Strikeforce Wants Champs to Defend 2 Times a Year

By Loretta Hunt Oct 14, 2009
One of the most attractive benefits for fighters signing with Strikeforce at the moment is the promotion’s open-door policy regarding non-exclusive contracts with the Japanese market.

Newly acquired Strikeforce fighters like Antonio Silva and Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal have either active contracts or relations with promotions in Japan.

Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker has taken a surprisingly fighter friendly stance when it comes to contract exclusivity, as other promotions, like the UFC, continue to demand it.

“The fighters want to fight and the promoters want to promote,” said Coker during a teleconference call Wednesday touting Strikeforce’s middleweight championship bout between Jake Shields and Jason “Mayhem” Miller, which takes place Nov. 7 at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffmann Estates, Ill.

However, Strikeforce’s leniency has created issues with at least one of its champions. After two false starts this year, wayward heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem is not expected back in the Strikeforce cage until late February or early March, said Coker.

Overeem, who won the title in November 2007 and then cited a hand injury for two proposed defenses this year, instead fought for K-1 in Japan on Sept. 26 and is expected to return for the promotion’s tournament finals on Dec. 5. He’s also reportedly squeezing in another MMA bout on Oct. 17 in Amsterdam.

Barring a rare draw, Shields or Miller will be crowned middleweight champion when the pair meet on Nov. 7, and Coker said the promotion, slated to host 16-20 events in 2010, is taking at least some precautions to ensure its champions don’t become strangers.

“In our case, with some of the other fighters, we had some issues, but we’ve gone in and tried to clean that up and we’re moving forward now… From my point of view, I’d think the champion would fight at least twice a year and defend the belt,” said Coker. “That’s kind of the policy we’re discussing with some of the champions that we currently have.”

Coker declined to comment if this stipulation has or will transfer into the contracts the fighters sign.

Strikeforce’s closest U.S. comparison, the UFC, has its champions –- all exclusive to the promotion -- fight an average of two to three bouts in a year.

Shields, who hasn’t shown strong interest in fighting overseas or elsewhere, said he’s fine with the request.

“I like to fight often, so for me it would be no issue,” said Shields. “My dad handles my contract so I don’t know how it is right now, but I love to fight, so fighting twice a year would be the bare –- I would want to fight a very bare minimum of that.”

The outspoken Miller, who’s fought four times in Japan since 2008 and gained a following there, wasn’t as committal.

“I think I can drive up some ticket sales and some viewership here on TV in the United States… but I’m not closing off Dream anytime soon,” said Miller. “I really enjoy fighting there and what not.”

In Miller’s favor, Strikeforce and Dream have a public, fighter-exchange alliance, though that did not seem to help the U.S. promotion in its recent dealings with Overeem.

Allowing fighters the luxury of taking bouts with other promotions certainly keeps the athlete happy, but drawing the line with champions –- who risk, at the least, scheduling conflicts and, at the most, injuries while moonlighting elsewhere –- might be better for the promotion’s bottom line.

UFC pay-per-views with non-title headliners regularly sell less than title fetes. Fans want the familiarity that comes with title bouts. They want champions challenged and tested, vindicated or vilified.

In other notes:

• Besides selective non-exclusivity, Coker says he has a loose policy when it comes to sponsorship.

“We’re not restrictive in any way, unless the networks (Showtime and CBS) don’t allow it,” said Coker. “That’s kind of a business we leave to the fighters and they do their own thing. It’s not something we put in the agreement. Our policy is let them go do what they do and if they get sponsorships, great, then it’s better for them.”

• Shields, a lifelong welterweight entering his second 185-pound bout for a title, voiced his concerns in trying to keep on the added weight.

“Ultimately, I’m still not a huge 185-pounder,” said Shields. “If it was up to me, I’d fight at both weights, but it depends on what happens, if my teammate Nick (Diaz) tries to take the belt below or what.”

• Coker wouldn’t name a contender for the middleweight title following Nov. 7, though the promoter mentioned Tim Kennedy and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.

• Combating recent Internet chatter that CBS has done little to promote the Nov. 7 “Fedor vs. Rogers” card, Coker reminded all that CBS has its own timetable in securing the casual fan outside the hardcore fanbase. In addition, Coker pointed out that CBS ran promo ads during both NFL and college football games last weekend, including the No. 1 most-watched game Saturday night between Florida and LSU. That game netted 10 million viewers.

• Questioning took an unconventional turn when USA Today’s Beau Dure asked about Miller’s impending Nov. 7 fight entrance. Miller and Coker assured Dure that the fighter will get to do “his thing,” (which usually includes props and other entertaining flare) while Shields said he might get in on the action too.

“Maybe I’ll have to come up with something to top Jason,” said Shields.
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