It's odd to think that just a couple of years ago, regional promotion Strikeforce was considered a distant competitor to the UFC.
Now, it's a shadow of its former self, having been bought by UFC parent company Zuffa in March 2011. Most of Strikeforce's best talent has been swallowed up by its bigger brother and injuries have killed off the remainder of the promotion's 2012 events.
More than anyone else, the fighters in this league suffer the most.
Most of Strikeforce's remaining stars (Gilbert Melendez, Luke Rockhold, Ronaldo Souza) fight twice a year, and that's if they're lucky. Heck, the promotion still doesn't have anything lined up for their vacant light heavyweight title.
Even worse, Strikeforce's female fighters are so desperate for events that they're relegated to seeking out "talent sharing" options with Invicta FC and other regional promotions.
So with all that trouble and all that talent suffering in limbo, is there even a point to Strikeforce's continued existence? Does it have anything valuable to offer to the MMA world?
Yes. Strikeforce can be saved.
As pointless, mismanaged and publicly weak as it appears, there is a value in Strikeforce that can be mined for the future. But it'll take some huge steps to get there—steps that may seem crazy.
Step 1: Get Strikeforce Away From Showtime
Is Strikeforce worth saving?
Although much of the blame sits on the UFC for Strikeforce's woes, an equal amount has to fall on cable network Showtime.
As reported by Dave Meltzer's Wrestling Observer (via Bloody Elbow), some Strikeforce fighters have contract stipulations that prevent them from jumping ship to the UFC. In essence, it's a rumored blacklist that's reserved for Strikeforce's biggest stars.
Showtime Sports president denied to MMA Fighting's MMA Hour that such a list actually exists, but regardless of whether he's telling the truth, the truth is just as problematic as the possible lie. No matter what, Strikeforce will suffer in a petty tug-of-war between Zuffa and Showtime as long as valuable talent remains in the mix.
To begin the healing, Showtime has to pull the plug on Strikeforce, or at least be compensated well enough to let the promotion go. Considering how far the UFC took their grudge with Spike TV, one would hope that cooler heads might prevail in that negotiation.
Step 2: Revive Strikeforce as an All-Women's MMA Promotion
One thing that's always set Strikeforce apart from the rest of the American MMA scene was its dedication to hosting female fighters.
Even when the women's roster was little more than an excuse to serve up overmatched victims to former featherweight title contender Gina Carano, the San Jose-based company put women's MMA in the spotlight in a way that no one else really could.
If Zuffa and the UFC want to wrangle value out of Strikeforce at a minimum risk, they need to eliminate the men's division altogether, absorb the best fighters there, and open up the women's roster to at least three weight classes.
Invicta FC can run a semi-popular calendar of events with little more than good wishes and packing tape. Since that much is possible on such a small budget, it's fair to say Zuffa wouldn't be investing a ton of money on an all-women's league.
Plus, it kills several birds with one stone.
Ronda Rousey gets to stay at the top of a well-known MMA promotion, it gives women's MMA more time to evolve as a marketable product (before eventually getting absorbed into the UFC), and Zuffa can stick Strikeforce events on FX or FUEL TV to fill their lengthy calendar.
Step 3: Actually Start Giving a Damn About Strikeforce
One of the biggest problems facing Strikeforce is that it's vastly under-promoted.
When your own champions lament the amount of empty seats at weigh-ins and press conferences, that's a problem all around. Maybe getting Dana White to hype Strikeforce events is stretching the UFC president a bit too thin, but you need to have someone in the trenches getting things done.
That someone isn't Scott Coker. As a figurehead, he's harmless and dutiful—as a promoter, he's more boring than Ben Askren's fights.
If Strikeforce as an all-women's league would have any chance to succeed, Zuffa would have to actually make a concerned effort to sell the brand to viewers. Invicta FC and their legion of mid-level talent can generate 200,000 viewers an event, so doing at least 500,000 with Rousey, Miesha Tate or Cyborg Santos in title fights on free TV can't be much harder.
Believe it or not, Strikeforce is worth saving. Even on life support, it can hang on as a worthy niche success—it all just depends on Zuffa and the UFC bothering to make the effort.