Zuffa Needs to Keep Strikeforce Going Long Term

Steven Rondina@srondinaFeatured ColumnistJune 2, 2012

Zuffa Needs to Keep Strikeforce Going Long Term

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    The UFC has snatched up and gutted both Pride FC and the WEC. Pride, which was already in its death throes when the UFC scooped it up, had most of its big-name fighters like Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Wanderlei Silva absorbed into the UFC's roster. The WEC, meanwhile, functioned separately from the UFC for a long while, but they eventually met the same end.

    Naturally, when the UFC's parent company, Zuffa, snatched up its only real competitor, Strikeforce, fans assumed that the promotion's days were numbered. This was all but confirmed as almost every major fighter on Strikeforce's roster made their way to UFC.

    In spite of this, Strikeforce persists. News came earlier this year that not only is Strikeforce going to keep going, but it is going to be running on Showtime for “multiple years.” While that would signal that the California-based organization is here to stay, many are counting the days until Strikeforce finally folds.

    That group of naysayers will be keeping that tally for a long while, however. Strikeforce is too valuable a commodity for Zuffa to completely do away with.

    Here's why:

Women's MMA Is Somewhat Popular

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    MMA is a niche sport. Women's MMA is a niche of a niche. Though people sometimes inflate the popularity of female combat, the rise of individual stars keeps the media's focus just enough to keep it a spectacle.

    Gina Carano, Cris “Cyborg” Santos and Ronda Rousey have all carried women's MMA on their back. This trend will continue, but not necessarily with those three, obviously. After all, Gina Carano (more or less) retiring from fighting gave way to Santos, and her suspension for steroids opened the door to Ronda Rousey.

    Regardless, as long as somebody like this exists, fans will be interested in women's MMA. As long as people are interested in women's MMA, Strikeforce has something to lure in viewers. As long as Strikeforce lures in viewers, it is worth keeping around.

The UFC Is Going to Be Needing a 'Minor League'

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    Dana White really, really wants to have numerous seasons of The Ultimate Fighter across the world. The Ultimate Fighter: Live has an unofficial rivalry with The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil right now.

    On top of that, TUF: Australia vs. UK will begin airing this fall (under the name “The Smashes”). Oh, and TUF: India is in the works. Also, there is going to be another season of TUF: Live on FX. And do not forget! The UFC still wants to have seasons in Canada, Mexico and the Philippines.

    That, ladies and gentlemen, means the UFC is going to have a bunch of fighters suddenly fall in its lap. They need somewhere to put them. Strikeforce, which is already chock-full of fast-rising prospects and mid-level veterans, would be a great place.

    Assigning a lot of these talented but unrefined fighters to one promotion is great for the contenders in progress, and it will offer opponents of comparable skill levels the chance to help build their resumes. This also makes the UFC's scouting work substantially easier, as they will have a stable of young talent that they will be able to take the best from.

The UFC Needs Somewhere to Stick Slumping Stars

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    The UFC's termination axe sometimes seems to swing wildly. Gerald Harris, for example, was cut from the UFC with a 3-1 record (in spite of having two Knockout of the Night bonuses to his credit). Yoshihiro Akiyama, though, is sitting on a 1-4 record and was scheduled to face former top welterweight contender Thiago Alves before suffering an injury while training.

    Strikeforce is already home to UFC fighters who fell on hard times, such as Keith Jardine and Nate Marquardt. This should become a common practice.

    The UFC, generally, has two ways of dealing with fighters who are valuable (whether they are good, popular or exciting) but string together losses. Fighters like Gabriel Gonzaga get cut after stringing together losses but get brought back after a tuneup fight or two in smaller promotions. The alternative, for guys like Dan Hardy, is to take time off, come back after the hiatus fresh and hope for the best.

    Baseballer Adam Lind was recently sent to the Toronto Blue Jays' Triple-A team after compiling a .186 average through 34 games. There is no reason Zuffa cannot use Strikeforce the same way for fighters like Efrain Escudero and Marcus Davis.

    Again, this works out quite well for both parties. Fighters get added job security. Meanwhile, the UFC does not have to worry about putting prospectively useful fighters onto the market.

Keeping Strikeforce Helps Hold Down Competitors

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    As long as Strikeforce is kept around, Zuffa will own the No. 1 MMA promotion in the UFC and the No. 2 in Strikeforce. If Strikeforce gets disbanded, the UFC's primary competitor, Bellator, instantly gets a good bit of the media coverage that would otherwise be dedicated to their sister promotion.

    When it comes to Bellator, the UFC wants one thing; to have Bellator continue keeping clear of the public eye. Right now, in spite of putting on some quality shows with a decent roster of fighters, Bellator struggles to hit even 150,000 viewers with its weekly shows on MTV2. Even Bellator 66, which featured an excellent Eddie Alvarez vs. Shinya Aoki headline, had an average audience of 109,000 viewers.

    The near-unanimous indifference to the promotion is precisely what the UFC is hoping for. Bellator is home to a few world-class fighters. As long as Bellator keeps arranging events and developing those fighters, the UFC is in position to one-up any offer by their competitors when those talents' contracts expire. They already did this with Hector Lombard, who is set to face Brian Stann. Dana White is making the same sort of public appearances with Eddie Alvarez, teasing that he may soon be joining the promotion.

    The MMA industry is right where the UFC wants it right now, and doing away with Strikeforce would shift that balance around. Not in any major way, granted. Regardless, there is no reason to shuffle things up by making Bellator the clear-cut No. 2 promotion in the country.