Today's news of a December mega-fight between former UFC heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar and former Strikeforce champ Alistair Overeem is the latest huge move from the promotion in a matter of days. The Lesnar-Overeem news comes hot on the heels of last week's announcement that the promotion was moving the Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos heavyweight championship fight scheduled for UFC 139 was being moved to the promotion's debut on broadcast television at UFC on Fox on November 12th.
These are two big moves from the promotion that show that UFC brass have not enjoyed the less-than-stellar 2011 (by their very high standards) they've endured and are willing to make big and unexpected moves to keep the promotion the hottest growth property in sports.
Most pundits said the UFC would never sacrifice the profits they expected to earn by running the Cain vs. JDS title fight on pay-per-view at UFC 139 by running the fight instead on Fox Television. The business reality of the move is that the UFC is sacrificing literally tens of millions of dollars in pure profit to make sure their broadcast television debut is a really damn big deal.
It's a smart, if not brilliant move, and shows that Zuffa is willing to sacrifice short-term profits for the long-term growth of the promotion and the sport.
The Overeem vs Lesnar fight is almost as unexpected and involved an even more complicated and harder-to-parse series of moves. First they cut Overeem from Strikeforce in the middle of the Strikeforce Grand Prix. Allegedly this was because Overeem's management company, Golden Glory, tried to strong-arm Strikeforce (which has the same owners as the UFC) and extract more favorable terms on his contract, in the middle of the tournament.
Zuffa/Forza (the parent companies of UFC and Strikeforce, respectively) then cut all but one of Overeem's teammates currently on contract from the two organizations.
Lo and behold, just a couple of weeks later and the UFC now has a mega-event for December 30th.
Did Dana White and company manipulate circumstances so that Overeem conveniently ended up in the UFC where he's needed and out of Strikeforce, where only Showtime suffers? Who's to say? Sure, they went through a similarly convoluted set of dramatic events to get former Strikeforce welterweight champ Nick Diaz into UFC 137 against Georges St. Pierre, but again, it's beyond me to speculate that things were anything but what they were claimed to be.
The end result is the UFC wins big. Strikeforce loses out. Showtime loses out. Most importantly Mixed Martial Arts has a chance to remain the fastest growing sport in the world for at least another six months.