MMA Analysis: Making Sense of UFC's Purchase of Strikeforce


I don’t know what more can be said about this weekend’s earth-shattering announcement that Zuffa, parent company of the UFC has purchased former MMA promotional rival Strikeforce.  Zuffa’s absorption of other promotional companies in not unprecedented, the company had purchased former Japanese promotional giant PRIDE, as well as the newly-merged World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) organization.  What makes the UFC’s purchase of Strikeforce such a big deal is that unlike the two other promotions, Strikeforce was a legitimate competitor to the UFC stronghold of top-tier MMA talent.  The WEC was unique in that is showcased lower weight classes that the UFC did not have, and Pride was clearly on the downside and near financial ruin when Zuffa swooped in and purchased it.  However, Strikeforce was clearly on the rise which makes this acquisition huge. 

While the collective shock shared by MMA fans and media throughout the world has slowly begun to dissipate, there still seem to be more questions than answers as it relates to why exactly would a surging Strikeforce essentially sell out?  While’s Ariel Helwani’s landmark interview with Dana White this past weekend shredded some light on the subject, more and more questions continued to go unanswered. 

In a press release the UFC principles waxed poetically about the urge to grow the sport of MMA.

“We have worked hard to make mixed martial arts the fastest growing sport in the world,” UFC President Dana White said. “We’ve spent countless hours getting this sport regulated and taking the Octagon all over the world. Acquiring the Strikeforce assets allows us to continue to develop this sport into a global force.”

“We intend to operate Strikeforce as a separate business much like we did with the WEC for many years,” Lorenzo Fertitta, Chairman and CEO of Zuffa, said. “We look forward to working with Scott Coker, and the entire Strikeforce and Showtime teams to continue to provide quality content for mixed martial arts fans.”

“We've long admired Scott Coker and the Strikeforce business he launched and developed,” Fertitta continued. “We feel that together with Scott, we can continue to build both Strikeforce and the UFC.”

“This is an important day for the sport of mixed martial arts,” Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker said. “We are excited to work with Lorenzo Fertitta, Frank Fertitta, Dana White and everyone at the UFC on the quest to make MMA the biggest sport in the world. Fans can continue to expect quality Strikeforce shows and

Hoping to offer some clarification, UFC President Dana White, UFC Chairman & CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, and Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker held a conference call with the media to offer up some answers.  Unfortunately, the principles in this acquisition seem to be trying to figure this whole thing out as well. 

These are the facts we do know:

-  Apparently it was the Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment group, who were part owners of Strikeforce along with Scott Coker, and who also own the NHL’s San Jose Sharks that prompted the sale of the organization.  According to Coker, “SVSE wanted to get back in the hockey business. “

-  White and Lorenzo were adamant that Strikeforce will be run as a separate entity with Scott Cocker still serving as the head of the organization.  Mush of this has to do with the current contracts Strikeforce has in place with Showtime, and various other sponsors. 

-  White would not comment on the prospect of using the Showtime contract with Strikeforce to introduce the UFC to subscription cable.  What we do know is that Showtime handles all the production for the Strikeforce cards which is what prompted the UFC to turn down offers from HBO and other networks.  The UFC requires the right to oversee and handle all production with their shows.

-  The Strikeforce contract with Showtime expires in 2014. 

-  With the acquisition of the Strikeforce library the UFC now owns the rights to over 4,000 fights.

-  Strikeforce fighters will deal with Scott Coker and not Dana White.  This should ease some initial tension with fighters such as Paul Daley and Fedor who have had acrimonious relationships with White in the past. 

-  According to Dana White, the main reason for the acquisition of Strikeforce was to provide fight fans more fights.  According to White, “There is demand out there.  All these guys in the UK are pissed off we aren’t doing more out there.  We are really just going through these growing pains.”

-  Don’t expect women to fight in the Octagon any time soon.  According to White, his opinions on a women’s division are unchanged.

-  Strikeforce will now use the unified rules of MMA meaning that elbows are now allowed on the ground. 

-  The UFC dispels the notion that they are creating a monopoly and are undeterred about threats of anti-trust lawsuits.  As Lorenzo Ferttita put it, “Obviously we wouldn’t have done the transaction if we thought we were [opening up to anti-trust lawsuit].  Once again, there are plenty of competition and no barriers to prevent entry.”

Time will see how this merger plays out.  The UFC’s purchase of Strikeforce drastically changes the MMA landscape and bolsters the already considerable brand power of the UFC.  Right now it appears everyone is still waiting for the dust to settle.  Until that time, we will all be tuned in to this unfolding narrative. 


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