In a business deal that has truly shaken the world of mixed martial arts, it was announced earlier today that Zuffa, the parent company of Ultimate Fighting Championship, has purchased its competitor, Strikeforce. Luke Thomas from SBNation MMA weighs in:
This deal is effective immediately. The brands will continue to operate separately and Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker will managed the Strikeforce brand. Fighter contracts with Showtime or with Strikeforce will continue to be honored. Dana White made a point to repeat the refrain "business as usual" in terms of how the brands interact.
Luke also notes that Dana White and Showtime don't have the best relationship, and that we've been here before with UFC purchasing competitors:
Given the contentious history with Showtime and rival Showtime Vice President Ken Hershman, White said UFC Chairman Lorenzo Feritta will be the point man in dealing with them.
Strikeforce shows, for now, will continue as scheduled.
A notable fact to consider: every organization the UFC has purchased has eventually been dismantled. PRIDE was dissolved, the WEC as well and scraps of the IFL, namely footage, was picked up as well. I expect this to be a play where the UFC holds on to Strikeforce until such time they can reasonably dissolve the brand without difficult contract issues and absorb the brand's assests.
We are not an MMA blog, and I do try to keep MMA talk limited here, only bringing it up when it somehow has a possible bleedover effect onto the world of boxing.
This is one of those times. Luke is essentially saying what most are going to expect, that no matter what lip service White and UFC pay to Strikeforce continuing to operate as a separate company, that will not continue in the long-term. Jonathan Snowden of Bloody Elbow counts Showtime as one of the "losers" in the deal:
No one is saying for sure, but there are already rumors flying that the UFC plans to close Strikeforce once the TV contract runs its course. White was already discussing the deal as a way to add fighters to his growing promotion. Will he really promote under two banners, despite the lessons learned with the WEC? Showtime will be in the strange spot of promoting and building fighters that will inevitably end up with the competition.
The good news for boxing fans? Showtime has already showed a dramatically higher interest level in terms of promoting major event boxing in 2011, picking up Miguel Cotto's fight tonight and the Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley event on May 7. If you count Floyd Mayweather Jr. as a non-entity at this point, you can easily argue that Pacquiao, Cotto and Mosley are three of the four biggest U.S. boxing draws, with Juan Manuel Marquez part of the top of the line. 20-year-old Saul Alvarez is getting there quickly himself, but right now only one of those fighters (Alvarez) can be truly counted as an "HBO fighter." Showtime has made huge strides and put themselves into position to overtake HBO as the top boxing network in the States.
Part of what fueled optimism there was the fact that it wasn't just boxing, but combat sports in general that Showtime seemed to be working extra hard to promote. Strikeforce is not UFC, but is a legitimate major league promotion. They were a massive step up from the Gary Shaw-promoted EliteXC, which seemed to operate mostly under the misguided notion that Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson was some kind of coming phenom, a thought that died on a Seth Petruzelli jab and left that company reeling. From its ashes rose Strikeforce, giving Showtime a strong MMA interest. With Strikeforce, an increasing presence in big-time boxing, Inside the NFL and Inside NASCAR, Showtime's sports division has been really moving forward, quickly, in the last couple of years.
Now, Showtime has not yet "lost" Strikeforce. The company line at Zuffa is what they're saying, and in the short-term, Strikeforce will still be on Showtime, with big fights and big shows. But that's not going to last, because the upside for UFC just isn't there, unless they can possibly strike some kind of huge deal with Showtime to promote special, non-PPV UFC events on the network after the Strikeforce TV deal ends. Is that likely? Probably not. UFC does quite good business without the help of Showtime or HBO or anyone else. Their brand is such a force in the niche sports world that they've managed to turn SpikeTV into "that channel with UFC." They don't need the "higher class" association of a premium cable network, and they aren't struggling to get their shows exposure. In other words, while boxing promoters are largely at the mercy of the few TV networks that give a damn about their product, UFC is not.
As for boxing fans, this could go one of two ways, but in the near future I'd expect this to be a positive. Showtime has to be expecting HBO to come hard in the boxing rivalry in the second half of 2011 and beyond. The potential for losing Strikeforce could make Showtime more ready than ever to batten down the hatches and go to war with their rivals in boxing, as significant losses in the boxing landscape could cripple their sports division in terms of being that sort of legitimate competitor and even industry-leader. HBO has the money to throw at any problem. Showtime has the vision to beat them, and it seems like they've taken HBO by surprise this year. How much of a curveball this development throws at Showtime remains to be seen, but needless to say, it's a major story and could have a big impact on what we see going forward, even if you don't care one lick for MMA.