Surviving Nashville: How Strikeforce Bounces Back

Elton HobsonCorrespondent IMay 17, 2010

Let’s get the most obvious observation out of the way first.

Last night’s Strikeforce “Heavy Artillery” card was a solid, entertaining event. After the Hindenberg that was April’s Strikeforce: Nashville, the St. Louis event was a definite step in the right direction.

Was it perfect? Of course not.

There is a lot Strikeforce (and Showtime itself, for that matter) has to learn about proper production when it comes to Mixed Martial Arts events.

Well the progression and timing of the nights events was good, not a single undercard fight was shown, despite the broadcast running short by several minutes.

While we’re at it, why can’t SF ever seem to get the timing of their events down. UFC frequently runs live cards from around the world and never eats 45 minutes into local news.

But I digress. For a promotion badly in need of some good news, last night's card must have been a relief to say the least. But it’s not over yet.

Indeed, I think Scott Coker realizes the precarious position his promotion is in, following the disaster of the CBS show, the continuing Excedrin headache that is M-1, and his MW champion about to jump to greener pastures.

The next few months are going to be very interesting for Strikeforce, and will determine whether or not they can be a serious force on the national stage or just a perpetual No. 2 to the UFC.

Because I know Scott Coker is a regular reader of this blog (what, you didn’t know that?)

What I present below is my unofficial business plan for the San Jose promotion. It is the five things Scott Coker must do if he wants to put the CBS disaster in the rear-view mirror and remain a force on the national stage.

I know I’ve written some unflattering things about SF, but I don’t harbour any ill-will towards them. Hey, I’m as big a Nick Diaz fan as anyone—and I like seeing MMA succeed on a big stage like network TV.

So more power to you, Scotty. In fact, I present my business plan to you, free of charge. Whadda guy, eh?

1) Hype the Holy Hell out of Fedor

Possibly the biggest travesty of April’s CBS card had nothing to do with anyone wondering where their rematch was, bro?

Instead, it was the almost complete absence of Fedor Emelianenko from any aspect of the broadcast. No promotional materials, no sell spots, no awkward pretaped interviews with Maurao Renallo to fill airtime.

Last night’s Showtime offering was a little better, but any attempt to sell Fedor was undercut by the commentary, which reflected the current confused state of relations between SF and M-1 Global.

When the talking heads sound like they’re begging Fedor’s management to make a title fight that is an absolute no brainier—well, it just doesn’t sound very confidence inspiring.

Who knows if getting into bed with M-1 to net Fedor was a good business decision (it didn’t work out very well for Bodog or Affliction).

I guarantee you Coker’s extended “negotiations” with M-1 have given the affable promoter more grey hairs or wrinkles then both Diaz brothers and Mayhem combined.

When you sign a three fight contract, then demand a renegotiation after only one fight—well it just reeks of blatantly underhanded business tactics.

Maybe Dana was right about those “crazy Russians” after all.

But it’s too late now. You’re in bed with M-1 now, so you should be doing the only thing you can do: hyping Fedor, and praying to Jeebus he keeps winning.

SF could hype a Fedor vs. Overeem match to HUGH ratings returns, and this fight should be talked about in every SF show from here on out.

Get Fedor video packages put together. Have him interviewed on the next Showtime card. Get him on the “Tonight Show” to heel hook Leno for that whole Conan thing.

Use your imaginations. Fedor is your biggest commodity—so why aren’t you selling, selling, and more selling?

2) Call Gina Carano ASAP

One half of the equation for SF returning to network TV ever again involves a title fight with the above mentioned quiet, chubby Russian. The (and equally vital) half of creating a possible network ratings success involves giving Gina Carano a call—right now.

I know, she’s off doing movies now, and not just straight to DVD “Scorpion King” prequels (sorry, Randy).

Her current project, “Knockout” is directed by Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh and has an A-list cast.

She is already accused of “part-timing” her MMA commitments over the last few years (as evidenced by multiple missed attempts to make weight before fights).

With her outside success in “American Gladiators” and now in feature films, maybe she’s done with this whole MMA thing once and for all.

But you won’t know ‘till you call, will you?

Coker recently said he hadn’t talked to Carano in “months” which I am frankly stunned to hear. In terms of exposure, of number of eyeballs a person can draw to a card, Gina Carano is the biggest asset SF has, even more then Fedor.

When Gina fights, people tune in. Lots and lots of people.

So call her and see if she wants to give the whole MMA thing one more whirl.

Tell her it’s go great to promote “Knockout”.

Tell her you’ll pay her a boatload of money (pretty much your go-to negotiating move, right Scott?).

Tell her she’ll face a tomato can.

Tell her whatever she wants to hear. But get her back for at least one more fight.

For an opponent—it really doesn’t matter. Make it Marloes Connen. Make it Erin Toughill. Make it Jennifer Lopez for all it will matter.

Gina Carano is an attraction outside of rankings and titles. As long as it’s a somewhat competitive match, people will tune in. So give her a call, Scotty. Like now.

3) Time for New Commentators

Alright, now I don’t want to freak you out, but there’s a cold hard truth your organization is just not facing up to.

So, like ripping off a band-aid, better to just do the nasty deed, let it sting for a short while, and be done with it. What I’m talking about, of course, are Strikeforce’s commentary team. It’s time to fire them.

All of them.

Gus Johnson is a CBS darling who can usually be found calling college basketball games.

In his normal milieu, he is a loud, obnoxious hype machine who most fans agree is a distraction.

When he calls MMA, however, he’s even worse.

God love his enthusiasm, but he seems to know less about the sport then Mike Goldberg and that’s saying something. Plus we all know what he thinks “happens all the time…in MMA”.

And Mauro Renallo?

He’s Mike Goldberg with volume turned up and the funny turned down. He seems to start every sentence without knowing how he is going to finish it. Whatever magic he had with Bas calling Pride is clearly done.

That leaves Frank Shamrock, who I actually kind of like. He is a serviceable announcer who does a good job with the educational side of the commentary.

When it comes to actually calling the fights, though, he pretty much leaves his journalistic integrity at the door.

His repeated derogatory, negative comments about Jake Shields—a champion SF was trying to promote as a network TV headliner—were a noticeable drag on the CBS broadcast.

I mean, how insane is it that a color commentator is completely throwing a fighter under the bus, and calling him boring when he wears that promotions belt and is headlining their biggest show to date.

So sorry, Scott, but they all have to go.

Which begs the question: who do you get to replace them?

For my money, I say give Schivallo, Pat Miletich and Bas Rutten a call.

“The Voice” is the perfect play-by-play guy to bring Renallo’s energy along with much needed wit and coherency. The straight laced Miletich is great at offering insights into the game, and Rutten is a force unto himself who could play well off both men.

Sounds like a winning team to me.

Or they could always get Tito “Great Job, I’m proud of you buddy!” Ortiz.

4) Book Diaz vs. Miller on Showtime or in DREAM

Go ahead. Roll your eyes. Yes, this is the most desperate, WWF-esque, Jerry Springer cheap ratings kind of matchmaking there is.

It will feature the Strikeforce WW champion moving up to 185 to face a mid-ranked fighter for no other reason then a controversial post fight brawl. This fight will be an attempt to cash in on that notoriety for a ratings grab.

OK, so you know I’m being honest with you know. I still think it’s a good idea, and that the pros outweigh the cons.

The fight happened, for better or worse. Yet, it was a bad night for the promotion, a bleak chapter in the sports history, a black eye for the sport and yadda yadda yadda.

Either way, it happened, and you can either let it keep hurting you with no benefit or you can turn a frown upside down.

Why shouldn’t you guys get something out of the whole Miller/Gracie camp brawl?

You’re not in a position to turn your nose up at a guaranteed ratings fight yet, even if it is not deserved for any other reason then that.

It wasn’t too long ago that the UFC was in exactly this same position or do I not remember Tito Ortiz crushing Ken Shamrock on no less then 3 separate occasions.

Hell is that not Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell dusting off their ancient feud for yet another tired go-round on “The Ultimate Fighter”?

It’s not like either guy has much going on that could get in the way of this fight happening.

Diaz faces an almost irrelevant Hayato “Mach” Sakurai at DREAM 14 at the end of May, and a completely barren SF Welterweight picture once he returns stateside.

“Mayhem” might want to pursue a third fight with “Jacare” Souza, but it’s unlikely he’ll get it. His decisive loss to Jake Shields keeps him out of the title picture for the time being.

Depending on what punishments the Tennessee Athletic Commission decides to hand down, this fight could be held on Showtime, or on a DREAM card as part of the Strikeforce/DREAM alliance.

It would be better if the fight were held in the U.S to fully capitalize on the hype, but both men seem more acclimated to the fighting scene in Japan and that may end up being a more natural fit.

5) Hype the Holy Hell out of Jacare/Roger Gracie

If you were to ask those in the know who was the top, undisputed best no-gi BJJ practitioner in the world, the answer would probably be either technical wizard Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza or the current standard bearer for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, gentle giant Roger.

Strikeforce currently has both those guys under contract (for the record, Braulio Estima is probably up there too).

These men represent, without a doubt, the two biggest prospects SF is currently in the process of building.

They need to start hyping these guys to the gills and getting them big fights, lots of exposure, and (to be honest) title shots before they are ready for them.

Again, roll your eyes all you want—giving bad ass BJJ guys early title shots is a tradition in MMA (or was that not Demian Maia in the ring with Anderson last month?).

Roger could make for an intriguing challenger to King Mo’s title down the line, and fights with Gegard Mousasi or Babalu in the meantime would be interesting and fun.

“Jacare” should be Coker’s go to guy for a MW title match once Shields jumps ship to the UFC. Jacare vs. Robbie Lawler for the (vacated) MW title would be a great “striker vs. grappler” fight and would crown a legitimate new champion.

6) Take Alvarez up on his Offer

Ok, I know I said five, but I’m in such a good mood, I’m gonna toss in a bonus sixth free of charge.

Recently, Eddie Alvarez and Gilbert Melendez have exchanged words in the press to the effect that they are willing to face one another. Bellator’s CEO had said he’s down. The ball is in Scott Coker’s court, and in my opinion he would be crazy to decline.

Melendez is in need of an exciting fight after his stinker against Aoki, and doesn’t really have a whole lot of other challengers waiting in line.

For Alvarez, a marquee opponent is a must after a big money fight with Roger Huerta fell apart following “El Matador’s” elimination from the Bellator lightweight tourney.

But even more importantly, a win for either guy (ok, just for Gil, but still) would cement them as the No. 1 LW in the world for the first time outside of the UFC.

For a chance to steal one of the UFC’s hallowed lineal titles alone, this fight needs to get made.

MMA is the sport where fight happen, when they should happen. Prove it once again, Scott.


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