“So let it be written. So let it be done.”
Pharaoh Dana White, hallowed be his name, has expanded his empire to the edge of the known MMA universe. With a combination of cunning and cruelty he has laid waste to all that tried to stand before him. Every promotion he couldn’t bully, counter-program, sue, or trash talk over the precipice of their own incompetent management (IFL, Affliction, EliteXC), he co-opted—buying Pride, the WEC, and now Strikeforce. When this last one was struck and forced into submission, did he weep a little on the inside because there are no more worlds left to conquer? Or did he start dropping cash at the blackjack tables like a drunken Abu Dhabi prince? My vote is for the latter.
The losers in the UFC’s ascension to anti-trust levels of monopolistic control are fairly obvious and have (and I say this in the spirit of reconciliation between our two great brands) been cleverly laid out by Chris Coleman at cagepotato. It is all those who, banished from the UFC, had sought sustenance and succor under the Strikeforce banner: Frank Shamrock, Josh Barnett, Matt Lindland, Paul Daley, etcetera, etcetera. But were there any winners, aside from Dana’s ego?
Here are a few possibilities:
Nature hates a vacuum and MMA fighters hate having to negotiate only with the UFC. It’s not like they have collective bargaining rights. Bellator ain’t much, but it is all they have left for a counter-offer. Expect Bellator’s talent-level to rise. Also expect its media presence to increase. Press conferences at IFL, EliteXC, and Affliction events used to be like a Jewish Diaspora reunion at the River Zion for the surprising number of MMA journalists who had pricked Dana’s thin skin and been de-credentialed. There is no other promotion left for these lost souls to cover from ringside.
The WEC used to offer matches in every weight class before realizing their only brand-differentiating, competitive advantage was in the three Tiny Tim divisions not covered by the UFC: flyweight (125), bantamweight (135), and featherweight (145). Once the WEC had done the hard work of building up these divisions, the UFC borged the company and its Mini Me talent.
Besides the heavyweight grand prix, the only thing Strikeforce does differently than the UFC is put on the occasional female fight. In his “business as usual” exclusive interview with Ariel Helwani, the Christiane Amanpour of MMA, Dana White responded to Ariel’s do-women-have-a-future-in-the-UFC question by saying, “My big problem is there is not enough good girls out there to create a division.” Maybe “good guy” Scott Coker can prove him wrong and create a league of their own. Maybe Strikeforce morphs into the WNBA of MMA. If they do, my wife requests that they replace the ring girls with ring boys.
If not a move for gender equality (which seems highly unlikely but a fan can always hope), the purchase looks to be more about globalization. When a baffled Ariel was trying to suss out why the UFC, the Kleenex of MMA, would do anything to boost Strikeforce’s brand by keeping “business as usual” and cross-promoting it on UFC shows, Dana was enthusiast about its library and its talent, less so about its deal with Showtime. “Strikeforce does well with Showtime,” he said in a tone of voice that doesn’t bode well for its deal. But he was most juiced about its potential for helping the UFC acquire more fighters to put on more fights internationally. When Ariel asked, “Will San Jose still be the home of Strikeforce? It won’t come to Vegas?” Dana responded: “Who knows? Strikeforce could go anywhere. It could end up in Canada and other parts of the world.”
So let Canada’s hockey-developed enthusiasm for watching men punch each other in the face be a lesson to the rest of the world. Sell out a 55,000-seat stadium for the UFC and Dana White, hallowed be his name, may just buy you your very own promotion. It’s kind of like when he got the Iceman a Ferrari, only it won’t get you laid as much.
(Matthew Polly is a regular contributor to Salon.com and has a book about his adventures in MMA that’s not coming out soon enough. For now, you can check out his other Fightlinker-related pennings here.)