The Death of Strikeforce: The Oral History of the UFC's Great Alternative, Pt. 2
Strikeforce is on its death bed. Its final event, held in Oklahoma City Saturday night, is imminent. How did the promotion that once fancied itself the Pepsi to UFC's Coke get to this point? I talked with the most important players—the men and women who built the brand—to find out in this definitive oral history.
This is the history of Strikeforce, in their words.
The first entry in this two-part series, chronicling the early days of the promotion, can be found here.
One source of world-class fighters came from a well no major promotion had ever tapped until Strikeforce and Elite XC took the plunge in 2006 and 2007. Women had been fighting on smaller shows like Jeff Osborne's Hook N Shoot for years. But even their staunchest supporters couldn't have predicted the response to women fighting in the cage on national television. Simply put, it was a hit.
With superstar, and future movie star, Gina Carano leading the way, female fighters didn't just find a place on the card. They shattered the glass ceiling and made their way all the way to the main event. Where Gina led, others quickly followed. Soon the promotion had a handful of incredible female fighters, many of whom wowed fans with their good looks almost as much as they impressed them with their fighting prowess.
Scott Coker (Strikeforce promoter): I grew up in a martial arts school where we trained with females all the time. They were doing everything the guys were doing. So when we started Strikeforce kickboxing we always had female fights. We had a girl named Kim Messer fight Lisa Smith in kickboxing in one of the greatest fights I've ever seen in person.
Mike Afromowitz (Strikeforce media relations): Scott was always the big believer in giving women the opportunity to fight. He thought they were martial artists just like men were martial artists. He promoted women's kickboxing before he promoted women's MMA fighting. He looked at them as fighters. There were women who fought just like there were men who fought.
Coker: In 2006, when MMA became legal in California, women's MMA was not legal. We tried to get the commission to allow us to do a female fight on our first card and they wouldn't let us do it. We had to wait until December of 2006 to do the first sanctioned women's bout, Gina Carano fighting Elaina Maxwell.
We were only allowed to have them fight for two-minute rounds because the state wouldn't allow us to do five-minute rounds like the boys. It was ridiculous, but what could I do? Those were the Commission's rules and the Commission could shut you down. I had no choice.
Afromowitz: We discovered Gina in Vegas when she fought kickboxing for us on the K-1 USA undercard. We knew her back before Strikeforce was an MMA promotion. When I first saw her ringside at K-1 I said "This girl could be a star." This girl was an awesome athlete. I didn't know it at the time, but her dad was a backup quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. So she had those athletic genes.
Gina Carano (women's MMA pioneer): It feels like I was fighting just to (be able to) fight. It was just one big fight for five years. It's been a chance for me to show people that there's a different kind of female out there. There is a different kind of female who isn't always worried about her weight and becoming anorexic. There's a different kind of female who might be more physical and might not be the best at giving speeches and always saying the right things.
After her fight in Strikeforce, Carano went on to become a major star with Elite XC under the guidance of promoter Gary Shaw. When she came back to Strikeforce, her main-event push continued, literally. She and Cris Cyborg became the first women fighters to headline a national event, taking the lead spot on Showtime on August 15, 2009.
Carano: I just think that the problem has been exposure for women. People walk away from female fighting and they talk about it like it's the main event. It's just a matter of exposure.
Coker: I asked Showtime if they would consider this main event and they said, "Of course, we would love to have it." It was the first time in martial arts history that there had been a female main event on that level. Once Showtime got behind it, we went full steam ahead.
It was one of the pinnacles of Strikeforce. Cyborg became the Mike Tyson of MMA, knocking everyone out. And Gina went straight from the fight to the movies. It worked out well for both of them.
Cyborg's decimation of Carano created a new star, and others soon joined the party. While Cyborg and Carano competed at 145 pounds, it was the 135-pound weight class that ultimately took center stage. Fighters like Miesha Tate, Sarah Kaufman and Marloes Coenen were competing at a high level, and their success made sure women's MMA was more than the Carano show. It was a full-fledged sport.
Sarah Kaufman (former Strikeforce bantamweight champion): I think a lot of women's fights are extremely exciting. You have technical fights, you have brawls, you have a mix of everything. And because we are a lighter weight, generally the pace is a little quicker.
Frank Shamrock (Strikeforce main-event star and broadcaster): Girls, when they fight, they don't hold back. They completely go for it. They seem to have a different intensity level. And it makes magic when you pit two of them against each other.
Miesha Tate (former Strikeforce bantamweight champion): When you get two female athletes out there who are well trained and well prepared, I think it really catches people off-guard if they haven't seen it before. That's good. That's what we need.
Damon Martin (Lead Reporter, MMAWeekly.com): The women always fought with a chip on their shoulders and something to prove, and they never disappointed when given the chance to shine.
Rich Chou (matchmaker): A lot of times, the women's fights would steal the show. The decision was made to really push them because we liked what we saw in front of us and wanted it to grow.
Shamrock: The girls are usually attractive and the fights are kind of edgy. They're used to fighting for their lives, so they are like "Come on bitch, let's go for it."
Coker: These girls were well trained martial artists. This wasn't some cat fight.
Kaufman: Of course there are people that are still unsure about seeing girls hitting each other. Kind of an old-fashioned sense of "You don't hit girls." It's one of those things that's getting overcome, but it's taking some time. It really is a great sport.
Knapp: I'm as old school as they come. Coming up through the ranks, when men would talk about women and fighting, it was usually "Find me a hot chick, Shannon." It was never "Find me the best athlete." So I was always a little biased about giving women those opportunities. I saw it as taking a place away from one of my male athletes.
I watched them and said "Wow, women can really fight." Working with Strikeforce gave me the opportunity for the first time in my life to actually work with female athletes. I saw Gina, Cris Cyborg, Marloes Coenen, Miesha (Tate)—athletes that were actually training in the game and serious about their careers. It changed my perception.
Tate, Kaufman and Coenen traded the title back and forth in a series of thrilling bouts. Many of them, however, were relegated to Strikeforce's secondary show, the Challengers series. But soon the quality of fights and fan demand helped the newly minted women stars find a home on the big shows.
Martin de Jong (Golden Glory, trainer of Marloes Coenen and Alistair Overeem): Marloes was always on the main card. We were very happy that she got that chance, and although I would have loved to have her fighting three or four times a year, she did fine with twice a year. Having her fighting on the Challengers cards probably didn't make sense, because of her purse.
Marloes has a big following in the U.S., and she always performed in a spectacular way. Showtime loved her, and I think that's why she was always on the main cards on the big shows.
Kaufman: Those looks of Gina got people watching. But from there, the casual fan began to appreciate the women's fights more and more. Now there is less emphasis on just looking good. It matters how you fight.
Tate: There are so many women coming out of the woodwork every day. More amateurs turning pro. And new women becoming amateurs. It's growing pretty fast, and I think that people are becoming more accepting of it. Girls are like, "Wow, I didn't even know I could do that. I want to do that and I can do it, because she's doing it." It's important and exciting to see the sport progressing so much.
Chou: Now we're seeing Ronda Rousey headline a UFC pay-per-view, and I'd like to think we have Strikeforce and Elite XC to thank for paving the way on Showtime.
Strikeforce developed some of its biggest stars internally. None shined brighter than the motley crew from Cesar Gracie's school in Pleasant Hill, California. Nick Diaz, Gilbert Melendez and Jake Shields catapulted to the top of the promotion doing things their own way.
Coker: Interesting guys. But you know what? There were amazing fighters at Cesar Gracie's gym. Tough guys who walked the walk. If they don't like you, you'll know in the cage.
Cesar Gracie: We wanted to show we were the big dogs in California.
Gilbert Melendez (Strikeforce lightweight champion): It's more than training partners. We're a family. Someone like Nick, Nate and Jake, they've all helped me become the fighter I am.
Gracie: We really enjoyed Strikeforce in the rock and roll days. Strikeforce was emerging as one of the bigger shows, and we kind of ruled Strikeforce back in the day. We had three champs, and they just wouldn't lose. Nick was undefeated, Jake was, and obviously Gilbert had the one loss and he was champ forever. We kind of ruled over that, and it's kind of been our backyard over here.
While Melendez and Shields were arguably more successful in the cage, it was Nick Diaz who became a breakout star in Strikeforce, propelled into the main event against Frank Shamrock in April, 2009, the man who had beaten his trainer and mentor in Strikeforce's very first show.
Shamrock: I'd seen him grow up from a young kid. This is what he was born to do.
Gracie: He pretty much has bad blood for everyone who steps in the cage with him. That is what motivates him; it's not a personal thing. They are going into battle, and they are not friends with the person they are fighting. That is what makes him exciting.
Afromowitz: He was very difficult to deal with at media functions. And you can see that to this day. It's just his personality. I'm not blaming him—that's who he is. But the promoter's job is to promote the fight. He needs the fighter to meet certain media commitments and other functions that go along with it
Shamrock: That's Nick Diaz. That was the beauty of being in Strikeforce's infancy. It was real. And some of it was out of control. Nick was out of control. We had to chase him down, corral him, keep him in rooms. But the purity of that made brilliant television because he was real as can be.
Afromowitz: It's funny. I guess we built him, but he also built himself. Nick, just by being who he is, made himself this outlaw. And he became bigger than he was in the UFC. He put on exciting fights and was a star already, but he became bigger than that as time went on. Along the way he became the bad boy. As he was on Showtime more, as he was in the public more, people started to like him more. He may have done the same things in UFC and Elite XC, but now he was doing them in the spotlight.
As exciting as Diaz was, finishing Shamrock's Hall of Fame career, the best for Strikeforce was yet to come. Like Elite XC, the T-shirt company Affliction had tried to move too fast, too soon and squandered millions on high-priced, high-profile fighters, including Fedor Emelianenko. Long considered the best heavyweight in the world, the former Pride champion had a big name—and an even bigger price tag.
The UFC went after him hard, but ultimately couldn't come to an arrangement with M-1 Global, the promotional company Fedor owned a piece of and wanted to use to co-promote all of his bouts.
Evgeni Kogan (Operations Director, M-1 Global): The co-promotion that was brought up so many times in the media, had probably 10 percent importance to the overall deal. Ninety percent of our concern was the financial side.
When the UFC dropped out, Coker and his partners, once again, had an important decision to make.
Coker: I brought it to them and said "Guys, this is what it's going to take and this is what it will do for the brand." They always supported me. They said "Let's go for it." It was never a matter of "I don't know, that's a lot of money for Fedor." They asked "Do you think it's worth it?" I said "Yeah, I think it's worth it."
Josh Gross (ESPN Senior MMA Writer): To land a guy of his caliber, that people care about, it was a shot over the bow of the UFC, and it was the one move that put them on the UFC's radar in terms of being an actual "competitor." It wasn't getting on Showtime or gobbling up Pro Elite. It was signing Fedor. It said "these guys are trying to create something that is not a regional show." Fedor is a global talent and the best heavyweight in the world. If he's there, people are going to start paying attention.
Chou: Scott could do things that no other organization could do. UFC tried to sign Fedor forever and couldn't. They get everybody they want. I can't think of a time they didn't. We got him. That changed the game overall. That elevated Strikeforce to a new level. It meant we were a real player and sent a message to Zuffa. That was when things started changing. (UFC President) Dana White used to speak very highly of Strikeforce and was very supportive. The Fedor signing changed things. They felt the heat turned up and started treating us as a real competitor and coming after us a little more aggressively.
Emelianenko's first bout with the company was also Strikeforce's debut on CBS. The Tiffany network had also broadcast Elite XC and was willing to take a chance on a new sport. Fedor proved his worth, both in the cage against Brett Rogers, fresh off a win over former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski, and at the box office, where he attracted a live crowd of 11,512 at the Sears Center near Chicago and another five million on television.
Afromowitz: With the escalation of costs came a lot of opportunity, especially with CBS.
Coker: I think it was timing as well. We didn't start with Showtime until April of 2009 doing these fights by ourselves. The timing was right, the main event was right. It all just worked out perfectly.
Vadim Finkelstein (M-1 Global, Fedor's manager): The audience cheered for Fedor even though Brett Rogers was actually born in Chicago.
Kogan: They were all very excited to see Fedor. He, by far, had the best reception of the fighters fighting there, and it was very surprising, actually, to see how well he was received by the U.S. fans.
Coker: If you saw the reaction in L.A. when he was fighting for Affliction, you could clearly see that this guy has a huge fanbase. I think if you brought him in, even today, he would still bring a big fanbase. If he came out of retirement and had a big fight, his fans would come out. Because they loved this guy.
Kogan: They were elated to win the fight, of course, but you have to understand the cultural differences. The team itself is pretty stoic, much like Fedor. All the guys who traveled with him and his friends, his priest—and it was priests plural for later fights—were all very stoic. They weren't like some of the other teams that created this huge fanfare when their fighters won. They didn't change, very much, the way they conducted themselves.
After the fight came the first of what would be many renegotiations with Fedor and his team. Although Emelianenko was reported to have signed a three-fight deal, his contracts didn't seem to be written in stone.
Coker: They never signed a contract they didn't want to renegotiate. That was one of my personal issues with them. Why not honor the contract that you signed?
Kogan: Negotiations and then renegotiation with Strikeforce after the Rogers fight, and all the subsequent renegotiations, were often over the phone or Skype...There was a discrepancy between the amount of money we were under the impression was going to come out of that deal and the amount of money that actually did.
Chou: There were times we were certainly frustrated. Things didn't flow as smoothly as we'd like. It wasn't a perfect world, that's for sure. But that's the fight game.
Kogan: It wasn't that Strikeforce or Scott did something underhanded—the projections we made just didn't work out. The financials didn't work out in that market. So we went back to them and said, "This isn't how we'd like to continue the relationship." It wasn't that Strikeforce wasn't doing what they were supposed to be doing. We thought they showed good faith throughout.
Afromowitz: When you deal with a big star, there are a lot of hands there. There's a lot of interest involved. The bigger the star, the more opportunity they bring to the people around them. So getting a deal done with someone of that caliber is not easy.
Chou: There were times we had to walk away and hit the reset button. Cool off. But we always came back to the table and tried to make things happen.
Kogan: It was around that time that Showtime started actively becoming a part of the conversation. They were basically taking over the Strikeforce side and negotiating with us. Things between us and Strikeforce weren't going that well, and Showtime felt like they could really be a big help.
Coker: The most frustrating part of the Fedor experience was having to have that conversation with those guys every time. I guess that's how they do things? I have no idea.
Kogan: When it became obvious that we weren't going to be able to come to an arrangement with Strikeforce that suited to both sides, and it looked like the deal might be ending altogether, I think Showtime realized that it was probably an important thing for Strikeforce to remain in a relationship with Fedor.
Afromowitz: It's too bad we weren't able to get him on the next CBS card. It would have changed a lot of things.
With Fedor temporarily out of the picture, his fight with Fabricio Werdum was pulled from consideration for the main-event slot of the second CBS show in Nashville. Instead, the newly signed Dan Henderson, fresh off a knockout win at the biggest UFC show in history, took on Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields.
After nearly being knocked out in the first round, a cautious Shields grounded Henderson on his way to a tepid decision. The ratings were dismal, but worst of all was what happened after the fight. Jason "Mayhem" Miller sneaked into the cage to challenge Shields, saying "Where's my title shot, buddy?" Shields pushed Miller, and Shields' training partners—Nick Diaz, Nate Diaz and Gilbert Melendez—quickly jumped in as a full-scale brawl erupted on network television.
Frank Shamrock: They wanted a cage fight. They got a cage fight.
Chou: Bob (Cook) and I are starting to walk away from the cage after the fight. We knew we had some fights that weren't going to be appreciated. The matchups on paper were terrific—but they just weren't exciting. I remember Bob and I walking away from the cage and I said to him '"At least it can't get any worse, right?'"
I s--- you not, as I was saying it we hear this commotion in the cage and we run back, jumped back in there and with the help of the staff and everybody restored order. It was that kind of night. But uttering those words—maybe it was my fault? As soon as I said that, the universe responded.
Coker: I didn't see it. I was on my way to the press conference. Until I saw it online I didn't really understand how big a melee it was. It was a black eye for Strikeforce.
Shamrock: I was so sick to my stomach watching it happen. Because I couldn't believe that's what our youth was doing to the sport in that moment. One of the biggest opportunities ever for MMA. I knew after that happened that we were going to take a major step backward.
Chou: We don't have the same luxuries other sports do. We see this happen in other major sports, but those sports are established. We don't have that luxury. We're still fighting for respect. And there are still people at the top that don't like this sport. You give them something like that to work with and it's a lot of ammo for somebody still skeptical about MMA. Their worst fears were realized.
Coker: It was my low point as a martial arts promoter. I got into this business to support martial arts, and I thought that was a disservice to our mission statement. It was very disappointing.
Afromowitz: When I first saw it I said, "This is not good." And I turned to one of my colleagues from Showtime and asked, "Is this going to be a problem?" And they said, "Nah, don't worry about it." And then, of course, it was a problem. Of course it's a problem. CBS was a public company, and there were people within that company who didn't think MMA belonged on that network.
Knapp: If it had been Showtime instead of CBS, it wouldn't have been blown out of proportion the way it was.
Chou: I remember all of us being uncertain about the future. It was a really big deal. This thing went all the way up the Showtime and CBS ladder. MMA never appeared on CBS again.
Coker: It was definitely a consideration, but I don't think (the brawl) was the only consideration. They felt like this was a great product for Showtime but they weren't sure if it was a long-term play for CBS. They were very honest about that.
With Strikeforce gone from CBS, Emelianenko's next fight was on Showtime against Fabricio Werdum on June 26, 2010. In a shocking upset, Werdum ended a 28-fight winning streak, shocking the entire MMA world. But Fedor's mere presence had attracted some of the other top big men in the sport to Strikeforce, including Alistair Overeem, the promotion's long-absent champion.
de Jong: Alistair was getting paid good money fighting in Japan. Although we'd loved to defend the Strikeforce title at that time, the purse offered by Strikeforce didn't make sense. You also have to understand that there is a tax treaty between Holland and Japan which makes it very attractive to fight in Japan for us.
The signing of Fedor made Strikeforce a much more attractive place indeed. Also, Strikeforce signed the deal with Showtime, which gave us a lot more exposure and budget to make it work.
Overeem coming into the fold gave Strikeforce a heavyweight roster that matched anyone's in the sport, including the UFC's. It also inspired Coker to borrow an idea from Pride's glorious past—he was going to run a tournament that would last throughout 2011. Joining Overeem and Fedor in what became known as the Heavyweight Grand Prix, were Brett Rogers, Fabricio Werdum, Sergei Kharitonov, Antonio Silva and former UFC champions Josh Barnett and Andrei Arlovski.
Gross: I know it was Scott Coker's hope that the tournament would lift them to a place they hadn't been in the past. He was extremely excited by it. He had been bouncing the idea around for a couple of months, picking people's brains about it. He loved it and wanted to put it together. He liked the idea of bringing together heavyweights from around the world.
Coker: I went out and signed all these guys, and Fedor was the key. Alistair kept saying "If Fedor's in, I'm in." Josh Barnett was the last guy to agree, but I know he really wanted to fight Fedor. Arlovski wanted to fight Fedor again.
Knapp: Building that heavyweight division. I'm going to say I'm quite proud of that...That's probably the highlight of my career. You always know "He who has the heavyweights wins." That's the way we looked at it...We beat the odds. How likely was it that some promotion out there other than the UFC was going to acquire and amass a heavyweight division like that? The sadness in all of it is that we didn't have the money to support it, to see it through.
Coker: Once I had all the fighters, I flew to New York to meet Showtime. They, in the past, had not supported the tournament format in mixed martial arts, but I told Ken Hershman, who was then the main guy at Showtime sports, "This is going to be great."
We had a PowerPoint presentation and I walked him through it, told him who everybody was, and he signed off on it. It's something I'm going to be very proud of for the rest of my life. I think it was an unbelievable event.
Afromowitz: A lot of people wrote us off after Nashville, but I think it was an even bigger story how we came back after that. We could have gone away after that, but we came back even stronger. It took some time, but we put on some great shows and then we announced that heavyweight tournament and were right back in the game.
Kogan: Fedor was happy to remain in Strikeforce. The level of competition was fine, especially coming into the Heavyweight Grand Prix. That was going to be the most important event of the year in all of MMA. Fedor really relished his participation in that tournament. I think everyone did.
de Jong: The heavyweight tournament was promising to be the most anticipated tournament in MMA since the old PRIDE days. The only thing I don't understand is why they didn't lay out the dates from the start so every one knew exactly when they were fighting and who they would be fighting.
Shamrock: You could feel the growth swell. Once we got the heavyweight tournament going, there was a different feeling. It popped it to the next level. When we were in New York doing that media, you could feel it.
Before the event at the Izod Center in New Jersey, huge crowds came to see the fighters in New York, and media flocked to the press conference like it never had before. It was exhilarating for all involved, but there was one moment that had Coker's heart racing uncomfortably.
Kogan: We were all in the same hotel. Vadim, Scott Coker, myself. One of our acquaintances in New Jersey had a driver he loaned us to drive us around New York City on this trip. As we were leaving for the press conference, there wasn't a car for Scott, so we offered him a ride. It was me, Vadim, Scott and this 300-pound guy from Latvia as our driver. Somehow he had no idea where anything was.
Coker: I realized we weren't anywhere near where we were supposed to be. We're on the other side of the river.
Kogan: The hotel was quite close to the press conference, so we realized something was quite wrong when we were two-thirds of the way through the Lincoln Tunnel...We were sitting there assuring Scott that this wasn't part of our plan, to drive him into the middle of nowhere in New Jersey. We're all Russian speakers and the driver spoke no English. Scott was just looking at us as we tried to figure it out.
Coker: OK. I've seen this in Goodfellas. I watch Sopranos. I know what's going on here.
Kogan: With everyone having seen so many television programs where that sort of stuff happened, I think there was an instant where he might have believed we were kidnapping him. It was really funny in hindsight. The whole thing was really comical. We ended up being just 20 minutes late.
While excitement bubbled up in both the Strikeforce office and the hardcore MMA fanbase, few knew that while Coker was negotiating with fighters to participate in this tournament, an entirely different set of negotiations was threatening to blow it to smithereens.
Coker: Negotiations (to sell Strikeforce) were already under way. That happened probably a month before the tournament. It wasn't that the tournament happened and then negotiations with the UFC started for the purchase of the company. It was ongoing.
The tournament began with no one the wiser. Emelianenko lost for the second time in a row, this time to Antonio "Big Foot" Silva. While there was still plenty of buzz surrounding the tournament, Fedor's elimination was a huge letdown for fans who dreamed of potential fights with Overeem and Barnett.
de Jong: I think it was a big mistake in matchmaking, lining Fedor up with tough and heavy fighters Werdum and Big Foot. If they would have done it right, Overeem vs. Fedor could have been a huge draw—even a potential first PPV fight for Strikeforce.
Damon Martin: It was a huge moment, but it's hard to ignore what became of it. At the time, however, it felt like Pride was alive again and we were about to witness something truly special. Unfortunately, that moment fell apart in rapid fashion. But for a brief moment we all thought this was Strikeforce's chance to challenge the UFC's dominance in the American market in at least one division.
One month after the first bouts in the Grand Prix, UFC President Dana White announced to the world and MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani that Zuffa had purchased Strikeforce for an undisclosed sum. Strikeforce employees were shell-shocked, but they had gotten an early warning when ESPN's Josh Gross broke the news to them that a sale was imminent.
Gross: I got wind of it a month maybe before the deal was consummated. I did make phone calls and talk to people inside Strikeforce and, as sometimes happens, was the one to inform them of what's happening. It was one of the more interesting stories I've ever had to report on. As I dug into it, it was clear that something was there.
Chou: I didn't officially know until I got a call from Josh Gross. But a lot of things we were looking into and exploring, things going on behind the scenes, (so) it all made sense when Josh called. I put two and two together.
Shannon Knapp (matchmaker): When I talked to Josh, I was shocked...There's that old saying—build it and they will come. If I were them, I would have wanted that heavyweight division too.
Coker: My partners, the Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment Group, felt like it was time for them to get back to focusing on hockey, their core business. With all our events and the expansion, all their key guys were helping us, and it was just taxing on them as a company. They felt that, for them, it was the right time.
Knapp: (Strikeforce) was losing a bunch of money. That's true. I know it was. They were looking for a new partner or an infusion of cash. It was sold by Scott's partners because they thought it needed to be. It needed something. They were in a position where they needed help or a buyout, and that opened it up for Zuffa.
Shamrock: I know Scott didn't want to sell the company. But his money guys had an aversion to risk. And when we got into the heavyweight tournament with Fedor and the other fighters, we started signing really big checks. They saw a huge investment that was increasing in risk and returning little. And they wanted to get out.
Afromowitz: They are business people. MMA wasn't a passion for them.
Coker: When you have partners you have to be sensitive to their needs as well. They were really good partners to me. (Selling) was the right thing to do. Did I ever think that I wouldn't own the name Strikeforce? No, I never thought that was going to happen.
Gross: He didn't want to do it. Strikeforce was his baby.
At the time Gross reported that Coker had attempted to find outside funding to wrest back control of the brand, but was unsuccessful.
Coker: There was not really too much conversation about getting other partners...there was an offer on the table and it caught everybody by surprise. This thing went down so fast. Once the offer was made and once I met with Silicon Valley and they wanted to do it, everything else moved very quickly.
Chou: The guys at the top, they're business people. They were not as passionate about MMA as the Strikeforce team was. They were presented with an opportunity to make a return on their investment. Ultimately, they decided the time was right for them. They were presented with a terrific deal from Zuffa, and it was just a business deal for them. And I understand that. There was no guarantee. We had a ton of momentum and were becoming a viable alternative to UFC. And we were going to continue to grow. But there are no guarantees in this game.
Martin: It was a tough moment, and the sad part was Strikeforce really died that day when Zuffa bought them. Not because Zuffa planned on torpedoing the entire show right then, but because the people that made up the heart and soul of the promotion disappeared. Scott Coker became a figurehead with no power. Mike Afromowitz, who had done the public relations for them forever, was dumped. Rich Chou, who took over matchmaking after Bob Cook bowed out, was let go so Sean Shelby could take over. It was just a systematic dismantling of the promotion, and it was sad to see some of those mainstays go away.
The promotion continued under Zuffa, running 17 more events. Although some of the shows were lackluster and stars like Overeem and Diaz left for the UFC, the new Strikeforce wasn't without its own set of magical moments. Dan Henderson finished Fedor in the legend's final bout in the promotion. Daniel Cormier, an alternate, eventually won the Heavyweight Grand Prix by smashing Barnett. And Ronda Rousey emerged as a star.
As his creation enters its final days, founder Scott Coker finds himself remembering those who made it what it was.
Coker: We could have never become a national brand without Frank Shamrock and Cung Le. I'd like to thank the Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment guys. Jim Goddard and Greg Jamison really believed in the sport and got behind it. Without them it wouldn't have been possible.
Bob Cook and the American Kickboxing Academy, especially Javier Mendes. And my whole staff. Mike and Rich and Shannon. Andrew Ebel. Mike Rand. Alice Jones. Jen Cooke. Keri Aana, who is still with us and been my assistant for 15 years. I want to thank those people.
And I'd like to thank Showtime television. Without them and their belief in us, we'd have never grown into what we became. They provided us an amazing platform, and I hope they continue because mixed martial arts is a great sport.
Strikeforce: Marquardt vs. Saffiedine will take place on January 12, 10 p.m. ET/PT, at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City. The event will air live on Showtime.
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