Thursday, June 2, 2011

UFC 137 St-Pierre vs. Diaz: Does This Super Fight Spell the End of Strikeforce?

The MMA world rejoiced today when UFC President Dana White broke the news that the long-awaited battle between UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre and Strikeforce Welterweight Champion Nick Diaz would finally be happening later this year at UFC 137.

But given that Diaz is perhaps Strikeforce’s most prominent champion, and he is now fighting in the UFC, could this fight be more than just a champion-versus-champion contest? Could it actually be the beginning of the end for the organization currently known as Strikeforce?

When White first broke the news that Zuffa had purchased Strikeforce, the MMA community began weighing the pros and cons of the situation. While Zuffa’s financial backing would help better promote the organization, many were skeptical that the lack of competition in the United States, or even throughout the world, could lead to a less exciting end product.

Though he understood the concerns that fans would undoubtedly have, the UFC President was adamant that things would not be changing.

“It will be business as usual,” he repeated numerous times.

Zuffa and the UFC stayed true to that word for months, but the looming possibility of an earth-shattering announcement kept fans on pins and needles. On Wednesday, that announcement was made loud and clear with the unveiling of the UFC 137 main event which will feature St-Pierre vs. Diaz.

Not only that, but we later found out that not only had Diaz signed on the dotted line to fight St-Pierre, but that he had also signed an eight-fight deal with Zuffa. This contract is a first in that it is not exclusive to either Strikeforce or the UFC, but rather Diaz can fight in either organization.

So, to be clear, the Strikeforce Welterweight Champion is not exclusive to Strikeforce.

It goes without saying that Diaz is the most interesting fight that St-Pierre has left within the division. In order to leave no questions behind about possible “ducked” opponents at welterweight if he does decide to move up in weight classes, St-Pierre needed this fight.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that this fight negatively affects the Strikeforce brand.

While Diaz is the king of the Strikeforce welterweight division, he is simply looked at as another challenger to Georges St-Pierre in the UFC. Sure, his title will be noted by the commentators and probably even a bit in the promotional videos that come out. But this fight is for the the title that fans care about—the UFC title.

It’s one thing to have an up-and-comer from Strikeforce come to the UFC and replace a fighter who had to pull out of a fight on short notice. But it’s a completely different thing to take the champion from Strikeforce and pit him as the challenger for a UFC title.

If that’s not saying, “Strikeforce is dead to us,” I don’t know what is.

While nothing has been announced yet, it seems almost inevitable that the UFC will continue to pull top-level talent from the Strikeforce roster over to UFC events while leaving the table scraps for Strikeforce to live off of. Does this remind you of anything? The WEC perhaps?

The WEC was unique in that it contained two divisions which were not featured in the UFC, the featherweight and bantamweight divisions. But once the UFC decided to add those divisions to its own programming, it simultaneously dropped the curtain on the WEC as a whole.

The only thing that Strikeforce has that is unique from the UFC in terms of fighting divisions is the women’s divisions. While some of us are entertained by these bad-ass ladies, there is still a huge population of the MMA community that has not—and likely never will—latch onto the idea that females can be entertaining in any sport, let alone a combat sport.

While Dana White has repeatedly stated that he has little-to-no interest in having the women’s divisions be a part of the UFC, it’s extremely hard to believe that the women’s divisions alone would keep Strikeforce from being eaten up by the UFC. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the female divisions will be an eventual casualty to the Zuffa purchase.

Like the WEC toward the end, Strikeforce had trouble establishing itself as its own brand in competition with the UFC. The term “Ultimate Fighting” remains very prominent in the casual fanbase and Strikeforce and the WEC simply have not been able to conquer that in order to establish fans of their own. Almost no one in the world is solely a Strikeforce fan. But a big chunk of fans are strictly UFC fans.

This simple, yet significant distinction is why there really is no reason for the UFC to keep the Strikeforce brand around. There just really isn’t anything compelling happening in Strikeforce that would keep fans interested past the end of 2011. The Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament has been successful in generating interest, but that should be completed by the end of the year.

After that, Strikeforce essentially becomes “UFC B-Squad” in terms of excitement level. It is at that point which we could see Dana White breaking news once again about the UFC and Strikeforce officially combining rosters, solely under the UFC name.

Whether or not this is the beginning of the end for Strikeforce remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain—this is not business as usual.

Rebecca Romijn Nadine Velazquez Pink Mila Kunis Samaire Armstrong

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