The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Zuffa's Wild Weekend
Mar 5, 2012 - Less than three months ago, UFC president Dana White was all positivity and enthusiasm in discussing the future of Strikeforce.
"I'm getting involved in this thing and I'm excited about it," he said then. "I'm going to get behind it 100 percent."
But on the same weekend that Ronda Rousey completed her lightning quick rise to the top, giving women's MMA its best moment in years, White essentially said he is done caring about Strikeforce. Those two events weren't connected, except in the fact that one day in the future, they might be.
With limited options for women try to ply their MMA trade -- and Strikeforce the biggest -- that means that if a frustrated White and the Zuffa ownership group part ways with Showtime at the end of their current deal, Rousey might soon have no place to hang her star.
Let's remember that just a few months ago, Strikeforce's future was tenuous at best, negotiations going down to the wire before a deal was struck. At the time, White acknowledged that the extension wouldn't have been possible without a regime change at Showtime sports that would make it possible for him to provide input and make adjustments to the production. But the new relationship has apparently soured faster than the old one did, and White is no longer interested in a partnership with the Showtime sports staff.
That will leave other executives like Lorenzo Fertitta and Peter Dropick to run things in his place on behalf of Zuffa. It's certainly a competent group, but the point is that if White is frustrated with Showtime, the rest of the Zuffa team probably is, too. If White envisioned changes, they all envisioned changes. Those apparently won't be coming, and you don't have to be a business insider to know that unmet expectations lead to discontent.
The relationship might ultimately still be salvageable but this can't be considered a good sign coming so early after a contract was inked. And if it isn't salvageable, Strikeforce might be extinct when its deal is up, unless Zuffa tries to find another TV outlet.
White likes to say that every day he wakes up, something bad is bound to happen, and for proof, just look at his weekend. Aside from the relationship with Showtime showing its first signs of fracturing, there was plenty more to raise his blood-pressure. On Saturday in Australia, a scoring error during a flyweight tournament bout declared Demetrious Johnson the winner when in fact, his fight with Ian McCall was a draw after three rounds. For the first time, Zuffa had specifically contracted the fighters for a fourth, sudden-death round in case of a draw for such situations, but the simple math error was not discovered until after the event concluded, making it impossible. Instead, their best-laid plans were laid to waste. That will leave McCall and Johnson forced to rematch, while sending tournament semifinalist Joseph Benavidez to the sidelines to wait for the winner.
At least that was a somewhat innocent mistake. The man in charge of the scorecards, Craig Waller of New South Wales, Australia's department of sport and recreation, quickly accepted responsibility, standing at a podium at the post-fight press conference and publicly apologizing to fighters, fans and the promotion.
As frustrating as the situation was, it's hard to stay mad when someone comes forward and offers himself as a remorseful target of blame. After all, anyone who's ever balanced a checkbook has made a simple math error at some point of their lives, and while the mistake isn't harmless, it's hardly a brazen offense.
But what of the other issue of the weekend? Getting airtime during the Strikeforce undercard was a fighter named Brandon Saling, who has Neo-Nazi tattoos on his body and is a registered sex offender. The latter is bad enough, even though rehabilitated former criminals have the right to earn a living. But the former suggests that he is not rehabilitated at all, the tattoos a symbol of discriminatory attitudes and hate that don't deserve a public viewing.
Freedom of speech is an inalienable right, but Strikeforce and Showtime have no obligation to offer him a forum for his viewpoints, and in fact, Zuffa in the past has said that they would prohibit fighters with that kind of tattoo art from their shows.
It appears unlikely that any kind of background search was done on Saling, as his bout with Roger Bowling was a late signing, getting added about 10 days before the event. And it should also be noted that Strikeforce isn't the first bigtime promotion to feature Saling, who once fought for Bellator as well.
But two wrongs don't make a right, and the fallout from his appearance took some luster off an evening that otherwise belonged to Rousey and Miesha Tate.
All in all, it was a good, bad and ugly weekend for Zuffa. The flyweights will eventually get their second chance, and Saling is already facing the court of public opinion to go with the increased scrutiny on his personal and professional lives. Both of those situations will eventually reach conclusions. But Rousey, Tate and the rest of Strikeforce's female fighters have a future that isn't quite so clear. Because of White's public stance, the best night women's MMA has seen in years may also have been its worst.