Strikeforce’s panic causes more concern than Fedor’s exit

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

In his second MMA column for, Harry McEvansoneya examines the fallout to Strikeforce’s reaction to Fedor Emilianenko’s exit from their Heavyweight Grand Prix. The promotion can bounce back but cool heads need to prevail.

So, I got it hilariously wrong in my last article. Fedor didn’t just lose, he got dominated. And I even called the other quarter final wrong, forgetting to take into account Andrei Arlovski’s spectacular ability to adopt the worst possible gameplan in his fights.
It seems however thatt I wasn’t alone in getting what I expected wrong. As I mentioned before, Strikeforce were hoping for this event to play out in a specific way, and now that has all been blown to pieces. The promotion’s CEO, Scott Coker, effectively confirmed this with his remarks that he wants to put Fedor back into the tournament as an alternate as soon as the opportunity arises.
Coker is, simply put, making a complete hash of dealing with this. And the UFC, especially company president Dana White, are loving every second of it. In the aftermath of Fedor’s defeat, White’s Twitter exploded in a deluge of gloating, profanity and disrespect towards Strikeforce and its fighters. While his personal outburst certainly went too far at times, the sentiment is to an extent understandable. The UFC has been, for a long time, the biggest MMA promotion in the world, and right now is in the strongest position it has been in for a long time.
To see a potential threat to its dominance go so spectacularly wrong, and for Coker himself to blunder into making it very, very clear that something indeed has gone spectacularly wrong, must feel like a huge victory for the company. Furthermore, this comes at a time when the UFC is extending itself. Japanese MMA has been in big, big trouble for a long time, and the UFC finally seems to have decided to take proper advantage of the situation. Neither of the two biggest organisations, DREAM and Sengoku Raiden Championship (SRC), have scheduled an event for 2011 yet, and are finding it harder to pay their fighters.
Recently, the UFC picked up two of the best known fighters in Japan, Michihiro Omigawa and Norifumi “KID” Yamamoto. While the former of these made sense from a competitive perspective, KID is a fighter who was almost universally considered to be past his peak. However, both men are big names. Omigawa was a top-10 featherweight, who was frustrated at DREAM’s inability or unwillingness to give him a title shot, and KID was considered to be one of the best in the world at his peak. In terms of laying groundwork for any future ambitions they had in Japan, it made sense.
As it happened, both men lost their debuts. However, after their signings, the UFC has also announced its acquisition of three more high-calibre fighters who were plying their trade in Japan – two middleweight champions – Riki Fukada from DEEP and Jorge Santiago from SRC, as well as SRC light-heavyweight prospect Dave “Pee-Wee” Herman.
This is a confident action by UFC. Not only are they signing more high-level fighters to their promotion, they are also stripping away the best assets of struggling organisations. This kind of thing will only ensure that Japanese MMA (JMMA) struggles even more, and it will be interesting to see if and how the UFC decides to push on to fill this void that it is helping to create.
This is a sign of an important difference between the UFC and Strikeforce, and not just in terms of having a big enough pool of resources that they can recover from a much-hyped fighter suffering a defeat. It’s about the ability to take opportunities when they present themselves. By desperately trying to find a way to keep Fedor in the Grand Prix, and by going public with that desperation, Coker made an error. There are still six very capable fighters left in the tournament, and two exciting prospects waiting as reserves. Why not focus on them now that Fedor is gone? Bigfoot’s stock has never been higher, Alistair Overeem is a champion in three organisations and so on. As it stands, Fedor’s loss won’t kill Strikeforce, but the way it is being handled is doing the organisations no favours at all.
This is a massive opportunity that Coker is missing, make no mistake. He has the chance to catapult new stars forward and give the organisation multiple fighters with significant drawing power. Yet somehow he is either too blinkered or too afraid to take the opportunity.
Hopefully, he will realise this. Hopefully, he will also realise that the Josh Barnett-induced moving of the second set of quarter-final bouts to Japan presents another opportunity. Co-promoting and fighter sharing with DREAM has only been able to do so much in terms of Strikforce’s profile in Japan, and with the Japanese organisations struggling, they have to pursue an aggressive policy. The event planned there will have two fighters who are popular in Japan – Overeem and Barnett, as well as Gegard Mousasi – and will, if the rumours are true, feature Tatsuya Kawajiri.
This last figher – the man they call “Crusher” – is a very highly ranked lightweight, has a reasonably large profile in Japan and possesses an exciting fighting style. In short, Kawajiri is exactly the kind of fighter that Strikeforce need to be looking at pulling in, putting on this card, and then getting to fight for their promotion on a regular basis – either in the interest of deepening the competition in their organisation, or so as to gain a higher profile among Japanese audiences. It’s what the UFC are doing, as highlighted above, and while it may be kicking JMMA while it’s already down, it’s a very smart thing to do.
Until Strikeforce start recognising opportunities like these, and trying to exploit them to their full potential, they will never be able to match their ambition to provide a true rival to the UFC.

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