By Zach Arnold | May 18, 2010
One of the more interesting conversations about Strikeforce and why the promotion is running events the way they are came on a Sherdog radio show right after the St. Louis event on last Saturday night.
I was going to divide this passage up in multiple sections, but realistically everything here runs together for a reason. The main focus points are on a lack of cohesive promotion from card to card and also a lack of being able to fully develop new prospects and make new stars, which is critical for building a promotion — especially in a marketplace dominated by UFC.
TJ DE SANTIS: “People are going to be salivating for a possible Fedor & Overeem match and I think that’s something that we hit on the Roundtable [Friday] that there is a lot of storyline, there is some drama there between you know the perspective camps and whatnot… I just… I mean I hate to get on Showtime and Strikeforce at the top of their show, but I just think they’re really bad at pushing their product, Jordan.”
JORDAN BREEN: “I’m inclined to agree, in full.”
TJ DE SANTIS: “I don’t understand why this promotion doesn’t push I think a lot of their prospects, they refuse to show prelims. … They could have shown the Shaolin Ribeiro and Lyle Beerbohm which I want to see and I think a lot of people want to see to see how and why it was scored the way it was. I mean, the UFC obviously has a much stronger brand, but that brand I think is strong, Jordan, because they promote their fighters within, they make stars out of their fighters, and those stars obviously are the face of the promotion. I think, yeah, the UFC brand alone is always going to outsell Strikeforce, but Strikeforce I mean doesn’t have the names, the poster boys, the stars really that the UFC does because they don’t push them correctly.”
JORDAN BREEN: “I think it’s a combination of that and the fact that is a product now being led by Showtime, whose familiarity is in boxing and one of the things we touched on recently with Strikeforce, not this card but their last effort in Nashville, is the fact that Showtime, the way they do their boxing product, Showtime are always kind of the #2 to HBO but the reason they are able to thrive in the boxing environment is they’ve always been very keen to really catch and scoop up the good fights that slip through the cracks. When HBO wasn’t particularly interested in Castillo/Corrales for whatever, they were there to scoop it up. Same with the Vasquez/Marquez trilogy, same for years during one of the things they’ve always done from the 90s right up until now, even back in the late 80s actually, was scooping up European title fights with world titlists in Europe. They were really, you know, home of the well-skilled but less marketable boxers before they became superstars. Bernard Hopkins before he became unified Middleweight champion of the world in supreme fashion, always fought on Showtime. So they were always very good at scooping up all the pieces and stuff that HBO didn’t want in idiocy or just overlooked and that doesn’t exist with MMA. It’s not independent promoters making really good fights and then you can just rush to the scene and choose to air it. Doesn’t work that way. So, they’re trying to hand-pick and craft a product that they really don’t know a whole lot about and that’s why we end up with Kevin Randleman on cards like this and why we have an inability to develop prospects fruitfully and why we don’t get to see prospects on cards. And why really the only major talking points we’re going to get tonight are: Can Alistair Overeem beat Fedor Emelianenko and how good can you know Jacare or Roger Gracie be? It’s less instructive and there’s less of a narrative coming out of any Strikeforce event than a UFC event partially because of what you mentioned. It’s not just that they don’t sell the product well-enough, it’s that there’s never a sense that things are leading to something larger, that the product is put together in a magnetic, compelling way that builds on its own…”
TJ DE SANTIS: “It’s funny, I mean, we’re in a time of multiple promotions having television deals, we get to see product from a variety of promotions that a few years ago we never got to see before and I think it was on Jordan Breen show where you and I discussed Bellator being better at being Strikeforce than Strikeforce is. Bellator has the right idea about promoting within, showing and showcasing their fighters and really, I mean, if Bellator was in Strikeforce’s shoes, had the television deals they do… well, maybe not, I guess it’s hard to blame Strikeforce that much for I guess what comes across especially on the Showtime product, I mean who is to blame for the downfall? I mean is it really Showtime…”
JORDAN BREEN: “Yes.”
TJ DE SANTIS: “Or is it Strikeforce for not stepping up and going, ‘yeah, I know we’re a partnership here, but we have a decent idea on how to promote fights,’ because I mean if you look at Strikeforce, Jordan, before this whole Showtime thing was going on we talked about Strikeforce as yeah, they’re a good Mom & Pop promotion, they’re regional but they’re really good at making money and promoting shows. I mean, Strikeforce, a few years ago you couldn’t talk about Strikeforce without saying, ‘hey, they’re one of the few promotions outside the UFC, pretty much the only promotion outside of the UFC in North America, that’s making any money.’ They knew how to do something right at one time, now it just seems like they’re having to cave because the suits are saying, ‘this is how we do things here.’ ”
JORDAN BREEN: “Yep. One thing that I sort of tried to express more clearly and explicitly as I’ve gone on is a lot of people get mad that I’m critical of Strikeforce and I’ve realized that I think some of my critique is a bit mislaid in that I do attribute a great amount of the failings and shortcomings to Showtime. They decide who fights who, they decide who gets on television and who doesn’t. They’re in charge of these things at this point in time and Scott Coker and his boys, obviously still you know they aren’t powerless but they’re being taken for a ride by guys like Ken Hershman and those at Showtime who are making decisions and we can see they just aren’t people who know Mixed Martial Arts that well and certainly aren’t people who have a keen sense of what belongs on television, what it takes to develop prospects from the ground up in Mixed Martial Arts and get people interested and excited about a product on all levels the way UFC is able to do.”
TJ DE SANTIS: “You know you look at the UFC and anyone that has tried to take on the UFC head-to-head in competition sort of acts like they are the UFC and they don’t have the budget or the means to be the UFC. Now Strikeforce is obviously not trying to be the UFC, but they’re so polar opposite it’s to a detriment.”
JORDAN BREEN: “Yeah, well I don’t know that it’s so polar opposite that it’s a detriment, it’s just I think it’s a confusing product. Essentially, they’re doing a better version of what they were doing two years, they’re doing it now with bigger names, consistently bigger fights, but the problem is people just expect more from them now. They’re supposed to be a UFC competitor. Before they were just the best feeder show, the best regional show, now they’re expected to be something entirely different and that’s clearly not good enough.”
TJ DE SANTIS: “I don’t just understand why you don’t show, I mean, OK, this preliminary card tonight was weak. It definitely was weak. It was, you know packed with…”
JORDAN BREEN: “Well that’s an issue in and of itself. It’s weak because they gave the book to Jesse Finney, a local fighter and essentially said, book it for us.”
TJ DE SANTIS: “Yeah, but you have the fight between Shaolin and Lyle Beerbohm who are you know national, international fighters that can be showcased. You have a half an hour, the fight is 15 minutes, why not throw it on? Why do we have to stick to, all right this is going to be our first fight, second fight, third fight, fourth fight, WRAP, I don’t care if it’s at 10:45, WRAP. I don’t get it.”
For those asking, I had it 30-28 Shaolin. Two judges giving Beerbohm all three rounds is irresponsible, reprehensible, and downright [expletive].
The only defense I could see in the promotion not airing the Shaolin/Beerbohm fight is that Lyle had a lot of heat on him after he wrote that post on The Underground Forum in which he asked for a lawyer to help him get out of his Strikeforce deal. I thought it was very curious that Scott Coker said after the St. Louis show that he wanted the Ribeiro/Beerbohm winner to face Josh Thomson on 6/26 in San Jose. Talk about a quick turnaround. Beerbohm, after the fight, needed to get his arm examined but said in a Strikeforce media interview that he wanted to fight Gilbert Melendez. It’s one of those situations where a promoter essentially gets called out by a frustrated fighter on an internet forum, then books him right away in a dark match with no TV exposure, and then says, OK, now you won your fight, go fight a few weeks later. And if you’re hurt? Then the other guy you fought (Shaolin) gets your slot on television and if you’re not on television, that would be unfortunate… sorry.
Yes, Beerbohm is a definite prospect and Strikeforce lacks depth in all divisions, but this is a fighter who has shown he wouldn’t mind leaving the promotion so why would someone be inclined to give him a hard push or more exposure than he (rightfully or wrongfully) deserves? Hardball. Plus, you have to ask yourself this if you’re Scott Coker — is Lyle Beerbohm the kind of fighter who, down the road, can make the promotion a lot of money? The other question is — are we going to have another Jake Shields situation on our hands here with him and if so, how do we proceed from there?
As for the Strikeforce matchmaking, ever since Javier Mendez (American Kickboxing Academy) left the booker slot… (Try to forget the Bobby Southworth fight bookings. Nobody’s perfect.)
Replying to the point about Strikeforce a lack of continuity, it’s a situation where the promotion doesn’t have a television partner that can give them weekly or bi-weekly television coverage to run hour-long shows like Spike TV has been doing for UFC. Spike TV has given the UFC plenty of real estate to build new stars and create compelling storylines. Strikeforce simply doesn’t have and unless they can figure out a battle plan to match that kind of television real estate coverage, it’s going to be difficult for them to maintain or build any long-term momentum.