UFC's assimilation of Strikeforce could mean interesting matchups
"Business as usual."
Dana White used that phrase around 10,000 times as he spoke about the continued operation of Strikeforce during Saturday's surprise announcement that a subsidiary of UFC parent company Zuffa had purchased its mixed martial arts rival.
Asked about essentially the same topic during a media conference call Monday, here's what the UFC president had to say this time:
"Business as usual."
Yeah, not much news came out of the hour-long phone call between MMA reporters and White, Zuffa chairman and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta and Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker. We got a few fresh details -- such as Strikeforce's adopting MMA's unified rules, meaning elbows to the head of a grounded fighter are now OK -- but little of what we heard filled in any blanks from what we'd heard Saturday. "We put this together in short order," Fertitta said, "and we don't have all the answers yet."
In one case, though, having no answer was actually a step in the right direction. During Saturday's announcement in a video interview with MMAFighting.com, White was asked whether the sale might result in "superfights" between top guys in the UFC and Strikeforce. "When I say 'business as usual,' we don't co-promote," he said emphatically. "Even when we own the thing, we don't co-promote. Period."
On Monday, however, White opened that slammed door, if only a crack. When the topic of potential UFC-vs.-Strikeforce bouts came up during the conference call, he said, "I wouldn't count anything out. I wouldn't say no to anything. Listen, at the end of the day, what we want to do is put on the best fights the fans want to see. That's our job." To which Fertitta added, "If there's an interest and the fans want to see it, as Dana says, that's what we do."
So, what fights do MMA fans want to see? Former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir went on a fact-finding mission Monday night on Twitter, asking his 53,000 followers what "merger matchups" they'd be into. Several fans suggested Mir matchups -- the whole thing was Frank's idea, after all -- but much of the matchmaking involved showdowns of champions, such as Strikeforce welterweight Nick Diaz vs. the UFC's Georges St-Pierre.
Now, I'd love to see some of those two-belt bouts, too, but I don't think that's the direction the UFC will go if it makes these types of fights happen. For all the nice things White has said about Strikeforce in the last few days, I don't think he believes that any of Coker's champs are worthy of stepping right in with his belt holders. He made former Strikeforce middleweight titlist Jake Shields prove himself before getting a shot at GSP. Why would Diaz, Alistair Overeem or anyone else with a Strikeforce strap be treated any differently?
Instead, maybe we'll see a Strikeforce champ or two matched against a UFC guy who's been waiting in line for a shot at a belt. Some of these contenders-in-waiting might already have been promised their title bouts, but when has a promise like that ever carried any weight in the UFC? (Just ask Jon Fitch and Anthony Pettis.) And this final test could really nail down who's the true No. 2. A few possibilities:
Title eliminators aside, here are a few other possibilities for UFC-Strikeforce crossovers, which I'll categorize simply as "Why not?":
• "Attention, @UFC just bought boxing. #Zuffa says all combat sports will be called UFC from now on. Welcome to the dark side."
The former WEC bantamweight champ actually had a lot of funny things to say, or tweet, in response to the purchase of Strikeforce, including drawing a comparison between White and out-of-control control freak Tony Montana from the film
• "What do I think of @UFC buying @Strikeforce & reuniting w/ @danawhite? Duh. Winning!"
Maybe time does heal all wounds. Or maybe Hendo was still on a high from winning the championship belt a week earlier. And speaking of high, he even got in the requisite Charlie Sheen reference. (Oh, I forgot: Torres called the UFC "the Charlie Sheen of the MMA world.")
• "I'm a positive guy. I see things through a positive lens. It can be really, really the best thing [that] ever happened to the sport, if it's used positive, and I see that happening."
In the same interview, the "Demolition Man" had a less positive outlook for his first opponent in the Heavyweight Grand Prix, Fabricio Werdum, who has predicted that he'll submit Overeem in June just as he did back in 2006. "He'll be unable to do that," countered The Reem, "when he's sleeping on the mat with his face down." Now that's positive thinking.
• "Bottom line is this: Gracie came back and fought in the United States at UFC 60 for the first time since 1995, and he drew 650,000 pay-per-view [buys] -- at the time the highest number. That's all I care about."
Out of context, it sounds like Kogan is throwing Gracie to the wolves in the name of commerce. After all, Royce has not fought since 2007. But Kogan was speaking about the continued appeal of Gracie with fans, and he's confident that fans in Gracie's homeland would be especially thrilled to see the legendary winner of UFCs 1, 2 and 4 fight again. Maybe so, but I get nervous with the prospect of Old Timer's Day in the Octagon. This is not like Yogi Berra waddling out onto the Yankee Stadium diamond for a two-inning exhibition with his peers. A guy could get hurt. Kogan said the deal he's working on with the UFC would be for Gracie to fight a specific opponent, one he would not name. Let's hope it's someone similarly positioned to be soon in possession of an AARP card.
• "There is a difference between a fighter and a martial artist. A fighter is training for a purpose: He has a fight. I'm a martial artist. I don't train for a fight. I train for myself. I'm training all the time. My goal is perfection. But I will never reach perfection."
I suspect GSP will know when it's time to stop fighting.
• "Holy smokes. Earthquake in my neck of the woods in Tokyo. The missus and I are freaking out a bit now."
All sports news -- from the Strikeforce sale to the NFL lockout to college basketball's March Madness -- is trivial in the face of the tragedy still unfolding in Japan. In fact, the biggest MMA report of the weekend, I'm sure most would agree, was not the Zuffa purchase but the news that fighters such as the UFC's Yoshihiro Akiyama and Dream's Shinya Aoki had been accounted for. Akiyama was scheduled to fight this weekend at UFC 128, but of course he will not. Considering that the judoka known as "Sexyama" has won Fight of the Night honors in all three of his UFC bouts, maybe this Saturday's bonus check should go to disaster relief. All good wishes to the people of Japan.