When Zuffa LLC, the parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, purchased the rival Strikeforce promotion for a reported $40 million in March 2011, it also inherited a Showtime broadcast deal set to expire in early 2012.
It was widely speculated that this contract wouldn't be renewed for two reasons: Zuffa already had a history of buying and stripping other fight organizations, and UFC president Dana White and Showtime Sports head Ken Hershman didn't see eye to eye. In the months that followed, Zuffa continued to fuel conjecture regarding Strikeforce's imminent demise when it lifted three of the promotion's most coveted champions for the UFC.
But then Stephen Espinoza replaced Hershman in November, becoming Showtime Sports' executive vice president and general manager while Hershman was named new president of HBO Sports. In mid-December, Zuffa and Showtime renewed the Strikeforce contract and jointly announced six to eight events on the network in 2012.
Espinoza spoke to SI.com about his new role, the network's revitalized relationship with the world's top MMA promotion and how this will affect Strikeforce and its athletes.
I think one thing that is very clear, is that both Zuffa and Showtime are completely on the same page that we want the best talent matchups possible. What form that's going to take, we're not sure. To me, it's sort of the same dynamic that a lot of sports have. You're not always able to match the perceived best against the perceived best. In college football, you have conference champions and you have a limited number of games, so you're always having these discussions. Is the Pac-10 is better then the SEC? It's endemic to every sport.
I don't think we should punish Strikeforce because, under its structure, they're not necessarily able to answer those questions. Those questions don't get answered in either sport, but they contribute to the debate and popularity of the sport.