(Jake, you be Strikeforce. Jason, you be the UFC. Now, show us how the next few months will go …)
It’s been three days since Jason “Mayhem” Miller’s sudden jump to the UFC and we still haven’t heard anything substantive on the topic from Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker or anyone else in the lame duck MMA company. A week ago Coker went on a popular MMA “radio” show and danced around the issue of Miller’s future in Strikeforce. He said the promotion was talking to Mayhem’s management about a fight this summer. No mention of the fact Miller was twisting in the breeze without a contract. No mention that the UFC might stick its beak in. Used to be, it felt like a waste of time to ask Coker questions because it was hard to get a straight answer out of the guy. Now it feels like it’s a waste of time because he may no longer even know what’s going on inside his own company.
For all his talk about his ongoing commitment to “growing Strikeforce and making it work,” it’s pretty clear that Coker (and maybe Strikeforce itself) has become the metaphorical equivalent of a WWE referee. He’s just a dude standing the middle of the ring in an official-looking outfit, desperately pleading for order while the battle rages heedlessly around him. No one is listening. No one is even pretending he has any power anymore. That’s sad, because Coker seems like one of the sport’s legitimate good guys, but the quiet loss of Miller last week is maybe the most compelling evidence yet that it’s only a matter of time before that phone call from Vegas comes in, informing the Strikeforce staff that the charade is over.
And you know what? Maybe that’s for the best. Let the professionals handle this shit. In any further discussion of what the loss of Mayhem “means” to Strikeforce, it must be noted that more than any other fighter he serves a good example of the many ways Coker and Co. fumbled around and fucked this thing up.
Despite the fact Miller was always one of Strikeforce’s best known and most marketable personalities, we always got the impression Coker never really knew what to do with him. From late 2009 until last Friday, Miller fought just twice under the Strikeforce banner. He lost a middleweight title fight to Jake Shields in his promotional debut in Nov., ’09 and then defeated Tim Stout via first-round TKO five months later at the ill-fated Nashville show that ended with the Cesar Gracie jiu-jitsu team gang stomping him in the middle of the cage.
Since then, nothing. Granted, there was the matter of a suspension in Tennessee gumming up the works, but there is otherwise no real excuse for Strikeforce keeping Mayhem inactive for the last 370 days — that dull period punctuated only by his squash-match victory over Kazushi Sakuraba in Dream.
There was talk Miller might rematch with Tim Kennedy (the two have history). Didn’t happen. There was talk Miller might rematch current champ Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (the two have history). Didn’t happen. There was a whole, whole, whole lot of talk that Miller might fight Nick Diaz (the two made history together when Strikeforce aired their wild in-ring brawl live on national television). Didn’t happen. In fact, nothing happened. Now that we think about it, the extent to which Miller was passed over and essentially ignored in Strikeforce is sort of inexcusable. Especially for a company that so desperately needs stars.
With that in mind, you can’t blame Miller for opting to go with the UFC, a promotion that took all of ONE DAY to find him a fight with Aaron Simpson at UFC 132, when Strikeforce had seemingly been hemming a hawing for months. If the last few days have proved anything, it’s that Strikeforce didn’t deserve to keep Miller on its roster.
By welcoming him with open arms, just as it has said all along it would do with Strikeforce fighters whose contracts expire, the UFC is clearly sending a message: It doesn’t care about “growing Stikeforce.” If it did, it wouldn’t be embarking on the process of cherry-picking its biggest stars one at time. For Strikeforce over the next few months, it’ll be death by attrition. We know it. You know it. The UFC knows it. The fact that Scott Coker has nothing to say on the topic means he knows it too.