Showtime executive vice president Stephen Espinoza has become a name very familiar with MMA fans as he worked closely with Strikeforce.
Now, as Strikeforce prepares for one last event Saturday night, Espinoza is confirming that his network plans to get back in the world of mixed martial arts.
“We had the option of moving forward (with Strikeforce). We decided not to exercise that option,” Espinoza said, during a recent interview with MMAjunkie.com. “We are actively looking for other opportunities. We are definitely looking for the next relationship in the MMA space.”
Strikeforce: Marquardt vs. Saffiedine will end a three-year run between the promotion and the network. Espinoza declined to mention any other combat sports leagues currently being evaluated by Showtime, but one would have to think Invicta FC, Legacy Fighting Championships and Shark Fights are all in the running.
Also, Espinoza confirmed that Showtime would hold on to the Strikeforce library, airing replays of events throughout the year. An agreement with Zuffa for the broadcast rights ends in March.
“Since 2009, Showtime has been a great partner and we appreciate its support of Strikeforce and our athletes,” Coker said. “For our final event, we’ve loaded the card with some outstanding fights. This is going to be a memorable night for the sport of mixed martial arts.”
Most have felt it was only a matter of time before Strikeforce closed up shop. And, while Coker did not confirm that, all signs point to the end for the promotion.
Strikeforce has had two events cancelled by Showtime in the past few months after injuries ruined the main events. The January card has also two championship matches, as well, since being announced.
Showtime officials have stated they plan to remain in the MMA business, though nothing has been confirmed or a promotion announced.
Stephen Espinoza didn’t directly come out and say it, but the Showtime vice president hinted around the network remaining in the MMA game.
Espinoza was recently asked about allowing Ronda Rousey to sign with the UFC. He wished Rousey nothing but the best in the interview with FightHub TV, and added a few interesting words, as well.
There’s plenty of talent out there and we’re going to continue to develop it.
Many feel January will be the end of Strikeforce on Showtime, but with these words from Espinoza, it appears they may try and keep MMA going on the network.
As for Rousey, Espinoza said, “It was difficult to see her go because we were kind of with her from the start. We were the only network she had been fighting on. It was her dream to go into the UFC. I’m confident we’re going to continue and discover good fighters.”
When it comes to getting the best fighters in the world, nothing is easy. Stephen Espinoza, the Showtime sports president, believes it can be done when it comes to pitting Strikeforce champions against UFC champions.
“Maybe at some point, with all the creative minds thinking about this issue, we can come up with a solution and something which satisfies the fans who want sort of ‘unified’ champions,” said Espinoza, while appearing on The MMA Hour recently. “I would love to see that happen at some point, as well. I’m not different than any other fan; I’d love to answer that question, too.”
Strikeforce features the likes of Luke Rockhold atop the middleweight division, Gilbert Melendez leading the lightweights, and Nate Marquardt atop the welterweights.
Issues with contracts have been made known in the past few days, but Espinoza feels like those are things that can be worked around. He added that, “we’ve got an arrangement with Strikeforce that gives us rights to Strikeforce fights while they have those fighters under contract to Strikeforce. Beyond that, the short answer is, that’s sort of an issue in the contract between Strikeforce and the fighters. Not us.”
Showtime sports general manager Stephen Espinoza believes the UFC on Showtime would make for a perfect arrangement. During a recent interview with FightHub TV, Espinoza discussed that becoming a possibility down the road.
“I think that would be a problem contractually, now. However, in the long run, I wouldn’t say that’s outside the realm of possibility. I would hope that Zuffa would say that it was a positive enough experience that it might be a possibility, and I’d be happy to consider it, as well.”
Espinoza is new to the job, but say he has had great meetings with UFC brass since taking over, adding, “my goal is to maximize our programming and make it as good as possible.”
Discussion around cross-promotion matches between the UFC and Strikeforce was brought up, with Espinoza saying, “anything is possible. I would love to see it.” He added that there are complicating factors, but, “it would be a dream for the fans.”
MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani caught up with Dana White following today’s UFC on FOX 3 press conference to talk to him about a lot of hot topics around the sport including the UFC lightweight title picture, Rampage Jackson’s Twitter comments, his situation with Showtime and more. Here’s a few notes from the interview.
— At the time of the interview, Dana White pretty much said that he wasn’t sure what exactly was going on with the UFC lightweight picture yet because he hadn’t spoken to the people he needed to yet. However, he must have talked to them after the interview because Dana has since confirmed that Frankie Edgar will get his rematch against Ben Henderson this summer.
— Dana says the disparaging comments he made about Showtime in the MMA Junkie story were never meant to be made public. He’s clearly not happy with the story’s writer and offered a public apology to Showtime for those comments making print. Dana says he has no ill will or problem with anyone at Showtime and would never say anything publicly to embarrass them. They merely have “creative differences.”
— Dana White thinks Ronda Rousey is going to be a “big star” and there some big one-off fights every now and then like Tate-Rousey, but it doesn’t change the fact that there aren’t enough good women to create a whole division with.
— Neo-Nazi tattooed/sex offender Brandon Saling who slipped under everyone’s radar at last weekend’s Strikeforce show will never fight for Zuffa again. He also may never compete as a licensed fighter in the US, at least not for the time being, since he falsified information on his applications with the Ohio and New Jersey athletic commissions. Both commissions have revoked his licenses.
— Dana is aware of Rampage Jackson’s tweets about fighting elsewhere after his next UFC fight. Dana confirmed he talked to Rampage before he sent those tweets yesterday, but didn’t say what was discussed exactly. All he would say is he thinks Rampage is just taking this latest loss to Ryan Bader hard like he takes most of his losses. Dana clarified that he has no beef with Rampage.
— Dana says Rampage denied that he ever said a “UFC doctor” told him to take testosterone and basically blamed the whole thing on the reporter who did the interview. Dana said that particular reporter has tried to put words in his mouth before and that’s what he believes happened with Rampage.
— Dana White says Dakota Cochrane was 100% upfront with the UFC and FX about his past history with gay pornography and they’re “cool with it.”
— Not from the interview per se, but Dana said today that a rumored summertime event in Calgary is “not done but it’s going to happen.”
— Also not from the interview, but it’s worth noting that the UFC has officially confirmed Junior dos Santos vs. Alistair Overeem for UFC 146 on May 26 in Las Vegas.
Here’s the full audio of the Strikeforce-Showtime conference call from earlier this week via BJPenn.com. We also have some notable quotes from the call below as well.
Dana White on doing a new deal:
“I’m fired up about this deal and the guys at Strikeforce are fired up about this deal too. So, they are involved in this and the guys fighting at Strikeforce are going to be very happy to be there.”
Scott Coker on eliminating the heavyweight division:
“No, we are going to focus on our other weight classes. We have a great lightweight division, welterweight, middleweight and light heavyweight divisions, and we are going to focus on the women’s divisions. What you will see happen with the tournament finals between Daniel and Josh is one more fight where the winner will fight a top rated heavyweight and then we are going to go back to focusing on our other weight classes.’’
“We are going to continue to run the two [women's] divisions. We are going to go out there, scour the planet, get the best females in the world and bring them to Strikeforce on Showtime.”
Dana White on Gilbert Melendez:
“Gilbert Melendez is pumped to stay in Strikeforce. If he wins he will continue to defend his belt in Strikeforce and he is absolutely excited about it.”
Dana White on his involvement in Strikeforce:
“Scott and the Strikeforce crew will be running the day-to-day and I will be involved in both this side and creatively on the Showtime side too. And I will be involved leading up to the events. When there is a Strikeforce event on a Saturday, I will work on the Showtime event just like I do a UFC event.”
Dana White on Ken Hershman’s departure from Showtime paving the way for a new deal:
“The reality is that I did not have a good relationship with the old regime and I have a good relationship with the new regime. I flew out there, we sat down, we talked, we worked this deal out and I love what we came up with. I would not be involved and I would not be this enthusiastic about it I wasn’t happy with this deal”
Dana White on any kind of crossover with the UFC:
“This whole thing is a work in progress, but we are both looking for the same thing. We are both looking for the best fighters in the world. There is a ton of talent and only so many slots to fill. There are a lot of great fighters that we can bring into Strikeforce, build an incredible division in each weight class and put on great fights.”
Dana White on Strikeforce not being a feeder league for the UFC:
“There is nothing wrong about being a feeder league, but that is not what this thing is designed to be. We are going after the best talent out there. A feeder league to me would mean that if you lose you go back down to Strikeforce and then you have to win some more fights and then we bring you back up. No, when you lose in the UFC you go somewhere else and you fight. Strikeforce is going to be looking for the best guys in these titles exactly like we do in the UFC.”
Scott Coker on Strikeforce not being a feeder league for the UFC:
“If you look at the history of the relationship that we have had with Showtime since 2007 and if you look at the fighters that have come across our events, it is far from a feeder league. We have had some of the world’s best fighters and have had record-breaking ratings.”
Stephen Espinoza on Gina Carano’s possible return:
“Gina is, at heart, a fighter, and will always have the genuine desire to fight, so it would not surprise me at all to see her back in MMA.”