Upcoming on November 21, 2009; UFC is set to host UFC 106. Headlining is defending UFC Heavyweight Champion, Brock Lesnar, up against top contender Shane Carwin. Additionally is the return of Tito Ortiz, ‘The Huntington Beach Bad Boy’, as he faces UFC Hall of Famer and veteran of Pride FC and UFC, Mark ‘The Hammer’ Coleman.
But on the other hand we have Strikeforce, scheduling an event held on Showtime (the date is yet to be announced), between The Number 1 Ranked Heavyweight, Fedor Emelianenko against the heavy-handed striker, Brett Rogers. This is my eyes is an attempt for Strikeforce to avoid UFC counter-programming against them as they have done with the August event headlined by Gina Carano and Cris Cyborg Santos.
There has been a lot of discussion as to whether Strikeforce should use UFC’s own game of counter-programming against them. As there are advantages as well as disadvantages of this, I’ll take a look into this a little deeper.
Foremost, the big advantage of going head-to-head with the UFC is that you’re no longer running and hiding from the giant of MMA, which Strikeforce are essentially doing now. By competing with the UFC, Strikeforce will be getting right in their face and pushing their top most talent up against that of the UFC. This could be disastrous; but, at the same time it could get their product out to many more viewers who may not heard of Strikeforce, than if Strikeforce were to wait a few weeks after the UFC 106 and hold it then.
Obviously the media speculation surrounding this event would be huge and good publicity for Strikeforce. There was a lot of hype surrounding a potential Brock Lesnar vs. Fedor Emelianenko fight, and in a way they would be going head-to-head still, -only Lesnar’s fight Main Eventing on Pay Per View and Fedor’s fight Main Eventing on Showtime. This is alike to when Affliction headlined both their ‘Banned’ and ‘Day of Reckoning’ events, with Fedor in the Main Event. UFC counter-programmed against both of these, only to cause the media speculation around the confliction to actually intrigue a number of viewers to check out UFC’s competition and see that although they may be the biggest fish in the sea, they’re not the only fish out there.
A pressing argument is that Dana White has declared war on Strikeforce; and by Strikeforce hiding away they are only making it worse for themselves. Dana has taken every promotion that has stood in his way and crushed them; due to his holding of the larger majority of MMA audience, the mainstream product recognisable to everybody, higher production values, and a great number of fighters that are widely considered to be the best in the world. Essentially then Strikeforce are presented with the option to continue hiding under a rock and delaying the inevitability, or choosing to fight back, and put Fedor up against Lesnar.
Flipping over to the other side of the coin, Dana White, love him or hate him, is an intelligent business man. He seems to always find a way to get ahead of his competition –whether it’s dirty tactics or not. Take for example, the upcoming UFC 103 event –HBO is hosting potentially the biggest name in boxing today, Floyd Mayweather as he faces Juan Manuel Marquez. Assumably a worrying thought for Dana since their 103 card is mediocre at best so the opportunistic White is also airing the undercard free to air on Spike TV.
Another thing to consider is Brock Lesnar and Tito Ortiz are two of the most marketable names in MMA today. Tito was one of the few to really mend the bridge between the casual and hardcore audience; and given his background in Professional Wrestling and the media outrage following his post fight actions at UFC 100, Lesnar is the man you love to hate. As a result people will buy Pay Per Views to see him get beaten. On the opposing side you have Fedor Emelianenko, whom in my eyes is the best fighter not only in the Heavyweight Division, but in MMA in general. Although as great as he is, he is not a highly marketable fighter.
Again taking Affliction’s ‘Banned’ and ‘Day of Reckoning’ events for example; these were both backed with Main Card fights to make hardcore fans salivate. But the big problem is that mainstream audiences do not recognise Fedor, he spent his career mostly in Japan and Russia, only entering one fight inside of the US against Mark Coleman. The UFC audience whose attention they were seeking then, didn’t even know who was and in turn consequently didn’t spend their Saturday night at home watching these great fights.
The fact is that the vast majority of MMA fans out there are UFC fans, and a fair portion of them don't know that there are alternatives out there to the UFC, and they certainly don't know who the hell Fedor is. The argument can then be made that Fedor has only managed to establish an audience of US fans from finishing Tim Sylvia and Andrei Alovski in impressing fashion at both Affliction events. Yet both of these events were broadcasted on Pay Per View, not free-to-air TV…meaning that again only the hardcore audience tuned in while the casuals were watching Anderson Silva on Spike TV.
Also important to consider is the well established roster the UFC has of fighters that are well known to the vast majority of people who watch MMA. For instance on the UFC 106 card we have Brock Lesnar, Tito Ortiz, Shane Carwin, Mark Coleman, Karo Parisyan, Amir Sodollah etc. Strikeforce only has Fedor Emelianenko & Brett Rogers who are official, as their other big names such as Gina Carano, Gegard Mousasi, and Renatol "Babalu" Sobral etc. won't be on the card. Therefore, the only attraction to their event will be Fedor and as the majority haven't seen his battles in Pride, they simply aren’t going to be intrigued enough to spend their Saturday night at home watching this card.
The bottom line is that given a few years to silently establish an audience within the MMA, Strikeforce could easily and maybe even successfully go head-to-head with the UFC. But at this point they’re not very well know, they don’t have a talent roster that many enough can recognise, and don’t have the product value or power of the letters ‘UFC’ that have become more well known than the letters ‘MMA’.
By Justin Faux