From San Jose to Saitama: Why the Dream/Strikeforce Deal is Bigger Than Fedor

News has been coming out of Scott Coker’s camp fast and furious the last few weeks. After injuries crippled his Aug. 15 Strikeforce card Coker & Co. patched it up with fights salvaged from the canceled Affliction: Trilogy show. Then Strikeforce came to terms with M-1/Fedor, fueling days of arguments on every MMA message board, blog and news site. In the wake of the Fedor signing, Strikeforce announced a partnership with Japanese promotion Dream and then signed Dream middleweight Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza to a stateside contract. It’s hard to keep up with the announcements, let along place them all in context. But now that we have a few days distance from the craziness it becomes clear that the biggest news to come out of San Jose isn’t the signing of Fedor but Strikeforce’s Dream deal.

Make no mistake, the addition of Fedor Emelianenko to the Strikeforce stable is significant. But the importance of Fedor is skewed by the fervor with which he is discussed online. Yes, he is likely the best heavyweight in the world and a top-five pound-for-pounder. But he can’t carry a major fight card in America, not on pay per view, not yet. In six months, if Strikeforce and M-1 play their cards right, Fedor will have some serious cache, but he’s more of a show pony than a workhorse right now.

Strikeforce’s partnership with Dream will have more of an impact on both promotions and the sport as a whole than Fedor’s signing will in terms of matchmaking, scheduling, and co-promotion.

Superfights are the first and most obvious benefit of Strikeforce’s commingling with Dream. Both promotions have very good fighters on their respective roster; the problem is that neither have very many of them. By pooling resources, each promotion roughly doubles their roster, allowing them to make interesting match-ups, especially if they plan to promote champion vs. champion bouts. There are scads of possibilities. Josh Thomson or Gilbert Melendez vs. Shinya Aoki, Joachim Hansen, Gesias Calvancante or Eddie Alvarez? Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem, Paul Buentello, Brett Rogers or Roger Gracie vs. Jeff Monson or Sergei Kharitonov? Cung Le, Jake Shields, or Robbie Lawler vs. Jason Miller, Melvin Manhoef, Paulo Filho or “Jacare”? Yes, please.

Dream needs heavyweights and Scott Coker’s got ‘em. In return, Dream can loan out lightweight fighters or ‘name’ featherweights like Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto and hot prospects like Joe Warren if Strikeforce wants to establish lighter weight classes. Strikeforce now has the ability to abandon it’s strategy of booking the two best known fighters it can for a meaningless catchweight fight and lend credibility to its titles.

Scheduling fights will become easier, both for promoters and fighters. With a larger pool of licensed fighters to choose from, fights can be salvaged in the event of injury, like Ishida vs. Melendez, or new fights, like Mousasi vs. Sobral, can be booked to replace bouts that can’t be saved. Signing with either organization will be a more attractive option for fighters in search of work.

Dream is now booking its eleventh show since it launched in March of 2008. Strikeforce has promoted as many shows during the same period of time. The UFC has promoted 30 shows over the same span, approximately ten more cards and opportunities to fight than both Dream and Strikeforce combined could offer. By letting their contracted fighters move between the promotions, Dream and Strikeforce would allow fighters to work three or four times a year instead of once or twice as many of them do now.

So far so good, right? Right. But here’s where it gets tricky. The UFC is a strong brand, something the casual fan can associate him or herself with. Many fans still aren’t familiar with the other companies that promote MMA and by working together, these promotions are only going to muddy the waters further. Even hardcore fans were confused by the Strikeforce/EliteXC co-promoted cards when they happened – how does Coker intend to explain it to “noobs?”

Signing Fedor is a big deal. But the effects (positive and negative) of a partnership between Strikeforce and Dream could be felt long after the Russian’s final fight.

FIGHT! Fans: Who does a Dream/Strikeforce co-promotion benefit the most, promoters, fighters, or fans?

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