Strikeforce will promote its final event on Jan. 12 in Oklahoma City. | File Photo: Stephen Albanese
Since Ultimate Fighting Championship parent company Zuffa LLC purchased Strikeforce in 2011, many overlooked public pronouncements and viewed the transaction as little more than a countdown until the number-two promotion’s fighters were absorbed into the UFC. After nearly two years and a history of lukewarm relations with Strikeforce broadcast partner Showtime, divorce proceedings appear to be under way.
The UFC and Showtime are reportedly negotiating the terms of a separation after the cancellation of two consecutive Strikeforce events in September and November due to the loss of main events to injuries. The final Strikeforce event, in January, has also lost its headliners, Luke Rockhold and Gilbert Melendez, due to injury. Showtime’s contract with Strikeforce, still valid after the UFC purchase, was to expire in March, though it contained options to extend.
A TMZ.com report that has not been disputed by the UFC or Showtime stated that top Strikeforce women’s champion Ronda Rousey was coming to the UFC imminently, and that Strikeforce would dissolve after the January event. Later, UFC President Dana White indicated all of the legal details had not been ironed out as it pertains to Rousey coming to the UFC, though she has been anointed the first female UFC champion. The Wrestling Observer reported Rousey’s old contract with Strikeforce and Showtime had several fights left on it. White said the UFC did not have success signing Rousey’s chief foil, Cristiane Santos, but will go forward with a 135-pound women’s division.
Tellingly, Rousey was not booked on the final Strikeforce event, despite Showtime’s strategy to promote the event as a parade of champions. Rousey and Showtime have been silent about the status of the contracts in play. The Olympic bronze medalist did appear on Jim Rome’s Showtime talk show, which landed her among the top Google searches in the country because she discussed the value of pre-fight sex in the interview.
It is known that Showtime has exclusive rights to Strikeforce fighters so long as the network has a television deal with Zuffa. It is not clear, though, to what degree those rights extend beyond the cessation of a television contract, and it is believed that is at the heart of the ongoing negotiations. Showtime’s rights to Strikeforce talents were strengthened after the UFC scooped up Dan Henderson, Alistair Overeem and Nick Diaz after their contracts expired or were otherwise voided.
The news effectively marks the end of Strikeforce, which dates back the 1990s as a kickboxing promotion based in San Jose, Calif., and promoted the first sanctioned mixed martial arts event in California in 2006. That event, headlined by Frank Shamrock vs. Cesar Gracie, still holds the United States record for paid attendance for an MMA card. Strikeforce purchased the Showtime contract from the defunct EliteXC, the organization that launched MMA on Showtime in February 2007 and dissolved the next year.
Showtime Sports President Stephen Espinoza has said he intends to have MMA on the network in 2013, whether or not it is branded Strikeforce. Espinoza said he may even look to work with more than one promotion. World Series of Fighting, Xtreme Fighting Championships, and all-women’s promotion Invicta Fighting Championships have been bandied about as possibilities.
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