"Dear Dana: An Open Letter to Dana White"
Interesting article. What's y'all's take?
Dear Dana White:
Thank you for taking this sport we all love to the mainstream; all of us fans owe you a debt. You and the Ferrita brothers deserve the rewards of your risk. It's called capitalism. Congratulations.
Let's talk about Strikeforce.
Since Zuffa LLC purchased the promotion last year it has existed in a kind of alternate universe. I still laugh every time I see Frank Shamrock commenting on a Zuffa promotion; that is almost as funny as his anti-bullying crusade. Anyway, as you and the Fertitta brothers know, by owning Strikeforce you are trapped in a situation of having two brands in one sport, halving your brand potential. (Forgive me if I sound like a business consultant here)
More troubling, your Strikeforce signed fighters do not want to be there. Gilbert Melendez openly asked for fighters, worthy of his talents, to be sent to him from the UFC. Sports Illustrated recently published an article about how Strikeforce fighters are frustrated by being labeled "B" fighters. Luke Rockhold, Tim Kennedy, and Gilbert Melendez, along with all the other Strikeforce fighters, want to be in the UFC. So what is the problem? Well, probably your contract with Showtime Entertainment and/or others.
I have a suggestion, but allow me to start with a question: Why has the UFC cornered the MMA market worldwide?
I would say: Right business plan, excellent promotion, and founders who understood the capital investment necessary to make the thing fly (thank you Ferrita brothers.) These strategic advantages, combined with perfect timing in the US market, explain the current domination of MMA by the UFC. The UFC was not the first mover in MMA, that title has to go to the Gracie family, but it was the first mover who did an MMA promotion right. Now days, people talk about you guys having a monopoly, which is absurd (because anyone can put on a MMA promotion). What the UFC does have, however, is the best talent and the best time slots. Even Bellator, arguably the best non-Zuffa promotion, avoids directly competing on event timing.
Now, consider that professional kick-boxing is one of the most exciting combat sports to watch, by any metric. It features stunning and acrobatic fight action sequences that are a Hollywood dream. In fact, if you watch the biggest action movies, their fight scenes try to "channel" professional kick-boxing. Hardcore mma guys know that "street" fights do not look like that, but Hollywood knows what all of us mma snobs do not, which is that acrobatic fights are what the mainstream public wants to see.
So why hasn't professional kickboxing taken off? I would suggest that like mixed martial-arts before 2001, no one is doing it right! It needs the right business plan, the right promotions, and the appropriate capital investment. And there is a huge prize for the organization that pulls it off.
The other promotions , like K-1, Golden Glory, and It's Showtime Fights, are limited in exactly the same way as was MMA before 2001. Watching their efforts gives one a sense of déjà vu. Zuffa already has the experience, capital, support staff, commentators, and managerial headroom to make an entry into professional kick-boxing a low-risk commitment. Further, and most importantly, you already have the brand! Strikeforce is the perfect name for world-class professional kickboxing, and the millions are already spent. The only other reasonable option is to strip-mine it and shut it down like the IFL, WFA, Pride, and WEC. Showtime Entertainment would probably get on board if they understood they would have first-mover advantage in perhaps the most exciting combat sport (for the simple viewer), backed by none other than Zuffa LLC. No lay-and-pray, no dry-humping, no Greco-grind, no boring stuff that you have to "understand technically." All of the hard-core MMA fans and the guys who actually train love that technical stuff. But your average viewer ends up booing with the meatheads. Furthermore, you get to move your Strikeforce studs to the UFC. You get to build the Zuffa legacy by housing another great martial art that needs a chance. You get another promotion to contract out to the channels: Spike, FX, Fox, Showtime.
It is true that you would not have wrestling and jiu-jitsu superstars, but the UFC is already dominated by them; and the average viewer doesn't understand the nuances of grappling anyway, evidenced by the fact the even the judges do not understand it and do not score for it.
Zuffa already has the resources, and the brand, to make this happen. It will not hurt MMA in any way, but would rather strengthen the UFC brand by re-focusing the Strikeforce brand in a complimentary manner, solving the competing brand problem. Additionally, Thailand and Holland would feed the new Strikeforce promotion in the same manner that Brazil has fed the UFC.
We all know that boxing was your first love; but, as you know, there are huge problems there that not even Zuffa can solve. But professional kickboxing, like mma in 2001, is waiting for a chance to shine. It does not need an "educated" crowd to enjoy it. It is by nature stunning in speed, action, and acrobatic display. Its fighters are unknown, under-loved, and therefore cheap to sign. The action-packed events would build your library of media. And Joe Rogan, the best color-commenter in the business (and a man due some credit for helping build mma as a serious sport), as a long-time K-1 fan, would weep tears of joy.
Additionally, it seems that you have several people currently involved in the UFC who would perhaps relish a larger role. I think that Lorenzo especially would like a bigger operational role; or perhaps even someone on the Sheik Tahnoon side of the equity split. Whoever, just broaden the Zuffa stable to include another sport.
Finally, if you pass on this, ignoring it because of your understandable focus on mma, some future MBA student will do a case study on how Zuffa LLC missed its opportunity to stand astride combat sports like a megalith. Eventually, some promotion is going to do for kickboxing what Zuffa did for mixed marital arts; it's too exciting to ignore. The recent It's Showtime promotion on HDNet should convince you of that. Please think about it. I know you are just ridiculously busy. But, please, call Joe. Talk to the Fertitta brothers. See if even Sheik Tahnoon doesn't get excited by the idea. Let us all see what professional kickboxing could do with some Zuffa magic.
Nathan Joel is a writer, business man, and MMA enthusiast. He is not fast, strong or explosive. Although it is rumored he once hurt someone's feelings.