Where Were You When History Happened?

Strikeforce purchase a major landmark in MMA history

There are seminal moments is everyone’s life where they remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when something historic happened.

Saturday morning, I was sitting at the desk in my office, working on a piece for UFC 128 when the news broke that Zuffa, the parent company of the UFC, had purchased Strikeforce.

Think I’m over-extending by calling this move historic? Think again.

While UFC President Dana White repeatedly told MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani “it’s business as usual” in the video interview that broke the news to the masses, the truth is that this deal dramatically changes the landscape of mixed martial arts moving forward. The two premier organizations in MMA may continue to run as separate and distinct entities for now, but the business of mixed martial arts has forever been changed by this announcement.

There are bound to be critics who are unhappy about this announcement. Those who believe the UFC is the epitome of evil in this sport are most likely on suicide watch right now or already shifting their focus to K-1 or the world of boxing as we speak. For the majority, however, this is news that signals the start of a new era in mixed martial arts, one where the vast majority of the top fighters in the sport will eventually compete in the same organization.

People who say you need competition to thrive obviously don’t pay close enough attention to professional sports. The NFL, NHL and NBA have no legitimate competition and all three of those organizations seem to be doing just fine, thankyouverymuch, and those three major sports leagues all serve as examples for why yesterday’s major announcement is an historic moment in MMA history.

Each of those three league had their own Strikeforce at one point or another; a rival league boasting some serious talents and marquee names. The AFL, WHA and ABA were home to future Hall of Fame inductees in football, hockey and basketball respectively, and initially stood as competition to the leagues that are now synonymous with each sport. In all three cases, one organization became the dominant name in the sport, and fans yearned to see the stars of the second-best brand compete against their first-place counterparts.

No, it wasn’t as simple as that; financial problems marred the WHA, and the goal of the ABA was always to force a merger with the NBA, but the logistics of yesterday’s MMA news isn’t simplistic either.

Fans clamoring for superfights between competitors from both company’s rosters have to cool their jets. As White explained, Zuffa intends to honor all Strikeforce contracts and keep the San Jose-based organization operating as is for the time being. That being said, as contracts expire, both those of fighters and Strikeforce’s deal with Showtime, you better believe there will be changes that stray far away from “business as usual.”

As the contracts of Strikeforce’s major stars expire, don’t expect them to continue to remain outside of the UFC.

In a sport where fans speculate about who would win match-ups that appeared to have a snowball’s chance in hell of happening just a day ago, the likelihood of seeing fighters like Nick Diaz, Gilbert Melendez and Muhammed Lawal competing against the likes of Josh Koscheck, Gray Maynard and Lyoto Machida just improved dramatically.

Along with eventually bringing the best of every division under one roof, this move could also end up providing concrete answers to how guys like Diaz would do against the elite welterweights currently competing in the UFC, and make a definite set of divisional rankings a reality.

Debates will still rage on, of course, but that’s just because everyone likes a good argument.

Additionally, UFC fighters whose contracts expire or who fall on hard times inside the Octagon won’t necessarily be banished to the regional circuit right away. Yesterday’s announcement puts the possibility of Strikeforce becoming a quasi-minor league for the UFC on the table for discussion. Instead of telling a fighter on a two- or three-fight losing streak to go get a couple wins on the regional scene, a trip to the less daunting ranks within Strikeforce could be a way for fighters to stay on the radar and rebuild their confidence.

Though White hinted at that possibility on Saturday, don’t expect that scenario to exist long-term.

Just as Zuffa had plans to keep Pride and the WEC operating and thriving after their acquisitions, the reality is that an amalgamation with the UFC is almost inevitable. Conventional thinking is that when Strikeforce’s deal with Showtime expires, the remaining cream of the company’s crop will be added to the fold in the UFC, and the organization will be packed away in mothballs like Pride and the WEC before it. That contract is set to expire within the next two years.

What strikes me as odd in reading reactions to this announcement is all the negative backlash, MMA fans upset that the UFC now has a monopoly on most of the top talent within the sport.

I’m sorry, but don’t the NBA, NHL, NFL and Major League Baseball have monopolies in their respective sports, and aren’t they thriving? An MMA fan arguing that this news is bad for the sport is like an hockey fan saying the NHL is ruining the game.

I don’t know about you, but I’d take all the best talent competing in one organization over having a handful of elite fighters facing less-than-stellar competition every day and twice on Sundays, and that is the reality this move will eventually deliver.

Lastly, this move brings mixed martial arts one step closer to the mainstream. No longer are there duelling organizations competing for talent and coverage; the UFC is now the undisputed industry leader, as many already believed them to be prior to yesterday’s announcement.

While Strikeforce will continue to feature some talented fighters and merit coverage, as the months pass, the UFC will slowly add their biggest assets to their ranks, giving media outlets, television networks and corporate sponsors an NFL- or NBA-like organization in mixed martial arts.

Some may consider that a bad things, but I’m not one of those few.

Yesterday’s news was an historic moment in mixed martial arts that will only strengthen the sport in the future.

I know I will always remember where I was when I heard the news. Will you?