There’s a ton a questions to answer. What does this mean for Strikeforce? What are the terms of this “co-promotional” deal? Will it sink them or take them to next level? Who will Fedor fight first? Will Fedor fight on CBS? Does Strikeforce and Showtime see Fedor as their ticket to pay-per-view?
The short answer is no one knows yet, and these quotes aren’t going to answer them, but whatever the deal is Strikeforce and M-1 Global sure are ecstatic about their new agreement.
To begin with, we know that if the UFC would have signed Fedor, he would have been immediately granted a title shot against Brock Lesnar. That’s not necessarily the case with Strikeforce though. Strikeforce’s Mike Afromowitz explains.
“Fedor is the top heavyweight in the world, (but) I wouldn’t say that’s definite that he’s fighting for the title…He will get top competition in Strikeforce as he would’ve in the UFC. There are a lot of potential opponents you could put in front of him that could give him very tough fights right now. You saw a lot of interest in that fight with Rogers …Overeem is a top-10 guy, too. Fabricio is another guy (who could fight Emelianenko). They’re all tough opponents…I think the heavyweight division is the one we’re really building right now. We’ve got good talent there now, and we’ll keeping adding to it. … It’s a continuous process, but the heavyweight (division) will be a focal point.”
Strikeforce has two approaches to take here. They can give Fedor the immediate title shot based on everything he’s accomplished in his career thus far, or they can book him for a fight against Werdum or Rogers (probably Rogers) to introduce him to their audience and build him up to a big (relatively speaking) title fight possibly on a bigger stage like CBS. From a business perspective, the latter option would likely yield better results, but there’s always the risk that he loses that first fight.
Moving on, M-1 CEO Joost Raimond commented on why Strikeforce’s offer was more attractive to them than the UFC’s.
“It was a good opportunity. (The co-promotion) is a substantial part. The whole set-up for the deal is to have co-promotion partners, and of course, Fedor is an important part of that construction. But the co-promotion deal is of great importance…All the assumptions flying around about the offer are assumptions made by various people, and are quite unsubstantiated. The financials behind his deal are based on a large number of factors, which include the co-promotion and co-branding activities, and Fedor is a part of that total deal.”
While Raimond also hinted at the potential for Fedor to fight on CBS, M-1’s Jerry Millen in very Millen-like fashion was a bit more blunt about the possibility.
“Look at what (Showtime and CBS) were able to do with a fighter like Kimbo Slice. Imagine what will happen once Fedor is exposed to the mainstream. Fedor could be 100,000 times bigger than a Kimbo Slice, because he’s a true MMA fighter.
“The audience here is huge. And UFC needs some competition. That’s what M-1 Global and Strikeforce will bring them. Competition is good.
“This does not close the door on Fedor fighting Brock Lesnar. It just means now it would be Strikeforce, M-1 Global and UFC.” [Ed. note: By the way, no one has yet to figure out what reality Jerry Millen lives in]
Before we just assume Fedor will end up on primetime network television though, we should consider a) we haven’t hear a thing about Strikeforce being on CBS since they closed the EliteXC-Showtime deal, and b) they had no involvement in this deal. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t happen.
Kelly Kahl, Senior Executive Vice President for CBS Primetime TV, said he “wouldn’t rule out” a Strikeforce show on CBS late this year. He said his network had no direct hand in the Emelianenko deal, but stood to gain from it with options the network held to broadcast Strikeforce events.
“This was, quite frankly, a straight Strikeforce deal,” he said. “I don’t believe anything was represented on the part of CBS. Strikeforce and, I would assume, Showtime, get all the credit.”
Now that Strikeforce has Fedor, they face a very difficult challenge that neither PRIDE (in the US) nor Affliction were able to figure out. How do you turn Fedor into a ratings draw? Even if CBS does jump on board, Fedor alone probably isn’t going to approach the ratings that EliteXC put up with Kimbo Slice headlining. I think Fedor and MMA’s profile has risen enough in the US in the past year or so to draw a better number than EliteXC posted on their second show, but he doesn’t have that same level of intrigue in the mainstream that Kimbo had. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of that happening, but he’s going to need some help to get there and I think her name is Gina Carano. Like Kimbo, she attracts a ton of attention, and putting her in a co-headlining bout on a very visible platform with Fedor seems to be their best chance of exposing Fedor to the masses. Now whether or not his mystique resonates with the mainstream audience like it has with the hardcore fanbase is a different question entirely. And even if it does, they’ll still be presented with the challenge of monetizing him. Would the mass public be willing to pay to watch him fight without the UFC brand behind him at that point? I don’t know, but it sure looks like Strikeforce has a steep hill to climb.
Image via CombatLifestyle.com