Earlier this year when it was announced that Strikeforce had closed the EliteXC/Showtime deal and went from regional promoter to national player many observers thought the move would land Coker and Co. in Zuffa’s crosshairs. However, Dana White maintained he had a good relationship with Scott Coker, and since Strikeforce was promoting mixed martial arts in a responsible manner they had no problem with them.
Well, that may have all changed yesterday when Strikeforce announced they had signed Fedor Emelianenko. There’s already rumors of Zuffa sending out cease and desist orders to stop the Babalu-Mousasi fight and even one regarding Fedor himself, though nothing has been confirmed yet. Perhaps the rumors are false, but if you ask Randy Couture, a bit of tension is starting to build behind the scenes.
“The back-and-forth is starting now between the UFC and Strikeforce,” Couture said Tuesday. “There were a lot of competitors out there for the UFC, and Strikeforce is the last one standing. So it was only a matter of time before the adversarial relationship started between them, I think, with the Affliction stuff and those contracts being up in the air and both organizations trying to sign those fighters.”
“With all the things M-1 Global wanted, there was no way the UFC was going to get that done,” Couture said. “I think [Strikeforce boss] Scott Coker’s willingness to do a co-promotion with M-1 is what made the difference to allow Fedor to sign.”
Meanwhile, Coker is trying to downplay any notion that a war is brewing between the organizations.
“Why would one fighter create a war? I don’t think this will escalate like the fans like to gossip (it will).”
“I would hate to think this would be the catalyst for this to escalate,” said Coker. “To me, I’m still of the feeling that everything’s going to be OK. We’re running our business the way we’re running it and they’re going to continue with their successful business. I guess they say only time will tell.”
Personally, I think Couture hit the nail on the head. If Strikeforce wasn’t so willing to co-promote, the UFC offer would have likely been a lot more attractive to M-1. Having Fedor Emelianenko on the UFC roster would have put any doubts to rest as to whether the UFC has the best fighter in every division, not to mention it would allowed them to unarguably lay claim to having all of the world’s pound-for-pound best under their banner. With Fedor on their side, Strikeforce would have been just another tiny blip on their radar. Plus, let’s not forget Dana’s reaction to the news and how badly he wanted to sign Fedor as evidenced in his conference call last week. We all know how he views anyone who works against his interests, intentionally or not, and he tends to take it personal.
Here’s a few other things to consider. Up until this year, Strikeforce primarily made their living off the live gate, and at the moment they’re only on premium cable. They’re not directly impacting the UFC’s business, but with Fedor, Strikeforce has no choice but to take it to the next level. Both organizations are eying network television and Strikeforce will probably have to take the plunge at some point into pay-per-view where the UFC’s core revenue stream resides. And let’s not forget about the video games either. The UFC has already made it perfectly clear how they feel about EA Sports entering the market, and the fact that the majority of EA’s signees are also Strikeforce fighters isn’t going to help matters.
In short, they’re inching closer and closer to becoming direct competitors, which historically has meant only one thing. Like Coker said, time will tell.