When Zuffa, the parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) first bought Japan's Pride Fighting Championships, UFC president Dana White promised fans there would be an "annual MMA superbowl." Unfortunately Pride went down in flames without a Japanese TV deal and Zuffa instead shipped its best fighters to the UFC.
Now that Zuffa owns the UFC and Strikeforce -- the top two MMA promotions in North America, and thus the world -- it's time for them to give fans and fighters that MMA Super Bowl.
After flattening UFC veteran Keith Jardine in the first round, Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold called out...the UFC. He's likely to face Strikeforce middleweight Tim Kennedy in his next fight, but he made no bones about his opinion that the challenges he really wants to face are all fighting in the Octagon.
"If that's the plan, then that's the plan and I'll make the most of what we've got here," Rockhold said. "Me and Tim Kennedy, the fight was supposed to happen quite a few times, but the fight just hasn't seemed to come [together]. I always look to bigger and better things, and so if the UFC wants to bring in some top contenders, I'm more than happy to welcome them to our hexagon, like Gilbert [Melendez] would say."
Rockhold is referencing Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez, ranked the #2 lightweight in the world in the USA TODAY/MMA Nation Consensus Rankings, who also openly called for UFC fighters to come face him in Strikeforce after his last win.
The ugly reality is that after initially promising "business as usual" upon buying Strikeforce last year, Zuffa then set about stripping the promotion of its top fighters. Heavyweight champ Alistair Overeem, welterweight champ Nick Diaz, light heavyweight champ Dan Henderson and the entire Strikeforce heavyweight division have all either made their UFC debuts or will be doing so soon.
However, something big changed late in 2011. Ken Hershman, the long-time head of Showtime Sports, and a vocal antagonist of Dana White and the UFC, resigned. That created an opportunity for Showtime and Zuffa to cut a long-term deal.
What that meant for fighters like Melendez, Rockhold and Muhammed Lawal who hadn't yet made the jump to the Octagon was that the drawbridge was pulled up and they were on the "wrong side of that line" as Bruce Springsteen would say.
I understand Zuffa's need to maintain the current quality level of Strikeforce and stop stripping it of its top fighters. That makes perfect sense. It's a decent deal for the fighters, too. Showtime is no joke and neither are the paychecks that Zuffa can pay.
But what those fighters aren't getting is a chance to compete against the best. It's also a thorn in the side of UFC fighters who also want to prove they're the best of the best but will have to deal with questions about how they would fare against Strikeforce's elite.
Zuffa needs to do what it needs to do to make this happen. My suggestion is that they run an annual UFC vs. Strikeforce pay-per-view and cut Showtime in on the revenue. This would allow both promotions to show off their best fighters, give the best guys in Strikeforce a chance to fight the best in the world and for UFC champs like Frankie Edgar who struggle to draw fan attention, it could be a chance to headline a well-hyped and much ordered PPV. It would also solve the problem of permanent roster changes. In other words, rather than removing someone like Joe Lauzon from the UFC lightweight ranks, Lauzon can stay in the UFC but compete against someone in Strikeforce at one special but annual event.
UFC champs Jon Jones and Anderson Silva are desperate for tough challenges. Lightweight Frankie Edgar is desperate to raise his profile. Even if, say King Mo and Luke Rockhold, aren't the most well-known names in MMA, just the fact that the fights could be hyped as "Champion vs. Champion" and the UFC and Showtime could put all of their considerable promotional muscle into hyping the card would make it a unique and compelling attraction.
Make it happen Zuffa. The fans and the fighters deserve it.