently entertaining cards and smaller fighters were beloved by MMA fans. Eventually, Zuffa decided that the WEC had gone as far as it could as a promotion, and absorbed their featherweight and bantamweight divisions. A similar arc is highly likely for Strikeforce. Zuffa will keep the promotion running for a while because fans appreciate its fighters and entertainment-based matchmaking, but when Strikeforce’s contracts with its fighters and Showtime run out, the UFC will cherry-pick the best talent for its own roster and disband the operation.
The UFC will become the only brand in MMA
50 years from now, MMA fans will think of Strikeforce and PRIDE the same way we think of the ABA for basketball or the AFL for football — temporary competitors to the major leagues that had to be swallowed up for the sport to enter its unified, modern period. Some fans and fighters seem to be nervous about what a “monopoly” might mean for MMA. And maybe for good reason. If you’re a fighter like Josh Barnett or Paul Daley who’s on a permanent UFC blacklist, your career options just took a hit, especially with the firing an employee over bullshit more difficult to do. (And there’s always the potential of a complete meltdown like we just saw take place in football.) But they’re an inevitability in any major sports league. The fact that MMA is an individual sport means that fighters wouldn’t hold any free-agency power whatsoever within the UFC; you can’t just fly off to a different city’s team when your contract ends. The UFC’s employees will need more of their rights guaranteed through collective bargaining.
Bellator will become the #2 MMA league in the world, by default
Weird, right? Don’t get me wrong, the gulf between 1 and 2 is enormous and will stay that way. But right now, there isn’t another league outside of the UFC/Strikeforce conglomerate that is on basic cable, signing well-known fighters, and scheduling future events. And right now, Bjorn Rebney has no interest in selling his baby. I don’t see Bellator growing much larger than the mid-size player it is now, but it’ll be interesting to see what moves they make if Strikeforce ceases to exist. Will they pick up the fighters that the UFC refuses to do business with? Will they take over Strikeforce’s Showtime contract? Will Bellator, in effect, become Strikeforce? And when all is said and done, will Bellator be the only promotion that hosts women’s divisions?
Fedor Emelianenko will never fight again
Dana White has no interest in dealing with M-1 Global or covering Fedor’s price tag, especially now that he’s been “exposed” in his last two fights. There’s a chance that Emelianenko will get in one more match before Strikeforce’s doors are shuttered for good, but that would rely on a number of factors coming together. For example, it’s hard to imagine that Fedor has enough motivation left at this point to drop to light-heavyweight for the first time in his career and fight Dan Henderson. And in the short term, Scott Coker doesn’t really need him as a heavyweight, unless there are multiple injuries in his heavyweight tournament (which now seems even less likely to reach a conclusion.) After the dissolution of Strikeforce, M-1 will try to convince Fedor to fight nobodies in Europe for a fraction of the pay. You know, like his brother. Fedor will choose retirement over such an existence.
Scott Coker will have the last laugh
I try to think of where Scott Coker will be in ten years, and I’m reminded of the last scene in Casino — Ace Rothstein in big-ass geriatric glasses, back to doing what made him successful in the first place, but now in relative obscurity. He thinks fondly of the Wild West boom period of his industry, before it all went Disney-fied.
Scott Coker came up promoting kickboxing shows, and then regional MMA shows, and he always managed to turn a profit by being smart and not getting emotional. It seems that he cashed out of Strikeforce (or was pressured to cash out by his partners) right when the storm-clouds began to form on the horizon. The number of men who got into the MMA promotion business and left with their dignity and wallets intact can be counted on one hand. Scott Coker will be one of them. And that’s that.