2009 has been a watershed year for Strikeforce and Scott Coker. It began with Coker negotiating successfully to purchase fighter contracts, fight library, and a broadcast contract with CBS/Showtime from the now defunct EliteXC.
And of course, the big news today that Fedor Emelianenko has signed with Strikeforce for a multi-fight contract. That is certainly big news since it means the Last Emperor will not be relegated to no-name fights in Japan.
It also is the latest in a calculated sequence of events that Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker has orchestrated that puts Strikeforce near the pinnacle of the sport's promotions.
He has not only acquired the contracts of big-time fighters like Fedor Emelianenko, Gina Carano, Robbie Lawler, Jake Shields, Nick Diaz, Gegard Mousasi, Fabricio Werdum, Jay Hieron, Rafael Feijao Cavalcante and Roger Gracie to bolster an already solid fighter roster, but has also developed fighters such as Brett Rogers, Billy Evangelista, and Joey Villasenor into legitimate contenders.
He has expanded the base of the promotion out of its San Jose home into Colorado, Washington, and St. Louis, Missouri. In June the company announced that the August 15th main event will be the first Female championship bout in MMA history, with the two female superstars of the sport "Cyborg" Santos vs Gina Carano squaring off in a much anticipated matchup.
Strikeforce is now in a position to be on major network television through the deal Coker signed with CBS/Showtime. He has marketable mainstream superstars in Cung Le, Frank Shamrock, and Josh "the Punk" Thomson as the "core" of his talent pool.
Coker stepped in and saved another Affliction casualty by signing little known but very talented Gegard Mousasi and moving his fight against Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion Renato "Babalu" Sobral to the August card as a title defense for Sobral. Also the first Strikeforce Welterweight title will be decided that same night.
He has done a masterful job of obtaining and promoting fighters to become viable fighters that are marketable to the public. Now he has put the icing on the cake by ending the media frenzy around Fedor Emelianenko's abrupt free-agency.
His willingness to co-promote with Dream, Sengoku, Affliction, and now M-1 Global has given his fighters a unique ability to pursue their own fighting interests. Sometimes that might backfire when his champions (Cung Le and Alistair Overeem) go long periods without a title defense, but it also means that he can offer a more fighter friendly environment to draw better fighters to his promotion.
With some crafty matchmaking, a heavyweight fight for Fedor in the autumn of 2009 would make sense and possibly could be for an "interim" Strikeforce belt. After that a unification fight between the interim winner and Alistair Overeem would also produce alot of interest. Then, of course, is up-and-coming heavyweight Brett Rogers. Other heavyweights that Strikeforce can fit into the mix would be super-prospect Roger Gracie, veterans Fabricio Werdum, Gilbert Yvel, Paul Buentello, Mike Kyle, and possibly Sergei Kharitonov.
But there are other very intriguing options in addition to those mentioned; submission expert Jeff Monson is a top 15 heavyweight, he has two fights in different promotions on the horizon including a rematch against Pedro Rizzo. Additionally, K-1 star Jerome le Banner who has been rumored to be interested in fighting MMA again.
But the most intriguing option could be realized at the end of August, after UFC 102. If Randy Couture's contract with the UFC is indeed fulfilled after his fight with Big Nog, will he then sign a fight contract to give the fans the matchup with Fedor that has been on Christmas lists for so long it has been forgotten?
All-in-all Coker has done a fine job navigating the treacherous waters of MMA promotions over the tumultuous year. If he can retain the elite fighters that are with Strikeforce now (read Jake Shields) and build on the depth of the roster, Strikeforce could certainly be in prime position to see its brand at the forefront of the MMA sports pages.