UFC Buys Strikeforce: 5 People Who Stand To Benefit the Most
This year is turning out to be extremely front-heavy.
First, we get the “Fight of the Year” on literally the first day of 2011, as Frankie Edgar and Grey Maynard rang in the new year by trying to tear each other's heads off. Only a few months later, we already have our “MMA Story of the Year” pretty much sewn up as well.
This past Saturday, in a
live press conference on ESPN impromptu interview in the corner of Dana’s office, one that was highly attended by members of the mainstream media Ariel Helwani, White dropped the biggest bomb since the announcement of PRIDE’s demise: The UFC was purchasing Strikeforce. Right out of the clear blue sky.
Seriously, MMA media: Where were we on this one?
The go-to answer among those “in the know” is that they knew it was coming but couldn’t “confirm it independently." Right, and while I’m at it, Tiger Woods once did a line of horse tranquilizer off my coffee table before getting down and dirty with an Arby‘s hostess right there in front of me.
Of course, I can’t confirm any of that “independently." Oh, the woes of being an Internet journalist.
Where was I? Oh yeah, the UFC acquiring Strikeforce. In any business deal, there are winners and losers, and this one was no different. Read on as I break down the five biggest winners of the most important business “move” to hit MMA in years.
First, let's start with the biggest winner—literally.
It’s good to be the king, but it must be awesome being the Reem.
This past year has borne witness to the meteoric ascension of Alistair Overeem as a top-flight, world-class competitor. Winning the K-1 grand prix, returning stateside to defend his Strikeforce HW title and crushing a never ending stream of tomato cans in Japan were all in a year’s work for “Demolition Man." With Fedor out of the picture, no one outside the UFC is more in demand by UFC fans—and, I suspect, the UFC brass themselves—the Overeem is.
The hype around Overeem right now is incredible. This guy’s the real deal. His destruction of the K-1 Grand Prix this past year cemented him as one of the top kickboxers in the world today. Throw that in with an underrated ground game, fairly solid cardio and the physique of a Greek god on a health kick, and you’ve got the recipe for a heavyweight superstar.
Seriously though, Overeem is what a 90's cartoon bad guy would look like if you made him real and gave him a spray-on tan and a Dutch accent. If he ever did come to the UFC, he wouldn’t even need to fight—a pro-wrestling style “test of strength” with fellow man-mountains Brock Lesnar or Shane Carwin would probably be enough to make the universe implode.
Now that Zuffa technically owns Overeem’s contract, the road to making Alistair’s UFC debut a reality is finally a clear one. Fans want it, Dana has said he wants it, Overeem has said he wants it. In short, expect to see Overeem in the UFC in the next couple years.
While we’re at it, there’s another fighter on the Strikeforce payroll who’s going to benefit tremendously from this acquisition. Gilbert Melendez is one of Strikeforce’s truly “homegrown” stars, a mainstay of the promotion since 2006. In that time, he has accrued a serious list of scalps including Josh Thompson, Shinya Aoki, and...um...
OK, so aside from possibly Kawajiri, those are about the only elite-level guys Melendez has beaten thus far. But hey, that’s not bad. He was markedly improved when he re-matched Thompson, a good yardstick for his overall improvement as a fighter. And he made Japan a colony of the United States.
I’d say that’s not to shabby for a guy fighting in the sport’s "minor leagues."
Melendez is currently ranked second or third in the world at lightweight by every major MMA publication. With the recent upheaval in the UFC’s 155 lbs. class, there was talk that the right wins for Melendez could vault him into the coveted No. 1 spot, so long held by the UFC. A possible and much ballyhooed “superfight” with Bellator champ Eddie Alvarez could have been just the fight to launch Melendez into the top slot.
But that’s ancient history now. Thankfully, we won’t need complicated MMA math or endless rankings debates to figure out where Gilbert sits in the 155-pound picture. With the UFC signing Jake Shields and expressing interest in re-signing Nick Diaz, there’s a strong likelihood they are eyeing the third man of the “Cesar Gracie Triumvirate." Like Overeem, expect to see him in the UFC sooner rather than later.
Which leaves Bjorn Rebney and Bellator pretty much where they started: With Rebney on the outside looking in, bombarding Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker with enough text messages to enter “creepy stalker” territory.
But hey, that’s OK, because our next winner is...
So how exactly does Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney “win” in a UFC/Strikeforce merger he had nothing to do with? Especially considering the always resurfacing rumours that Bellator is teetering on the edge of financial collapse?
There’s a train of thought in business that states that when there’s a single, giant company or corporation dominating an industry without serious competition, any competitor who comes along and makes even a half-serious challenge instantly becomes "No. 2."
In other words, now that Strikeforce, the de facto No. 2 MMA promotion in the world, has been absorbed by the UFC monolith, a giant vacuum has been left in the former No. 2 spot. Enter Bjorn Rebney.
Now, his on-the-ropes Bellator promotion has become the last North American holdout against the “evil Zuffa empire." Good fighters who have burned their bridges with Zuffa, guys like Paul Daley and Josh Barnett, now have a place to keep plying their trade stateside. Guys like Dan Henderson who weren’t satisfied with their UFC wages will now be coming to Rebney, instead of Scott Coker, looking for offers.
I doubt cash-strapped Bellator can afford to get into a bidding war with the UFC. Still, we’ve seen Eddie Alvarez and Roger Huerta receive six-figure paydays from the promotion, and there are signs that Rebney is willing to pay the bucks necessary to sign top talent—rumours of imminent financial collapse be damned!
Last but not least, Bellator has built up a solid stable of young, up-and-coming prospects, alongside a couple marketable champions. With Bellator now the “official opposition” to the UFC, expect to see Ben Askren and Hector Lombard shoot up the rankings of the anti-Zuffa press in the coming months (assuming Bellator lasts that long).
OK, I’m taking my tongue out of my cheek now.
The Monopoly Guy
You know the Monopoly Guy. He’s a filthy rich, bald white dude of indeterminate middle age, the hungry and cunning businessman, his greed and ambition insatiable. Always with a mischievous smirk on his face.
No, I’m not referring to any Parker Brothers board game mascots.
This is a touchy subject, and I don’t want to arouse the usual heated debate that goes part in parcel with this subject. Hold on, wait a minute…yes I do, actually.
Folks, if it wasn’t already official, it is now, announced to the world clear as day and inscribed on stone upon Mount Olympus.
The era of the MMA monopoly has arrived. As of now, there is no MMA—there is the UFC. The two are one and the same. Synonymous. Symbiotic.
Forget all that crap I said about Bellator earlier. I mean sure, they can keep plugging away and will benefit I think from the bump to number two. But let’s get real. No one gets into MMA thinking, “Someday, I want to be the Bellator champion of the world!”
By the same token, the Japanese MMA scene is all but dead. There is still no announcement of any upcoming DREAM events, and with recent calamitous events in Nippon, the chances of one taking place are slim.
If you want to make real, big time athlete money, it’s the UFC or nothing whatsoever. There is no third alternative.
On the plus side, all of the world’s best MMA talent is now consolidated under one promotion, or under one overall corporate ownership anyway. If we are to believe the rumours, a WEC-style merger is planned once Strikeforce‘s contracts with Showtime expire in a few years time. Once that happens, all of the world‘s best fighters will fight under one banner.
The amount of incredible dream fights we are going to get in MMA over the next few years is staggering.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Scott Coker on this distinguished list. Why is he here, you ask? It’s not simply because Dana White and the Fertittas wrote him a check with a lot of zero’s on it, is it?
Yes it is, actually. I’ll explain why.
You’d never know it from their demeanours, but Scott Coker is actually a much bigger bad ass then Dana White. Coker is a fifth-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and competed extensively in TKD and karate competitions in the 70’s and 80’s. He has been promoting kickboxing events since 1985, and MMA events since 2006.
Most of all, he took a fledgling regional MMA promotion in San Jose and turned it into a viable national and international challenger with network TV and PPV appeal. Whatever bumps and bruises he may have gotten along the way, you cannot fault the man in his tenacity, effort and the fruits of his just labour.
Enjoy your big cheque and your cushy job, Mr. Coker. No one in the MMA industry—not even Dana White himself—will deny you’ve earned it.