Today Strikeforce announced that it has signed Fedor Emelianenko, the number one heavyweight in the world and arguably the world’s best fighter. Signing the Russian, who was the sport’s most valuable free agent in its short history after Affliction’s promotion crumbled, is another power play toward Strikeforce’s goal of creating a fight world parallel to the UFC’s.
The San Jose-based organization has made waves since its inception, hosting California’s first sanctioned mixed martial arts contest and scoring a then-North American record of 18,265 in attendance in 2006. Despite the fast start, Strikeforce was considered a regional promotional because its California home base and lack of a major television deal or pay-per-view. In spite of this, the promotion continued to expand, setting Washington state’s combat sports live gate record in early 2008. Strikeforce cleaned up in the wake of EliteXC’s demise, securing most of its roster and parlaying that into a deal with Showtime/CBS. By bringing Emelianenko into the fold after his highly public dance with the UFC breaks down one of the strongest misconceptions surrounding Strikeforce—that it’s a UFC reject bin.
Unlike Bodog and Affliction’s live event divisions, Strikeforce was not built for Emelianenko. The Russian’s new employer existed happily before him and will after him unlike his previous promoters. Strikeforce is not nor have they ever been the WFA, IFL or EliteXC, promotions that antagonized the UFC, talked a big game and crashed and burned due to mismanagement.
Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker has been promoting fights since before the UFC existed and has seen success in mixed martial arts with the small-ball approach. Even with Emelianenko, transforming into a swing-for-the-fences promotion is unlikely. They’ll just go from singles to triples and let the UFC be the home run hitters.
With Emelianenko, though, they gain cred among hardcore fans for finalizing a deal that the UFC couldn’t. Strikeforce will promote Emelianenko as the king of the sport and they’ll do it while challenging him properly. He has a strong stable of fighters to compete against in Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum and Brett Rogers for starters in addition to anyone from Japan given Strikeforce’s working relationship with promoters in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Now the talk of co-promotion can really begin. Strikeforce is considered a distant number two behind the UFC by many, and Emelianenko’s arrival isn’t likely to change that. But with notable, recognizable champions a case can be made for co-promotion. Factor in Jake Shields’ longtime clamoring for Georges St-Pierre and Nick Diaz’s ability to fight any one, and Strikeforce has some serious talent to offer.
It’s a lot more plausible with Strikeforce though than it was with M-1 or anyone else in MMA outside of a defunct Pride. At one time the UFC was open to co-promoting with Pride, so maybe that’s on the horizon again. But the UFC and Strikeforce will likely continue to run parallel rather than co-promote. Will it happen? Probably not.
FIGHT! Fans: Do you think that we will ever see the UFC co-promote superfights with other organizations? Do you want to see it happen?