(“…on the bright side, me and Vadim were offered high-paying jobs as ‘consultants.’ So don’t worry about us, guys, we’ll be fine.”)
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 Japanese MMA scene taking its dying breaths. Plus, the UFC’s revenue model is pay-per-view driven, which makes the comparison to basketball and football an imperfect one, especially in terms of how fans consume the sport. But in the long run, a single major-league promotion might be the best arrangement — the UFC as the NFL/NBA of MMA, with smaller regional promotions standing in for the collegiate system that those other leagues rely on. (Hell, maybe there will even be a full-fledged annual UFC draft at some point.) By comparison, boxing’s decline can be blamed in large part on the glut of competing promoters and sanctioning bodies. There’s reason to be optimistic here.