Strikeforce Standing Ground on April 17

Strikeforce “Nashville” will keep its April 17 date at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., said the promotion’s CEO Scott Coker on Friday.

The possibility of moving the event, which features three championship bouts, to April 24 was discussed last week by the promotion and CBS when word circulated that the UFC was planning its own event on the same day, also possibly in Nashville, in an aggressive counter-programming move.

Zuffa, the UFC’s parent company, has not made an official announcement regarding an April 17 event of its own, though Sherdog.com was able to verify that inquiries had been made to the Memorial Gym on Vanderbilt University’s campus. At least one fighter had been contacted last week to fight on that date for the promotion, but declined. A Spike TV source also confirmed that the cable network had been contacted by the promotion to air the live UFC Fight Night event, but said late this week that no further details have emerged regarding the potential show.

Tennessee commission director Jeff Mullen told SI.com on Wednesday that Zuffa would need to file a permit request for the event by March 18 to reserve that specific date. Mullen told Sherdog.com on Friday that no application had been filed.

“We never really planned to move, but we wanted to keep our business options open,” said Coker. “Everything is business as usual (for April 17) and full steam ahead.”

The UFC had previously counter-programmed Strikeforce’s Nov. 7 debut on CBS with “UFC Main Events” on Spike TV, a two-hour special anchored by a never-before-seen UFC 102 heavyweight tilt between legends Randy Couture and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. It garnered 1.2 million viewers to CBS’s 4.04 million viewers.

Coker said he wasn’t surprised to hear of the UFC’s rumored efforts to create a rival April 17 event.

“Was it done to create some confusion in the marketplace in Nashville? Maybe. I don’t know. I’m not sure,” said Coker. “Is it good for mixed martial arts? I’m not sure. I don’t think so. I don’t think that when a company’s trying to counter-program you just to impact your ratings, it’s-- and this could go back and forth. One day, when CBS says, ‘Alright, we’re going to go head-to-head against your pay-per-view date and you can watch Fedor (Emelianenko) or Dan Henderson for free on TV or buy a pay-per-view,’ people are going to have choices at that point. But that’s something they’d never do. CBS went out of its way to make sure there was nothing else on April 17.”

Coker said CBS had originally earmarked April 24 for Strikeforce’s second event on the major broadcast network, but opted for the earlier date to avoid World Extreme Cagefighting’s pay-per-view debut on the same night.

“The irony of it all was that even for the WEC, we all said, ‘Let’s not have the fight on that date with (WEC general manager) Reed Harris. Let’s support him and move it to the 17th,” said Coker.

Coker said he’d be hesitant to launch Strikeforce’s own counter-programming efforts for future events if given the chance.

“I don’t know if that serves everybody properly and what I mean by that is is it going to help them? Is it going to help us? Is it going to help the fans of MMA? To me, I think CBS had the right idea when they decided to put the show on a day where everybody could watch it,” said Coker. “There’s nothing else (MMA-related) on TV and let’s try and get as many eyeballs as we can to watch it and make some new fans out of people that aren’t MMA fans already. In the last show we did with Fedor, we were able to bring in a little older audience than would traditionally watch MMA on Spike.”

The proposed showdown between Strikeforce and the UFC has ignited CBS’s interest in upping their efforts to promote the April 17 event, according to multiple sources. CBS representatives declined comment when contacted, though Coker said he’s confident the network will match or even exceed the promotional advertising it aired prior to the Nov. 7 show.

“The proximity to the NCAA basketball tournament is going to be an asset to our card because CBS is going to promote Strikeforce in that timeslot in all those basketball tournaments in late March and early April,” said Coker. “I’ve been told CBS is going to get behind it.”

An April 6 episode of “NCIS: Los Angeles,” featuring L.L. Cool J going undercover as a fighter, will also feature April 17 headliners Gilbert Melendez and Dan Henderson.

“Dan Henderson left the UFC and came over to us. This is his inaugural fight with us and I feel really confident that he’s going to be a draw in Tennessee and in the ratings,” said Coker. “We’re in a great market. The CBS affiliate in Nashville has been one of top-rated local markets for the previous MMA broadcast.”

In addition to a middleweight championship bout between Jake Shields and top-5 ranked challenger Henderson, light heavyweight titleholder Gegard Mousasi will lock horns with undefeated Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal on April 17. In a first for the U.S., Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez will face Dream counterpart Shinya Aoki for the U.S. promotion’s championship. Former WWE superstar Bobby Lashley is also in talks to appear on the April 17 roster, which will be rounded out by a slew of local talent.

“It’s a great card. And it’s very rare, I think, that you get a card of this magnitude together all in one night where you’ll see those three championship fights,” said Coker. “I think it’s been a long time since MMA fans have been able to see a fight card that deep and they’ll be able to watch it for free on CBS.”
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