Strikeforce Success A Victory For UFC Too

Scott Coker and Strikeforce should be very happy.

Saturday night’s card from Chicago was a sellout, Fedor got a crazy ovation and a highlight reel win, and early accounts have CBS getting a solid number for the MMA icon’s main event match-up with Brett “The Grim” Rogers.

The inaugural event for the San Jose-based company on network television showed that Emelianenko can be a draw in North America and that the sport of Mixed Martial Arts has a place on television beyond Spike, Versus and pay-per-view, which makes Strikeforce’s success on Saturday night a victory for the UFC as well.

In addition to getting a little free promotion for two of their five champions during the Strikeforce broadcast, the UFC can use the success of their latest competitors as a baseline for the vast potential bringing the biggest brand in the business to network television could produce.

Somewhere, Dana White is smiling – and with good reason.

First off, the UFC will be able to capitalize on the new fans created by the Strikeforce card on CBS with their own free broadcast Saturday night, rolling out Randy Couture and UFC 105 on Spike.

While the home of the UFC may not reach as many homes as the network that brings How I Met Your Mother into our lives every week (thank you CBS!), there are sure to be newly-created MMA fans who have both cable and an interest in feeding their addiction to the sport on Saturday night.

Secondly, three of the eight fighters who took part in the televised portion of the Strikeforce card had previous UFC experience. In this instance, “previous UFC experience” is the polite way of saying that Fabricio Werdum, Sokoudjou and Jason “Mayhem” Miller all were on the wrong end of at least one serious beating inside the Octagon and haven’t been invited back since.

The announce team for CBS actually mentioned two of those fights during the broadcast, as Sokoudjou’s defeat at the hands of Lyoto Machida and the bloody beating “Mayhem” received at courtesy of Georges St-Pierre were both referenced.

There’s nothing like telling the viewers at home that your Middleweight title contender got the holy hell kicked out of him by a welterweight, even if it is the best welterweight in the world.

Admittedly, not making mention of the UFC would have been disingenuous; it would have been akin to the days of wrestling’s Monday Night Wars, when the WWE and WCW refused to speak each other’s name. Everyone knew “The Outsiders” from their days as Razor Ramon and Diesel, despite the WCW’s attempts to convince you that Scott Hall and Kevin Nash had freshly fallen from the sky to wreak havoc on Ted Turner’s company.

Yes, I used to watch a lot of wrestling. Deal with it… I have.

That being said, mentioning that Sokoudjou stood across the cage from Lyoto Machida and leaving it at that is certainly a much better option than having Gus Johnson gushing about “the rising UFC superstar Lyoto Machida.”

Which brings us around to Fedor and the main event.

The strong numbers and dominant performance put forward by Fedor in the main event are both impressive and will undoubtedly lead some to wonder how “the one that got away” could signal future success for Dana White.

The answer is quite simple really.

Before drawing an approximate 5 million viewers to CBS for the main event, the largest number Fedor had put on the board in North America was in the 100,000 viewer range for his fights with Affliction.

If a guy who had been doing 100,000 on pay-per-view and has limited marketability can bring 10 million eyes to CBS, imagine the possibilities that exist for highly marketable pay-per-view draws like GSP and Brock Lesnar.

Dana White has long talked about securing a network deal for the UFC, teasing fans with imminent announcements and thus far failing to come through on those promises.

Whether that has been hesitation on the network’s side, failure to find the right deal for the UFC or a combination of the two, the strong showing put forward by Strikeforce Saturday night certainly opens the door for renewed discussions about moving the marquee name in Mixed Martial Arts into primetime.

One last thing: as impressive as 5 million viewers is for Fedor and Strikeforce, it’s less than Kimbo Slice brought to CBS.

Remind me where he fights again?

Like I said: somewhere, Dana White is smiling.