Zuffa, parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, by far the leading promotional organization in the fast-growing combat sport, has purchased Strikeforce, the second-biggest (though far smaller) promotion, UFC president Dana White revealed in a surprise announcement Saturday during an interview with MMAFighting.com.
Yes, Dana & Co. now own the fight organization White once dismissively called "Strikefarce."
"This is surreal for me," White acknowledged Saturday.
He's not alone. Some in the MMA community might also use the word ominous or even dangerous. A sports consolidation of this magnitude naturally makes fans wonder about the impact on MMA of the UFC having essentially no competition.
The thing is, though, the UFC didn't have much competition even before this deal was struck. Strikeforce has never had the star power to make the UFC break a sweat. It's always been the UFC's fishbowl, with the rest of the MMA world simply allowed to swim around in it. Until getting eaten.
And White's promotion has shown before that it can eat up the competition -- World Extreme Cagefighting in 2006, the Pride Fighting Championships less than a year later -- without getting lazy with its own product. The UFC continues to pump out a show every few weeks, each with at least a reasonably strong list of competitive fights.
Most important, good fights continue to get made. With one matchmaker handling most of the world's top fighters, the fans aren't left with the bitter taste that the boxing faithful so often is left with when fighters like Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. dance around each other rather than step into the ring.
Dana White & Co. have bigger aspirations. "The UFC is the premier brand in mixed martial arts," White told Ariel Helwani in the video interview at MMAFighting.com. "And like I've been saying for 10 years, we have a plan to take this thing global and make this the biggest sport in the world."
White has been saying that for years. And every time he mentions "biggest sport in the world," there are snickers, even among MMA diehards. But then the UFC sells out a 55,000-seat stadium in Toronto, sells out an arena in Australia in minutes, "and we're going to China, we're going to Korea, we're going to Japan, we're going to India and all these other places," said White. "What we're doing now is we're putting together the game plan and the model on how we move out into all these other countries."
The purchase of Strikeforce figures into that game plan. "We need more fights, more fighters," said White, who would not reveal what price Zuffa paid in the deal. "And let's face the facts: Strikeforce is a brand that fans have come to like. They do have a following."
And Strikeforce has had some pretty good media exposure as well, including one thing the UFC hasn't: network television exposure, via telecasts on CBS. Strikeforce regularly appears on CBS corporate partner Showtime. "Strikeforce, I think, pulls good ratings for Showtime," said White. "I think Showtime's happy with them."
Talk about surreal. Hearing Dana White speak of Showtime in a civil tone is absolutely bizarre. Here was Dana on Showtime not long ago: "The geniuses over at Showtime, these guys are the most arrogant, cocky, pompous jackasses I've ever met in my whole life."
What does White say to those "geniuses" now? Think "Welcome, partner" will go over well? White laughed when Helwani brought up the touchy subject, then said, "I'm sure the last thing Showtime wants to see is me show up at the doorstep." He said his partner in the UFC, Lorenzo Fertitta, will handle any discussions with Showtime, which he believes has two years left on its TV deal with Strikeforce.
"We have no comment at this time," Showtime spokesman Chris DeBlasio said.
As for who'll operate Strikeforce, CEO Scott Coker is being retained and will continue to run his organization. "It's going to be business as usual," White said.
That's hard to imagine, under the circumstances, though if anyone can make that happen, it's the affable Coker. "You've seen, over the years, me battle with guys and go back and forth, fire bad things back and forth between different promotions, but I've never had a bad thing to say about Scott Coker," said White. "I've known Scott since the K-1 [kickboxing] days, when he was promoting here in Las Vegas. Scott's a good guy."
Coker's about to have that tested. Though White talks about Strikeforce continuing to operate as a separate entity -- he even doused speculation that we might see "superfights" between top guys within UFC and Strikeforce -- anyone who has followed MMA these past years will recognize that the other fight promotions the UFC bought out, the WEC and Pride, no longer exist. Coker's operation might be safe for now because of its Showtime contract and various fighter deals, but don't expect Strikeforce to be a force over the long haul.
Dana White the global entrepreneur has spoken of a day when the UFC -- not MMA, but the UFC -- is so big around the world that two of its fighting events will be happening on the same night. That day might be coming. The big fish keeps eating and eating, and getting bigger and bigger.