March 14, 2011
UFC, Strikeforce still plan to compete
LAS VEGAS (AP) — UFC president Dana White insists his company's acquisition of Strikeforce won't end the competition between North America's top two mixed martial arts promotions.
Yet White also acknowledges his top fighters could meet Strikeforce's best in the near future.
Suffice to say the UFC hasn't quite figured out what to do with its biggest purchase yet in its quest for global MMA domination.
"I wouldn't count anything out," White said during a conference call Monday. "I wouldn't say no to anything. Listen, at the end of the day, what we want to do is put on the best fights that the fans want to see. That's our job."
White said the UFC didn't buy its top rival just to eliminate it. Under veteran CEO Scott Coker, Strikeforce will continue signing its own fighters and appearing on Showtime, which has a deal to telecast Strikeforce cards through 2014.
White said the UFC made the deal to get more fighters working for Zuffa, the company that now controls both promotions. White and Zuffa chairman Lorenzo Fertitta want to expand their MMA business worldwide, and they'll need more shows to establish a bigger presence in Europe, Asia and South America.
"We certainly don't have it figured out," Fertitta said. "But one of the things that we believe strongly is that there is a lot more demand in Europe and in Asia, places like Australia, where we go once a year, twice a year. We're not fulfilling what the demand is, and the U.K. is a perfect example. Going to London one time a year, we're kind of shortchanging that market.
"To be able to have Strikeforce — more fighters, more options — we're working on the ability to have a stronger presence in a meaningful way, up to eight, nine, 10 times a year."
UFC outbid an undisclosed number of suitors for Strikeforce when Silicon Valley Sports and Entertainment decided to sell the scrappy Bay Area–based promotional company that started out in kickboxing and only began putting on MMA fights five years ago.
Carefully managed by Coker, Strikeforce made headlines in recent years by agreeing to a co–promotional deal with Fedor Emelianenko, the Russian heavyweight considered MMA's most fearsome fighter until back–to–back losses tarnished him.
Several prominent Strikeforce fighters have endured messy breakups with the UFC, including Paul Daley, Josh Barnett and Dan Henderson. White clashed with Strikeforce during his failed attempts to sign Emelianenko in recent years, criticizing Coker and referring to the promotion as "Strikefarce," but he claims Strikeforce's stars shouldn't worry about his potentially divisive presence.
"There's a lot of people on that side of the fence that aren't big fans of mine," White said. "But you know we can still do business. Scott Coker is the guy who's going to be running the day–to–day and doing everything. They're never going to have to deal with me, so it's not a big deal."
White also said the UFC will stop counter–programming against Strikeforce's big shows. The UFC has drained television audiences away from its competitors in recent years by running compelling fights on Spike TV at the same time.
The UFC has absorbed its competitors before, buying up World Extreme Cagefighting, the World Fighting Alliance and Pride in recent years while the UFC rose to international dominance of the sport.
The WEC's fighters were merged under the UFC banner this year with the elimination of WEC cards and the establishment of two new UFC championship belts, but White claims he doesn't intend to make that move with Strikeforce just yet.
"As we continue to do all the shows that we're doing here in the United States, (and) we start pushing into these new markets, we need more guys, we need more fighters," White said. "This isn't a thing about competition, it's about growing the sport. It's a good day for the fans, a great day for the fans."
Strikeforce will continue to use its hexagonal ring instead of switching to the UFC's octagon, but Strikeforce also will adopt the unified rules of MMA already used by UFC. The only major difference will be the allowance of elbow strikes when an opponent is on the ground.
White also said Strikeforce will continue to promote women's MMA matches, but he doesn't intend to establish a women's division in UFC.