The long talked about Strikeforce Middleweight Grand Prix is happening after all.
Strikeforce’s CEO, Scott Coker, told MMAJunkie.com that the tournament will be televised on Showtime from the HP Pavilion in San Jose, California on October 9th. Coker also said the promotion hasn’t decided whether they’ll do a single event four-man tournament or go with an eight-man tournament stretched across two (or possibly three) events.
The Middleweight title was vacated when Jake Shields left the promotion last month and signed with the UFC to join their Welterweight Division. A new champion will be determined in Houston on August 21st when Tim Kennedy takes on Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.
The loser of the fight will likely join the four or eight man field. Barring an injury or some other catastrophe, Jason “Mayhem” Miller will almost definitely be part of the field as well. Other possible participants include Matt Lindland (who has told folks that Coker’s already talked to him about competing in the tournament), Robbie Lawler, former Pride Light Heavyweight and Middleweight champion Dan Henderson, Melvin Manhoef, Luke Rockhold, Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos (aka “Mr. Cyborg”), Scott Smith, Nick Diaz, and Joey Villasenor among others.
Cung Le’s name has been mentioned on multiple sites,which would be a tremendous test for Le that he probably won’t take. In the past year he repeatedly expressed interest in only fighting either Frank Shamrock and Scott Smith. When Shamrock retired the same night Le avenged his loss to Smith, Le said he wouldn’t compete in the Middleweight Tournament and instead expressed a desire to eventually fight Smith again. It’s clear that he’s only going to fight in superfights, and probably only should be used to fill up the HP Pavilion.
The August 21st event in Houston also features “King” Mo Lawal in his first Light Heavyweight Title defense against Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante in the main event, as well as fights featuring Lightweight prospect KJ Noons and arguably the promotion’s most recognizable star not named Fedor, Bobby Lashley.
It, too, airs on Showtime.
This is a problem.
Strikeforce has an event that’s scheduled to air on CBS in the Fall. Since the CBS exposure is the one thing that is keeping Strikeforce afloat and the only potential they have to make money and/or sell a potential pay-per-view, logic would dictate that the promotion would try to put on events on Showtime that folks would watch, but also tread water until they could load up a CBS card.
Instead, they have two events – on August 21st and October 9th – that will feature most of their name talent and all of the other stars that they need to make recognizable to the casual viewer. Some of the fighters competing on August 21st could be ready in time for CBS, and they would still have Fedor, Cyborg, and Nick Diaz to put on the card. However, Diaz has run into problems before with his extracurriculars, and already the gears are in motion to get him back in the UFC. The problems with Fedor’s management are well documented, making an appearance on CBS the furthest thing from a guarantee; not to mention the fact that he only has one fight remaining on his contract. And with Cyborg completely decimating her opponents, fans are not convinced that anyone they put in front of her is a real challenge and view her fights as the modern equivalent of a big name 80s pro wrestling star squashing some no-name guy with a pot belly.
As a fan of the sport, I’m excited to see Strikeforce do a Middleweight Grand Prix. In terms of talent and name recognition, Middleweight is unquestionably Strikeforce’s best division, even though I’d be hard-pressed to use the word “depth” since many of their Middleweights would be fighting at 170 elsewehere (eg. the UFC). As a business move, however, it’s a bad one. Showtime is not HBO; if someone is buying Showtime and watching Strikeforce, then they most likely are already MMA (or fight) fans. Strikeforce instead needs to be exposing itself and building its brand amongst the casual fanbase. Putting the majority of their stars on a pay-cable station isn’t going to accomplish that goal.