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Where Does Strikeforce Go From Here?

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A look at all the balls in the air with MMA promotion Strikeforce. Two champions have left the promotion and two more stars are free agents following last weekend's event.

Scott Coker, Fedor Emelianenko, Dan Henderson, Vadim Finkelstein. Photo by Josh Hedges, Forza LLC, via Getty Images.
Scott Coker, Fedor Emelianenko, Dan Henderson, Vadim Finkelstein. Photo by Josh Hedges, Forza LLC, via Getty Images.

Everything is up in the air for Strikeforce. Six months ago they were the UFC's only remotely serious competitor. Now that they have been purchased by the UFC's parent company they are being slowly assimilated into the Borg. 

The UFC has promised to honor all of Strikeforce's existing contractual relationships with Showtime and the various fighters in the promotion. But once those contracts are up, it's anyone's guess what will happen. And a couple of very big contracts are up. One of the headliners of Saturday's Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson event -- Dan Henderson -- has now completed his current contract and the other could very well be cut with one fight left on his deal. Things are going to get very very interesting. 

The fact is, Strikeforce is already being stripped of its biggest assets -- its stars. 

Let's look at the major roster changes that have happened since the Zuffa acquisition:

  • Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz leaves SF to get a title shot in the UFC
    Diaz' Strikeforce contract allowed him to box professionally and Zuffa didn't want him boxing. Diaz seemed frustrated by the limited possibilities for opponents and big paydays in Strikeforce as well.
  • Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem is cut
    This was a shocker. Overeem had earned a berth in the semi-finals of Strikeforce's Heavyweight Grand Prix. The promotion wanted him to fight in September, he wanted to wait until October. Things got heated and Overeem got cut with one fight still left on his contract. It will be very interesting to see what happens with Strikeforce's relationship with Golden Glory, the Dutch MMA/kickboxing team that manages Overeem and also fellow tournament competitor Sergei Kharitonov. With Japan's K-1 kickboxing promotion under new ownership, it's possible Overeem will be returning to defend his K-1 title sooner rather than never.

There is more turbulence just over the horizon as the two headliners of Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson have both completed their current contracts:

  • Light heavyweight champion Dan Henderson is a free agent
    Henderson came to Strikeforce when he couldn't come to terms with the UFC. There was much talk of Henderson wanting a "seven-figure signing bonus" but it's unconfirmed what his actual asking price was. We do know that Henderson's Clinch Gear clothing line was banned as a sponsor for the UFC during the bitter negotiations. We also have reason to believe the UFC offered Henderson headlining fights on two cards during the negotiations: UFC 103 and UFC 109. He's coming off an impressive 3-1 Strikeforce run and should be in demand. He's the test case to see if Zuffa really can bury the hatchet with fighters that left for Strikeforce because of difficulties working with Zuffa in the past.
  • The Strikeforce/Showtime/M-1 Global deal that brought Fedor to Strikeforce could end
    When Affliction's ill-fated venture in fight promoting came to an ugly end, Fedor Emelianenko was the most in-demand free agent in MMA history up to that point. The UFC offered him the best deal they could come up with, but Fedor's management team M-1 Global insisted on a co-promotional deal. Strikeforce gave them what they wanted. Later, after they re-negotiated his contract Showtime sweetened the pot by agreeing to air some M-1 Global events. I believe there's one more event on that deal, but I can't imagine that Showtime will continue airing M-1 fights. Fedor has one more fight left on the contract he signed back in March, but you'd have to think Strikeforce will cut him after 3 losses. Scott Coker has said he wants Fedor Emelianenko back, but we'll see if he can come to terms with M-1. The bigger question is can M-1 Global come to terms with the reality of Fedor's greatly diminished asking price and their utter lack of leverage?
  • Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson lost a lot of money
    When the fight was announced originally it was planned as a pay-per-view to cover the combined $2.5 million pay days of Fedor and Henderson. That fell through so they put it on Showtime. There is no way that Showtime paid out enough to cover that tab, that's more than the average payroll for an entire UFC pay-per-view. The ratings weren't all that great either, just the fourth best in the promotion's history on Showtime. 

That leaves one last big question mark regarding Strikeforce's future: women's MMA. It's no secret that Dana White is no fan of women's MMA. Recently he's softened his stance to say there just aren't enough top female fighters to put together a division. What that means for Strikeforce champs Cristiane "Cybrog" Santos -- who may or may not have just renewed her contract after almost a year in limbo -- and Miesha Tate is anyone's guess.