2011 was a year that MMA fans will never forget. The biggest story quite arguably was Zuffa purchasing Strikeforce in March. No one really knew what was going to happen to Strikeforce. Their contract with Showtime was set to expire in early 2012 and no one knew if Zuffa was wanting to keep Strikeforce. The fighters didn't know what to expect or what was going to happen. Strikeforce, though, kept putting on great fights and last Thursday Strikeforce and Showtime were able to agree to a new deal, although details haven't emerged yet.
Strikeforce put on another great show on Saturday night, as we saw both of the stars they are building around in Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez and Womens' Featherweight Champion Cris Cyborg, retain there titles. Also, KJ Noons rebounded in a big way and Gegard Mousasi also rebounded with a much-needed win.
The man in charge of Strikeforce, CEO Scott Coker, sat down with me to discuss this past Saturday's show, details regarding the new deal with Showtime and more.
Cyborg defeated Hiroko Yamananka in 16 seconds on Saturday and people have been wondering whether she will stay at 145 and fight Ronda Rousey or will she move down to 135 and face all the challenges that present itself at 135. Coker prefers for her to stay at 145, but the possibility is there for her to do both, as Coker told me:
I think we can do both. We will find girls. There's girls around the world that will come to fight her. I think there's some girls that can be competitive with her. She's a tough girl. There's some guys that probably would want to fight her, right? She's a beast. At 45, she's pretty much dominated that division for awhile now. She said she wants to go to 35 to fight the girls. But personally, I'm not sure she can make 35. She's talking about fighting at catchweight first. I think that we talk to Sean (Shelby) and Sean was telling me that there gonna find other girls. They have a girl from Russia that he's looking at right now. We will have some competition for her.
Melendez retained his title by defeating Jorge Masvidal, but people have been critical of his performance because he didn't finish Masvidal. Coker says Masvidal had a lot to do with Melendez not being able to finish the fight.
If you know the fight game, certain fighters are gonna have certain styles that are gonna match up well. Let's say Gilbert's wrestling or Gilbert's jiu-jitsu and Jorge Masvidal is a guy that's a threat at every different level. So Gilbert did what he had to do. I think if the knockout was there, he would of definitely taken it. The knockout didn't come and the takedown didn't come and the submission didn't come. He clearly won the fight and if you look at the stats of the fight, it was a clear combination. If you look at the post-fight press conference and look at the damage Gilbert took. He was pretty damaged, pretty banged up. Styles make fights and that's the way it went down.
A lot of people have been wondering what is left for Melendez in Strikeforce. Could he face someone from Strikeforce, go to the UFC or possibly someone from the UFC comes to Strikeforce. Coker remained vague, but he hinted at some possibilities.
I'm gunna get together with Sean (Shelby) probably in the next couple days and have a conversation with him. There's definitely great athletes for Gilbert to fight. Maybe even a fighter that's not currently signed on our roster right now we might bring in to fight Gilbert.
Strikeforce and Showtime announced a new deal last Thursday on a conference call and it was announced that Strikeforce will put on eight events in 2012 on the network with the first event of that deal taking place on January 7. People have been wondering why only eight events. Some fans feel that by running only eight shows, they could lose interest since an event won't be on every month. Coker feels that fans will still be there and, combined with airing the prelim fights on Showtime Extreme, things will be like they have been in the past.
We're not only doing eight fights, we're doing right fights, but we're going to have two big fights on the same night. You're going to have the undercard fights on Showtime Extreme. But the undercard fights are not gonna be traditionally what you see in the Challengers' Series on Friday nights like we did in the past. What you're gonna see in the undercard fights, you're gonna see the Roger Bowling's, you're gonna see the Justin Wilcox's, you're gonna see the guys that fight sometimes on the main card. You're gonna see the undercard fights on Showtime Extreme at 8PM ET/5PM PT, then go to Showtime for the championship fights and that will be at 7PM PT. So in one night, you're gonna get two big events and it will be equal to the same amount of programming we had this year. Which is we did 16 fights including the Challengers fights for the last three years.
One of the things that the fans were happy about when the deal was announced was that Women's MMA would be alive and well. Coker believes it was a no-brainer to keep the women in Strikeforce.
For me personally, I always thought it was a no-brainer. Because when you look at the history of Strikeforce, we were the first female legal fight in the state of California. That was Gina Carano fought Elaina Maxwell to a unanimous decision, it was a one-point decision in September of '06. Before that, when Strikeforce was originally created it was originally a kickboxing league because MMA wasn't legal in California yet. From 1992-2006, when we had our martial arts style of competition at that time was kickboxing. We had some of the greatest fights in the history of female kickboxing on ESPN through Strikeforce. To me, I grew up in a martial arts school, martial arts culture where you train with a lot of females in class, females are always around, there's always sparring, there's always fighting. I always believed, "Hey, why not let them compete? Let them fight." Now we're running two full divisions of females that are showing to the world, look these girls can really fight.
A lot of people didn't think this deal would get done due at the time. Ken Hershman, who was the Executive Vice President of Showtime Sports, and Dana White did not see eye to eye at that time. Hershman left Showtime for HBO in October and Showtime then hired Stephen Espinoza to the same position that Hershman held. Once that happened, White joined in on the talks and then new deal was announced last Thursday.
People wonder if the deal would have gotten done if Hershman was still around. Coker feels one way or another that the deal still would have happened.
I think this deal would have gotten done either way. It was good for Strikeforce, it was good for the network. I think we provided great fights in our three years we've been with them. I think the ratings have been great and I think it would've continued. Would it have maybe taken longer? Probably, but I still think it would got done because at the end of the day, it's having great programming and having great ratings.
You can listen to the entire two-part interview with Scott Coker here.
You can follow me on Twitter @fightclubchi.
Steven Muehlhausen is a Contributor for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.