(Kevin Marshall's opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent those of Spike.)
It's been about nineteen months since Zuffa, the parent company of the UFC, acquired Strikeforce in its ongoing mission to become the premiere MMA promotion in the world. But because of a variety of factors, what should have been an opportunity to give fans dream matches and bolster the UFC has instead turned into a promotional quagmire and put some of the best, most exciting fighters in the world in a lockbox.
When Dana White sat down with Ariel Helwani in March of 2011 and announced that they'd purchased Strikeforce, it came as a surprise. At the time, Strikeforce was the #2 promotion in the United States and arguably the world. What they lacked in divisional depth they made up for in star power, with world beaters like Fedor Emelianenko, Gilbert Melendez, and Cris 'Cyborg' Santos attracting hardcore fans while unique signings like Herschel Walker garnered the attention of the mainstream. Unfortunately, the promotion suffered from an over-eagerness to compete with the UFC for prominence that gave them tunnel vision. As was already mentioned, they signed world class champions, but had few real challengers for them. And many of those champions came with baggage, whether it was Fedor's age contributing to his sudden decline or the drug allegations that dogged Cris 'Cyborg' Santos, culminating in a drug test failure and year-long suspension that meant she would go all of 2012 without a single fight.
Even with those problems, Strikeforce still had potential as a brand. It was still valuable to the UFC for its younger stars like Daniel Cormier
, who would go on to surprise most fans in winning the promotion's star-studded Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament, and legitimate top five lightweight Gilbert Melendez. The promotion also had some of its own homegrown talent like Luke Rockhold and Tim Kennedy
whose personalities and media savvy made them potential stars.
Unfortunately, things haven't gone quite as planned, and as a result we've seen fewer cards, contractual confusion, and event cancellations. Rockhold and Kennedy met in July, but haven't fought since. Cormier was scheduled to face Frank Mir
this month, but an injury to Mir and eventual card cancellation means we likely won't see him fight until 2013. Josh Barnett, who is likely the most marketable heavyweight in the world even while coming off a loss to Cormier, has been collecting dust since last May. And arguably their best pound for pound male fighter, Gilbert Melendez, is seeing his prime years wasted against sub-par competition. That is, when cards aren't being cancelled out from under him, too.
It's been bad for the fans, but worse for the fighters. The UFC, to its credit, is usually good about coming through for its guys when they're in need. But these are professional fighters. They're not people who want a handout, they want to earn it in a cage and build their reputation. What they're not missing in competition they're still, even with Zuffa's help, missing out on the paydays and bonuses they need to not only sustain themselves, but build for their future. The career of a fighter, after all, is like that old adage: nasty, brutish, and short.
The only fighter who has seen any real, consistent success in 2012 is Ronda Rousey
. If anything, she'll come out of this year a bigger star than she was at the beginning of it. It's said that when the cage door closes, the only one a fighter has to rely on is him or herself, but Rousey's promotional success has also been all of her own doing. She went out and made a name for herself by being outspoken in interviews, cutting fantastic promos, and being exceptionally good with the media. It doesn't hurt, either, that she's a legitimately great fighter; not just the best female fighter in the world but probably one of the best pound for pound fighters, period. In this case, Rousey became a star in spite of the Strikeforce acquisition and Dana White's oft repeated position on women fighting in the Octagon, which was a resounding "no" until he saw what Rousey was capable of. Now, suddenly, questions about Rousey fighting in the UFC are answered with vague allusions, laughs, and winks.
Yet for every Ronda Rousey there are a dozen guys and girls like Gilbert Melendez who are toiling under contracts that not only prevent them from fighting elsewhere, but also prevent them from signing with the UFC because of a strange loophole that was either overlooked or ignored when Zuffa bought the promotion.
What should have been a humongous power play and consolidation of the top two promotions in MMA has instead become a disaster, and it's been the fighters who have suffered the most. It doesn't help, either, that the UFC has had its own problems the second half of this year, which has meant that issues with Strikeforce have been more or less put at the bottom of Zuffa's priorities.
In the meantime some of the best fighters in the world will be sitting at home and collecting a pittance, along with some dust, while the prime years of their career are wasted.
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