After more than a half-dozen years and over 60 events, the mixed martial arts promotion Strikeforce closes its six-sided cage for good on Saturday night after its final event at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.
It’s not exactly a triumphant ending.
The organization, which was launched as a kickboxing show in 1985 by a Northern Californian student and karate instructor with no fight promoting experience, has had its fair share of ups and downs since entering the MMA game in March 2006. While Strikeforce’s run as a whole is mostly being celebrated, the card itself is partly a reflection of the things that have plagued the promotion of late.
To be sure, Saturday’s Strikeforce: Marquardt vs. Saffiedine is a far cry from the originally-scheduled event dubbed “Strikeforce: Champions.”
After the final two events of 2012 were cancelled when an injury to a headliner left television rights-holder Showtime no longer interested in blocking off its valuable airtime, Strikeforce was hoping to go out with a bang and showcasing all of its best stars one final time. Three title fights were scheduled, including lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez and middleweight title-holder Luke Rockhold. It was also hoped that heavyweight Grand Prix champion Daniel Cormier would fight someone of former UFC champion Frank Mir’s ilk after the two had been scheduled to meet in November before Mir was hurt.
Unfortunately Melendez and Rockhold remained sidelined and no UFC fighter was willing to come over to Strikeforce for one fight to challenge Cormier.
Instead, Cormier is fighting a nobody in the co-main event (I’d say with all due respect to Dion Staring, but really what respect is the 34-year-old Dutch fighter making his first move to North America due?) Meanwhile, the headliner is a somewhat uninspiring welterweight title matchup between Nate Marquardt and Tarec Saffiedine. In this case, Saffiedine, who has gone 5-1 in Strikeforce, does deserve some respect. But he is completely outmatched against Marquardt, a longtime veteran and former UFC No. 1 contender.
This card doesn’t have anywhere near the same cachet as past events headlined by Fedor Emelianenko, Nick Diaz, Frank Shamrock or even women’s stars Gina Carano and Ronda Rousey.
On top of that, all five main card fights are completely one-sided. You can’t suprised if the buzz for this event or promotion by Showtime has been less than in the past, especially since it has been five months since it last appeared on the cable channel’s airwaves, when in 2009-2010 there was an average of more than one event a week.
Not to mention, the promotion’s Canadian broadcaster for the past two years, Super Channel, didn’t even pick up the rights for this farewell show, leaving those of us north of the border hanging, wondering how we’ll be able to watch it at all. (Editor’s note: Super Channel landed a late deal Friday to air the main card, starting at 10 p.m. ET.)
It’s really no wonder that it’s a bittersweet ending for founder and CEO Scott Coker.
The lowlights for the organization have just gotten bigger in the last couple years:
- Emelianenko getting upset by Antonio (Bigfoot) Silva in the first round of the heavyweight Grand Prix, which was supposed to be a huge tournament for its heavyweights, the one class in which it was actually able to somewhat compete with the UFC.
- The unforgettable post-fight melee that broke out on national TV between Jake Shields and Jason (Mayhem) Miller after Shields defeated Dan Henderson, which as my fellow Sportsnet.ca blogger E. Spencer Kyte stated was a microcosm of all the struggles Strikeforce faced.
- As mentioned earlier, two consecutive events getting cancelled in late 2012 without having enough talented replacement fighters to prevent it.
To be fair, there were also some very noteworthy highlights:
- The rise of a couple women’s stars. Before Rousey, Strikeforce had the first true female MMA superstar in Carano, the part-time American Gladiator who made bigger headlines in the cage. But the organization definitely suffered when she left for Hollywood and never came back.
- Being the first between it and the UFC to get broadcast on a network when they debuted on CBS in November 2009. (Unfortunately, the last show on CBS was the aforementioned card that ended with the embarrassing brawl and announcer Gus Johnson’s unforgettable — and now often-mocked — on-air declaration, “Sometimes these things happen in MMA.”)
- The biggest moment was when it was purchased by the UFC’s parent company Zuffa in March 2011. But it’s hard to say whether that ultimately helped or hurt Strikeforce. On the one hand, getting to a level where you’re considered the world’s No. 2 MMA promotion, basically at the point where the top dog considers its main competition significant enough to “buy you off,” is a good thing.
However, while a partnership could have been used to share talent between the two, instead the purchase made it that much easier for the UFC simply to siphon Strikeforce’s stars away, starting with the heavyweights, leaving it practically a bare-bones outfit, with only a handful of top-level fighters.
This is evident in both good and bad ways on Saturday. While the main card leaves a lot to be desired in terms of quality matchups, the event as a whole does have a more-than-decent amount of top-notch fighters. A slate filled with the likes of Marquardt, Cormier, Josh Barnett, Gegard Mousasi, Ronaldo Souza, Roger Gracie, Tim Kennedy, K.J. Noons and Ryan Couture, son of UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture, would have to be considered better than many of what the UFC offered in 2012.
Only trouble is, those names are pretty much all they have, and in most cases they aren’t fighting nearly as well-known opponents. And that in a nutshell is why Strikeforce is saying “so long.”
It probably didn’t last as long as it could have, but it was a pretty good run. And after the final Strikeforce show fades to black for the last time, we’ll soon see all of its best talent over in the eight-sided cage instead.