Another card in the books, another promotional disaster for the once well-regarded San Jose promotion.
Bobby Lashley went from hyped prospect to hospital bound in less then 10 minutes, while "King Mo" handed over his crown and the LHW title yet again to another (mostly) unknown challenger. There was oxygen tanks (no, not for Mauro Renallo), illegal knees, terrible refereeing, and shoddy production. It was like a three ring circus of promotional errors for Showtime Sport's Mixed Martial Arts offering (or "Sh*ttime Sports", as Dana White so eloquently put it).
As bad as it was though, it was a vacation compared to last April, when Strikeforce put on a tour de force of promotional mishaps that may, in all likelihood, have resulted in their permanent exodus from the CBS network. There's no need to go over all that again, as everyone and their uncle knows that story. Hell, "Where's my rematch, buddy?" has become the "Don't taze me, bro!" of 2010.
There's a more than a good chance Strikeforce will never get back on network TV again. Still, with the close relationship they now have with Showtime, and thus indirectly with CBS, it's not entirely out of the realm of possibility.
So rather than give another breakdown of the many ways Strikeforce found to shoot itself in the foot this past Saturday, I'm going to focus on the positive, so to speak. Because I think them getting another shot on network television is still a remote possibility.
It will, however, take one hell of a fight card from Scott Coker and the gang. If they want to avoid another live television disaster, salvage their brand image, and save their prestigious spot as the flagship promotion of MMA on network television, they must, broadly speaking, adhere to the following guidelines:
1) Ratings Are King
When it comes to network TV, ratings are the be all and end all. Ratings determine life or death for your program, and if you can't deliver, they'll find someone else who can. Strikeforce needs big ratings to convince on-the-fence network execs. All other considerations are secondary.
2) Titles Mean Nothing
Last time, Strikeforce booked three world title matches for their CBS card in what proved a serious mistake. The debacle of those compelling, but slow, fights proved network TV audiences just don't have the patience for 25-minute fights featuring fighters they don't know. So no title fights. Its not like anyone really cares about a Strikeforce world title anyways, so drop the charade and focus on compelling matchups.
3) No Fedor or Overeem
Scott Coker has probably gone through a lifetime supply of Excedrin this past year trying to get these two booked to compete. Fedor has the giant albatross of M-1 and co-promotion hanging around his neck, while Overeem has his commitments to K-1 and DREAM in Japan. Scott Coker can't afford the X-factor and the headache of trying to get these guys on the card and should just forget it all together.
Now that that's out of the way, here is the card that Strikeforce should pitch to the suits at CBS for their next network card, to be aired (theoretically) on or around November 2010, the same time the Fedor/Rogers card was put on a year previous.
Curtain Jerker: Cung Le vs. Melvin Manhoef or Robbie Lawler
Cung Le is one of Strikeforce's few legitimate homegrown stars, and with his film and television roles, he commands some small attention outside of fighting. He's also flashy and exciting as hell, the perfect fighter to open the show with a bang.
I'd vote Melvin Manhoef for an opponent, as he has the look to entice casual fans, the style to make this fight a barn burner, and the wide open style and somewhat less than rock hard chin to give Le a reasonable chance of pulling this out. Robbie Lawler could work as well, though this fight becomes more of a build-up fight for the hard-hitting Lawler rather than a showcase bout for Le if that were to take place.
The Obligatory Womens Fight: Miesha Tate vs. Kerry Vera
One of the biggest challenges facing Strikeforce is how to move past Gina Carano now that she's traded in the gloves and the training for the bright lights of Hollywood. She had that unique blend of looks and talent, a rare combination in women's professional fighting. It is a combination I feel both these women possess.
In my mind, this is the fight to crown Carano's successor, the next "face of women's MMA" from a promotional standpoint, if not a rankings one. Sure, Tate is supposed to fight Sarah Kaufman next, but with the champ tied up with Marloes Coennen, the timing could work for last quarter 2010. Book this fight and push the hell out of the winner for a Kaufman title shot.
Co-Main Event: Dave Batista vs. Bobby Lashley
And there it is. Goodbye credibility, hello ratings. This fight would be a smash among casual fans, and would bring Herschel Walker levels of media attention to the card, something Strikeforce desperately needs. Remember the rules: ratings above all else on network TV. This fight, no matter how it played out, would be huge ratings for the promotion.
So Lashley just lost. Who cares? As Paul Heyman pointed out, that only makes this fight MORE likely to take place. Before this past Saturday, Lashley said he wanted to fight either total cans, or world champions. After his performance against Griggs, we know, beyond any doubt, what kind of opponent to give him.
Who cares about the howling of the MMA media with their cries of "freakshow fight"? History tells us that freakshow fights, booked and sold well, draw huge–or is that not a 41-year old James Toney about to step into the cage for the first time?
Main Event: Nick Diaz vs. Jason "Mayhem" Miller
This fight is all about turning a frown upside down. No matter what you do, you can't take back the ugly fact of the in-cage brawl that ended your last CBS show if you are Scott Coker. That was a black eye for sure. Still, it was a black eye that everyone watched you get, on YouTube, on sports recap shows, on MMA fan sites the world over. Its out there, and you might as well make a buck off of it.
The hype for this fight would be off the charts–Mr. "Bully Beatdown" himself vs. MMA's Bad Boy, with all the reams of trash talking that would ensue beforehand. This fight would go over like gangbusters with those ever-elusive "casual fans", and the pro wrestling allure of this fight combined with the hype skills of Diaz and Miller means a blockbuster main event. Does it resolve anything, answer any questions, or clear up any title pictures? Hell no–but it would draw eyeballs, and that's all that matters.
Just make sure you have someone watching the cage door during the post-fight.
By Elton Hobson