The future of the Strikeforce promotion on Showtime is not looking very rosy. I would imagine Showtime is privately pissed off at Dana White for pillaging the Strikeforce roster to bolster UFC's flagging PPV business. Despite both Nick Diaz and Alistair Overeem playing hardball in negotiations and upsetting Zuffa management with their behaviour at various points, they're both still in the position they wanted to end up in - fighting for UFC in higher profile matches for much better pay. Dan Henderson's reward for sending Fedor Emelianenko packing back to Russia with his tail tucked between his legs, much to Dana White's delight, is rumoured to be a first class return ticket to UFC. Even Cung Le, one of Strikeforce's top stars from day one, has been drafted in to face Vitor Belfort at UFC 139, because UFC needed a match to keep the local San Jose fans and the HP Pavilion happy after they moved the originally scheduled main event of Cain Velasquez vs. Junior Dos Santos to the first UFC on Fox special.
That would be bad enough, but Zuffa also cut way back on publicity for last weekend's Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament semifinals. Moreover, even though ticket sales were really poor (according to Dave Meltzer in the September 19th Wrestling Observer Newsletter attendance was in the 1,500-2,000 people range), they didn't even bother to paper the event, resulting in empty stands for Showtime's TV cameras to capture. Which is amazing when Dana White has been known to give away free tickets to fans on a whim, even on shows that needed no help to draw a close to full house. This is so unlike Zuffa that it makes you believe that they're tanking the shows on purpose, pursuing a scorched earth policy whereby they can get out of the Showtime deal early, while making it much more difficult for whichever MMA promotion takes their spot on the channel or even getting Showtime to sour so much on MMA that they don't bother looking for a replacement. Then they can consign Strikeforce to where it belongs, the dustbin of history, and further UFC's stranglehold on the MMA industry.
If that's the plan, then it worked to a tee. As Geno Mrosko reported on our sister site MMAMania.com earlier this week, last Saturday's Strikeforce show headlined by former Pride stars Josh Barnett and Sergei Kharitonov drew only 274,000 viewers, the worst rating for a major show on Showtime ever and less than half the viewers that watched Fedor Emelianenko vs Dan Handerson at the end of July. I knew the promotion was officially a dead man walking after the Fedor match, but I didn't think ratings would slump so fast. The slightly later start time and stiffer sports competition didn't help, but ultimately Strikeforce booked a show that people didn't want to watch, a problem that will reoccur due to the promotion having lost almost all their TV draws.
So the question now becomes when does Showtime put Strikeforce out of its misery and pull the plug on their contract together. Meltzer says that their current TV deal expires early next year, so the death of Strikeforce will likely happen within the next six months. There is an option to renew that contract into 2014, but I can't see Showtime's Ken Hershman wanting to stay in bed with his Zuffa enemies for a moment longer than he doesn't have to.
If that's the case, then UFC's purchase of Strikeforce will be the latest in a long line of expensive missed opportunities when wrestling and MMA company's have bought out one of their main competitors. It may not have been quite as badly mishandled as when Jim Crockett Promotions bought out Bill Watts' Universal Wrestling Federation or when WWE bought WCW or even when UFC themselves vainly bought Pride, but it now deserves to be mentioned in the same breath.