The shocking news that Zuffa, the parent company of the UFC, had purchased Strikeforce took everyone in the MMA world, including myself, by surprise
Strikeforce's much vaunted heavyweight tournament suffered a massive blow when the most marketable star, Fedor Emelianenko, was beaten in the opening round. A fight between Fedor and any of the leading UFC heavyweights would have been a massive draw 12 months ago but with the Russian coming off two straight losses it is not the sort of potentially record breaking pay per view attraction it once was.
Nick Diaz is an obvious opponent for Georges St. Pierre who is fast running out of welterweights to fight, and Alistair Overeem will be in the heavyweight mix as will UFC discard Fabricio Werdum courtesy of his submission win over Fedor.
Shinya Aoki and Gilbert Milendez should also find themselves high up the lightweight ladder, although Zuffa's reluctance to let its' fighters compete anywhere outside of the UFC could be an issue for the former.
It is also a dark day for women's MMA as the female fighters on the Strikeforce roster are likely to find themselves unceremoniously cut if/when the organization is amalgamated into the UFC. Initial reports suggest that Strikeforce will be run as a separate entity but this might represent little more than a stay of execution given that Zuffa employed a similar strategy prior to the integration of the WEC into the UFC.
With Strikeforce events imminent, for which tickets have been sold and contracts signed, Zuffa could not simply throw the promotion on the scrapheap straightaway. Strikeforce will continue to exist in its own right for at least the immediate future but long term it is likely to go the way of the WEC.
It is difficult to imagine that Zuffa purchased Strikeforce for fear of competition. The UFC is a much, much bigger draw than Strikeforce has ever threatened to be. If anything, the presence of such a well run, yet comparatively insignificant promotion, served only to highlight the omnipotence of the UFC in the eyes of the MMA mainstream.
In this context the most obvious explanation is that the UFC was looking to bolster its roster. With an increasing frequency of shows, it is becoming more of a struggle to find enough marquee names to fill the cards. For example, the continued presence of Mirko Crocop is a testament to the fact that the UFC simply cannot afford to let too many of its marketable stars move on, no matter how badly their form dips.
Although MMA is sweeping the United States by storm, the skill set required to fight at the top level can take years to acquire. There is still not enough talent coming up to allow the UFC to replace some of its veterans with young prospects and acquiring Strikeforce is an obvious quick fix solution.
Removing Strikeforce events from the calendar also clears a little bit of space for the UFC to put on more shows. It looks on paper as if it might already be running close to maximum capacity but the message this deal sends is clear; the UFC is not content to be a mere part of the genre of MMA, it wants to be bigger than the actual sport itself.
One thing the deal does demonstrate is that there is no limit to the ambition or ruthlessness of either Dana White or Zuffa. For elite level fighters hoping to forge careers outside of the UFC this is bad news, and Paul Daley must be a little concerned at present given that his parting of ways with the UFC was not exactly amicable. However it is difficult to imagine why, in the current climate, a mixed martial artists would ultimately aspire to fight for anyone other than the UFC.
Conventional wisdom states that monopolies do not benefit the consumer but Zuffa would probably argue, with some justification, that having thrust MMA into the mainstream they alone deserve to be entrusted with the responsibility of taking it to the next stage.
Elite level MMA's promotional marketplace is definitely a much less crowded place than it was 24 hours ago but inside the UFC itself competition is set to intensify. Seeing some of the top fighters effectively segregated from one another due to a lack of promotional co-operation has been a major frustration for fight fans in recent years and this takeover should spawn a plethora of eagerly anticipated match ups.
Dana White and the UFC are determined to keep moving onwards and upwards. It is a potent driving force and MMA fans should be grateful that, for the time being at least, their sport appears to be in the safest of hands.