The single most convincing argument against my "one Octagon to rule them all" (ie, all top twenty-ish talent under the same promotional umbrella) prescription for MMA is the claim that no one organization is large enough to give the world's talented fighters enough work on an annual basis. While the sport's popularity has exploded in large part due to Zuffa's rapid growth over the last decade, the parallel growth in the depth and quality of MMA's talent pool is clearly larger than the UFC's roster is or could ever be. This is why I'm not relentlessly partisan in favor of Zuffa domination of all echelons - just the top one. Regional and local promotions are more important now than when they were among the best game in town - they are now part of the infrastructure that finds aspiring fighters, develops their skills, showcases their ability, pays them to continue to train and provides them with the experience necessary to compete at higher levels. Buying a ticket to a local MMA card is the most concrete way you can help the sport grow.
Strikeforce used to be one of those organizations. Dana White - yes, he of the tombstone bearing the name of failed MMA promotions - even praised them as "a real promotion" and "hope[d] they do ten million viewers next week." Of course, this interview is from October of 2008, nearly a year before Strikeforce's signing of Fedor placed it within the crosshairs of White's UFC - now that Strikeforce has decided to compete with the UFC for free agents (further underscored by the Dan Henderson for Jake Shields trade-off), they are both criticized by me and subjected to counter-programming by Zuffa. I'm not sure which one is worse.
Beyond that, however - beyond the half-dozen guys or so on Strikeforce's roster that I would like to see in the UFC (and if "in the UFC" is too partisan, replace it with "in a deeper talent pool"; I could really give a damn about the letters up top, so long as they're the same for every top contender) - why hate on Strikeforce? They give us more MMA to watch in a non-PPV forum. They pay fighters to fight, which has to occur before fighters reach the big time. They place "fun fights" at the top of their promotional calculus, causing every other machination to flow into that ultimate goal. Tomas Rios, however, has broken a story that leads me to this question:
Does buying a ticket to a Strikeforce show help the sport grow?
It's incorrect to say that the Afghan War has been going on for over nine years. It is more accurate to say that America has been involved in the Afghan War for over nine years. The country itself has been in a near-constant cycle of invasion, occupation, civil war, corruption and tyranny since the Russians came calling in 1979. Siyar Bahadurzada was born five years into the Soviet occupation (in the Afghan capital of Kabul) and was a seventeen year old living in the Netherlands (having moved there at the age of fifteen) when NATO warships started striking his home country on October 7, 2001. Let's not carry around the impression that his "before 9/11" was anything like ours. When you read a quote like this, it's easy to see how the only change many Afghans saw after 9/11 were where the bombs were coming from.
"As a kid I saw s--t soldiers need therapy to talk about. Walking over body parts and blood after rocket attacks... I was a little kid and I saw that all the time."
If his name is ringing a distant bell, it's because he was widely reported to be a new Strikeforce signing roughly a year ago. Rios goes on to explain that Bahadurzada's contract was sent back, signed, by Golden Glory last April. Siyar waited for word until a few days ago before being inexplicably informed that Strikeforce has not signed the contract that they offered to him last year.
I do indignant pretty well, but this is a situation that calls for rage and shit talking. I'll let Siyar handle these things:
"They've been dicking me around for 10 months, man. 10 f---ing months of my career they dicked me around ." Says Bahadurzada as his voice strains with emotion. "I turned down some big opportunities because of this s--t. Bellator offered me a contract for good money and we told them no because of the Strikeforce contract. If these motherf-----s didn't want me, all they had to do was say so and fine. Instead, Scott 'Pig F----r" Coker and Rich 'F--k' Chou want to play games with me!"
"It's bulls---, man. It's their f---ing contract, they sent it to my management. We didn't make the contract, they did and they sent it to us." Bahadurzada says before laying his chips out on the table. "Let me tell you, I will never accept a f---ing penny from Strikeforce, but I will do this... they have their welterweight champion Nick Diaz fighting [Evangelista Santos] this Saturday. I will fight the winner for free in Strikeforce and if I lose I will retire from MMA. I want you to understand I love MMA, it is the only thing I have in my life that I love so understand how serious I am when I make this challenge to a bunch of clowns I f---ing hate. If Strikeforce accepts, I guarantee you I will knock out their champion."
Thankfully, Siyar fought twice last year since signing the "contract", going from defending his Shooto LHW championship to participating in Ultimate Glory's welterweight tournament. The only good thing about Strikeforce offering you a contract and then not signing it is that your career is not beholden to them at all, as Jay Hieron's and Joe Riggs's recently were. According to Bahadurzada, Strikeforce is now claiming that they didn't sign the contract because of the compensation numbers for the fighter. I find this hard to believe - did Strikeforce erroneously offer him an incorrect figure? If so, why not inform him of the mistake, try to come to an agreement or - at the very least - officially rescind the contract? If not - if it's actually something else - what is it? Is Nick Diaz being protected from potentially unfavorable style match ups? Did everyone on the roster turn down a fight with him?
Back to Riggs and Hieron. What do they have in common? Well, both have pretty decent wrestling (Jay's is better). Both are quality welterweights, in their physical primes, and one is 1-0 against the current welterweight "champion" of Strikeforce. Both are no longer with the organization (Hieron having been promised a title shot and both forced onto a streamed preliminary fight instead of the main card), and now we have new reports of a welterweight being unable to find work with Strikeforce. Is this coincidental, or is Diaz being protected?
What is the problem here? This is where one would normally insert the pablum coming from the slandered side, to at least present that there are two sides of the story. Strikeforce couldn't even be bothered to do that, as Rios reports that "Strikeforce Director of Communications Mike Afromowitz refused to speak on the matter" when reached for comment. Afromowitz had this to say in a statement released to Bloody Elbow:
Note that 1) many fighters are from overseas, 2) work visas don't typically take nine months to get (how long did it take Duffee to get one for Japan? A week?), 3) Mike doesn't speak at all to Strikeforce's failure to sign the contract signed by Siyar (if Strikeforce has contracts that guarantee new fighters a number of fights within a specific time span - the only clause I can fathom that would have anything to do with visa/scheduling issues - I will eat my foot) and 4) Siyar holds a belt in Shooto. Who are the welterweights on Strikeforce's roster that so outclass him that he must be relegated to Challengers cards?
However, I'm less interested in making this a witch hunt than I am in actually getting to the bottom of why Bahadurzada hasn't made his Strikeforce debut. It sounds unlikely that he's planning on doing so, but money has a way of healing wounds to one's pride. Will Strikeforce belly up, sign the (already signed) contract offer and find the guy a fight? Will they tell him it ain't happening, thus freeing him up to look at other options? Here we have a 26 year old Afghan that's 18-4-1, desperate to show off his skills in the States - and unable to do so, despite the existence of multiple MMA organizations. Regardless of this situation's ultimate outcome, it is foolhardy to believe that merely having multiple organizations solves anything. They also have to be competently run, fair and more interested in helping the sport than saving money.