How Strikeforce Can Survive in a Post-Merger World
In the wake of yesterday's merger between the UFC and the WEC, Strikeforce's quest to carve out an equal space in the MMA world just got even more unlikely. But if you're Scott Coker, this is no time to despair. It's time to fight harder — and finally fix the slew of problems that have been dragging you down. So here's what you do...
No more "Challengers" cards until further notice
The bottom line is, your roster isn't deep enough to pull it off, and nobody gives a ****. We just came off of a Challengers event that was headlined — I said headlined — by Roger Bowling vs. Bobby Voelker. For God's sake, the next Raging Wolf card is more stacked. Strikeforce should abandon their minor-league series, and stick all those prospects onto the prelims of their larger Showtime cards (more on that next). If that means fewer events, so be it. Sure, you want to develop your brand by holding regular shows around the country, but just as importantly, you want to associate your brand with excellence and excitement. And let's be honest, Strikeforce can't be turning a profit on those Challengers cards anyway.
Get your television production together
You know how the UFC airs preliminary card matches during their PPV and cable events to fill time? It's a win for everybody involved: The viewers get more fights, and prelim fighters have the opportunity to get broadcast exposure if they put on great performances (and if time allows). Showtime has yet to figure out this technology, occasionally leading to four-fight cards that end abruptly in under two hours. Right now, there is absolutely no incentive for a fighter to take a prelim match for Strikeforce; you won't be seen on TV, and the money still sucks. If you want to build up prospects, stack the dark matches with talent — not no-name local fighters, as has been the trend — and let the public see them if they perform well. Again, quarantining these guys into their own Friday-night third-tier fight series that nobody cares about is not the way to do it.
Fire Stephen Quadros's makeup artist
It just needed to be said.
Hire a steady stable of ring girls
As I understand it, Strikeforce outsources their ring girl hiring to Rockstar, which means that the eye-candy changes from show to show. I've learned first-hand that not even the Strikeforce media relations team has any idea who these girls are, which makes it hard when you want to do a Hot Potato post about Girl on the Right. Through their superior promotional skills, the UFC has made us care more about a Mexican-American model named Arianny than 90% of Strikeforce's fighter roster. The idea is so simple that it's astounding Strikeforce hasn't done it yet: Hire the three hottest chicks you can find, and tell fans their names. Send them on promotional appearances, put them in magazines, and make them part of the show. And you guys were onto something with the body paint.
Get on basic cable
It's tough because the UFC has already put hotels on Spike and Versus. What about G4, or SyFy, or the SPEED Channel, or Fuse...? I know, none of those seem like an ideal fit for an MMA show, but Strikeforce has to find a way to get new, weekly content to fans who don't want to shell out the extra money for Showtime, especially now that their CBS partnership is a big question mark. I'm not talking about fight-compliation shows, like they used to have late-nights on NBC. They need their own Ultimate Fighter or Tapout — building home-grown stars through the magic of television — with the occasional live event. The Showtime-or-nothing distribution system that Strikeforce currently has in place guarantees that most people won't be able to watch their events.
Don't keep any fighter who you can't control
If one of your stars has a personal management team so large it requires offices around the world, that's a red flag. Basically, your inability to secure fights for Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem, and even Nick Diaz is embarrassing and makes you look weak. These fighters are your employees; they should be fighting the opponents you give them, on your timetable, not just when it's convenient for them. Learn the phrase "exclusive contract" and cut ties with any fighter who doesn't want to play ball. You don't need the headaches.
Work with Bellator
And by "work with" I mean "merge with." Instead of Bjorn Rebney and Scott Coker squabbling over inter-promotional matchups that will probably never happen due to logistics, the two leagues should just bite the bullet and join forces. Swallowing up Bellator's fighters helps Strikeforce's roster problem. Taking Bellator's Fox Sports Net contract — as flawed as it is — temporarily solves their basic cable problem. With the UFC hulking up after the WEC merger, there's simply no room for two organizations trying to compete for the scraps. As a single entity, Strikeforce and Bellator may even be able strong enough to put on the occasional pay-per-view show, which has to be the end financial goal for any MMA organization. We'll call the new promotion... BELLAFORCE!