NEW YORK NY - JANUARY 13: Dana White UFC President speaks during a press conference to announce commitment to bring UFC to Madison Square Garden and New York State at Madison Square Garden on January 13 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Cohen/Getty Images)

UFC's Parent Company Zuffa Purchases Strikeforce

in a stunning move, UFC's parent company Zuffa purchased top mixed martial arts competitor Strikeforce.

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UFC Buys Strikeforce: Todd Duffee Changes Tune, EA Sports MMA Future Projections

As we compile notable reactions and responses, we will continue to post them here. Of note to me is how rapidly the formerly disgruntled with the UFC are now full swing into turnabouts. Next on the list is former UFC heavyweight Todd Duffee. Duffee was axed from the promotion for griping about pay on Twitter, although his loss to Mike Russow didn't help. So how is he handling the news? It's all kittens and ice cream for Duffee:

"My first thought was all the great possible match-ups we will get to see. I understand they will be operating separately for some time but I hope when they say cross promotion they are saying mega fights will happen not just strike force will have a booth at the fan expos. More unified rules and possibly better judging due to the fact that zuffa will have more power to help make those changes. Another step in gaining the same respect the NBA, NHL, NFL, MLB etc. Strikeforce will now have the money to put on more shows meaning guys won't have to sit on the shelf for long periods of time. More shows means possibly more free shows. More pull within the japanese market due to strikeforces good relations which might save Japanese mma. The naysayers can now be ignored an we can rest assured that the tourney will go on. Also the greater possibility of more tournaments in the future as a feeder into the big shows."

I don't disagree with many of his points, but the issue remains: the leveraging power of fighters has shrunk dramatically.

In other news, I was curious to see what the future of EA MMA might be. Perhaps EA will find a way to work with the UFC. Perhaps not. Given the contentious history, it's hard to forecast what could happen. I had no idea Josh Barnett was going to call Dana White "metal" earlier today. For now, though, here are the prospects:

Last year's EA Sports MMA was licensed by Strikeforce, using its rules, many of its fighters, and venues where major Strikeforce cards have been fought. The two had a hand-in-glove promotional relationship leading up to the game's release, including bouts fought during E3 under Electronic Arts' sponsorship.

Though EA Sports MMA did not perform to analysts' sales expectations, a producer vowed in November that the publisher would make a sequel. That may be off now; UFC President Dana White has made no secret of his contempt for EA Sports. Further, the UFC and THQ, publisher of the UFC Undisputed Series, have an exclusive partnership lasting through 2018.

EA Sports MMA was reviewed positively and praised for its controls, which placed strikes on the right analog stick and moved transitions and grappling to the face buttons, the reverse of UFC Undisputed 2010. THQ in August announced that UFC Undisputed, which also had a 2009 edition, would skip 2011 and move to an every-other-year production cycle.

In short: chances of EA having any role in the MMA market are moving from slim to none.

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UFC Buys Strikeforce: Josh Barnett Wants To Work With Dana White

I think the seas are about to boil. Cats and dogs might be living together. You know, mass hysteria. If you can believe it, and I'm not sure I can, Josh Barnett is pledging to work with Dana White. Sherdog has the scoop:

"If he hates me, he hates me; but if he sees the value in what I bring to the table as a fighter I think that will speak for itself," he said. "But you know what? I don’t hate Dana and I do business, and I’ll go out there and do the absolute best that I can do and if he happens to be my employer … literally, if Dana White has an office that I have to write into every day, because that’s the person I report to for my business, well that’s what I’ll do."

This is an amazing sea change from the notoriously recalcitrant Barnett and it doesn’t stop there. Perhaps reflecting on the uncertain nature of MMA, especially so in recent years, he made a point to commend the UFC for providing a stable platform for the sport to grow upon in North America. He even went as far as to state he may have erred in his handling of his divorce from the company.

"There is a part of me that absolutely wishes that things between myself and the UFC had worked out differently," stated Barnett. "I was 23, 24-years-old at the time and I took advice from where I took it and I tried to do what I thought was the best thing at the time, but this guy that is sitting here talking to you now would tell that kid [that] he was a moron.

"But even still, I got to see and experience a lot of amazing things in my life even because of that. I could sit back and cry about it and really think what a horrible way this turned out, but my life has been really awesome. I’ve done a lot of awesome things and I’ve been a part of amazing moments of time and got to fight in amazing places and see amazing things and fight amazing fighters and I would never trade that in. The thing is, every step you take is forever. I’m going to do what I’ve got to do and I’ll try to do the best I can to avoid mistakes of the past and use those experiences to be better at everything I try to do in life."

I view the aboutface as a the ultimate reality his leveraging power is now close to nill and he's still capable of competing at a high-level. Out of Strikeforce or the UFC and Barnett has nowhere to go.

Dan Henderson is a little more sanguine about the takeover:

But for those who have already fought in the UFC, the buyout raises concerns about the bargaining power of those who've left the big show for other opportunities. Dan Henderson did so more than a year ago amid much fanfare to sign a lucrative contract with Strikeforce. After an unsuccessful bid for the promotion's middleweight belt, he won the light-heavyweight title earlier this month by knocking out Rafael Cavalcante at "Strikeforce: Feijao vs. Henderson." He has one fight left on his current contract and expected to begin negotiations for a new one when news of the sale broke.

"I don't know if it's the greatest thing to have everything under one roof again like it was when they took over PRIDE," Henderson said. "It's just a concern. Hopefully things work out right. Obviously, I'm concerned for myself and future contracts, and also about other fighters, as well. It's tough for these guys to get paid well, especially if there's no competition."

The UFC owns the fighters now. I have no concept of how they are going to be able to negotiate with no real knowledge of what rival athletes make and with nowhere else to go. The most curious move will be to see how this affects payment of fighters going forward. The UFC can't go so low as to not make fighting attractive, but they can go below what fighters would make in a more competitive bidding market. Very uncertain times to say the least.

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UFC Buys Strikeforce: Josh Gross Talks Pro Elite, Free Agency

I've included the video above. It's ESPN's Josh Gross giving a nice four-minute synopsis about the purchase of Strikeforce by UFC. It's a helpful primer to understand the mechanics of this complicated and frankly, bewildering deal. I'd also say the more information about the deal that is released the more it appears Coker was an unwitting partner in this transaction. More notable to me, sources have always told me Strikeforce was not running a huge profit margin, but had incurred very little to no debt. Gross' report contradicts what I've long understood to be Strikeforce's financial state.

I'll have a piece on this later, but what is clear now is that the need for a fighters' union has never been more obvious. In this written piece accompanying the above video, Gross delves into the issue:

UFC Hall of Fame fighter Randy Couture said the deal between UFC and Strikeforce "has the potential to be tougher for fighters who are free agents."

"The Strikeforce purchase strengthens and stabilizes the [UFC] brand," said the 47-year-old Couture, who fights Lyoto Machida on April 30 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto in front of an expected crowd of more than 50,000. "It solidifies Zuffa's monopoly on the sport of MMA.

"Overall it's too early to tell if it's positive or negative for the sport until we see what direction the new owners take with the brand."

Unless another organization with a strong television presence and deep pockets arrives on the scene, fighters' leverage will be determined by their talent, popularity and success. Currently, the UFC is reducing the size of its roster to create an average of 28 fighters per division, an overall decrease from 260 to around 200.

Couture famously challenged the UFC in court in 2008 over rights to his likeness as well as his earning potential. In the end, he failed to free himself and returned to the company. Long an advocate for some sort of safeguard system for the sport's athletes, Couture suggested the idea of a union or fighter association emerging as response to the UFC's firm grip over the sport is "wrought with hurdles and will be difficult to execute."

More on this story as it develops.

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UFC Buys Strikeforce: No More Strikeforce Pay-Per-View?

Analysis of substance is beginning to emerge. It is simply staggering the amount of issues that have to unpacked here. We'll continue to provide analysis, but the readers should be mindful of how this will change as details of the deal come to light. Regardless, here is more to consider.

The UK Telegraph's Gareth Davies runs down some of the implications of this monumental event:

It strengthens Zuffa’s position in the global TV market.  

...

One of the conundrums for the UFC is that it does not make sense to have two world champions in the same division under the same umbrella organisation.

The UFC have always said that there is only one champion in a limited number of divisions, that (pre-WEC merger) there were only five UFC champions, and at that, the real champions.

...

Arguably, given that problem with dual world champions, maybe Strikeforce should have a super-middleweight division with the likes of Dan Henderson, and a new roster of fighters such as Rashad Evans, Michael Bisping and others who are not big enough to be light-heavyweights in the UFC.  

...

In Strikeforce, perhaps they should consider having just Grand Prix champions, and women’s divisions, so they stay as a separate entity. Or arguably, a feeder organisation.

...

One answer could be twelve Strikeforce events a year for women’s title fights and for men’s Grand Prix titles. That way, it would give Strikeforce a chance to have their own identity separate from the UFC, and not just have B-listers as a feeder fighting organisation.

It is not bad in any sense for MMA globally.  The UFC will still need smaller organisations like Bellator and BAMMA for prospects to come through, just as Formula 1 needs Formula 2 and Formula 3. The winner of F1, is the ultimate racing driving champion.

The winners in this deal are fairly obvious, but not everyone makes it out ahead. BloodyElbow.com's Jonathan Snowden compiles a list of who loses here:

Losers:

The Fighters: Dana White claims that it is business as usual. That the UFC and Strikeforce will continue bidding against each other for top free agents. No one in their right mind believes it. This move will put increasing fighter salaries into the UFC's hands, stagnating growth. There is no more open market at the top level of the sport.

Frank Shamrock and Pat Miletich: Two Strikeforce announcers, two long term beefs with UFC President Dana White. Their contracts are with Showtime. Of course, that only protects them as long as Zuffa and the pay cable network are in business together.

Josh Barnett and Paul Daley: Two more Dana White enemies. Right now they are protected by contract. But when those deals expire, I expect them to be shown the door. Barnett is White's least favorite fighter, stemming from an ugly dispute after Barnett tested positive for steroids early in the Zuffa years. Daley is the poster boy for classless cheapshots. Both should be very afraid.

Showtime: No one is saying for sure, but there are already rumors flying that the UFC plans to close Strikeforce once the TV contract runs its course. White was already discussing the deal as a way to add fighters to his growing promotion. Will he really promote under two banners, despite the lessons learned with the WEC? Showtime will be in the strange spot of promoting and building fighters that will inevitably end up with the competition.

Another thought to consider: what does this mean for the UFC's alleged impending deal with NBC? With CBS, Showtime and Spike under the Viacom umbrella, is this move solidifying the UFC-Viacom partnership or an asset acquisition designed to woo a reluctant NBC-Comcast?

One also wonders what this means for a potential Strikeforce pay-per-view. I suspect those plans are on ice. Pushing that heavy a price tag on consumers would be difficult regardless and borderline highway robbery now that Strikeforce is part of the Zuffa stable.

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UFC Buys Strikeforce: Dan Henderson Open To UFC Return

That didn't take long. Fresh off the heels of his win over Rafael Cavalcante at Strikeforce: Feijao vs. Henderson, Dan Henderson appears to be having a change of heart. The two-time Olympian tells MMA Weekly that despite his strange, love-hate relationship with UFC President Dana White, he's open to a return to the UFC. To wit:

"I’ve never said anything bad about (the UFC). I always appreciated everything they’ve done for me and for the sport. It’s just I was paid more money to go elsewhere, and that’s what I did. Dana’s the type that needs to talk a little smack if he doesn’t get his way, but I’ve got no hard feelings about anything."

"I had no plans of leaving, but I have one fight left on my deal and we’ll see what happens,"

If Dana White is anything, it's a dogged pursuer of a financial and brand bottomline. Dan Henderson isn't far from that. I don't know what the future holds for Paul Daley, but even at the age of 40 a UFC return seems significantly more likely in light of today's news. Of course, resolving differences with Clinch Gear and the UFC would also have to be resolved.

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UFC Buys Strikeforce: Paul Daley Unhappy, Suggests Back Out Of Fight With Nick Diaz

Strikeforce fighter reactions are slowly beginning to pour in. First and foremost, Paul Daley. After being banned from the UFC for life (or until he's not banned for life anymore) for sucker punching Josh Koscheck at UFC 113, the British striker has rattled off four wins, two of which in Strikeforce. One of those, against Scott Smith, was as thrilling as it was redemptive. It also put him on a title shot course with Nick Diaz for their April 9th bout.

Or did it. Daley had this to offer on Facebook:

Business as usual, what if i dont wanna fight for DANA WHITE/ZUFFA?......Dana white bans me for life from the UFC, Then buys STRIKEFORCE, and thinks im still gonna be EASY and fight on one of the most anticipated fights of the year (vs Diaz)? Which will no doubt make ZUFFA/Dana White money.

Daley vs Diaz still on?.....Someone better holla at my manager real quick.

Could there possibly be a more misguided decision than this? Rather than buoy his career with defining performances against key competition - thereby making a renegotiation with the UFC much more likely - he prefers scorched earth.

Without relevant options that can match the lucrative returns UFC or Strikeforce, Daley is committing something approximating career suicide.

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UFC Buys Strikeforce: Reactions From The MMA Community

Responses to the news that the UFC had purchased top North American competitor Strikeforce have predictably run the gamut. Some express fear, others uncertainty. Still, others are excited about the future. Here is a compendium of the initial reactions to the most important news story in MMA in nearly five years.

ESPN's Josh Gross says, as I suspected, this means the inevitable dissolution of the Strikeforce brand:

The UFC/Strikeforce split is all about contracts. Once they're fulfilled with Showtime, I'm told a WEC type merger is planned.less than a minute ago via web

Promotions remain separate so long as the Strikeforce contracts with Showtime are in place. That was the big hurdle. Was crossed recently.less than a minute ago via web


ESPN's Jon Anik offered a nice quip to contrast the UFC's growth amid the NFL's lockout:

As the NFL lockout begins, the UFC continues on a major roll w/ the purchase of Strikeforce. MMA, folks. Get on board.less than a minute ago via ÜberSocial


Here's an unreal Tweet from the official UFC feed:

And since we don't have to hide it anymore we can tell you - Diaz vs. Daley tickets for April 9th are on sale today!less than a minute ago via web


Strikeforce/Showtime commentator has no idea what is next for him:

My initial reaction to the announcement that Zuffa had purchased Strikeforce was suprise and shock. The future is going to be interesting!less than a minute ago via web


Sherdog's Jordan Breen offered this long term perspective:

In the interim, Strikeforce makes Zuffa more money, but long-term the most money is always made with the UFC stamp, hence poaching/merging.less than a minute ago via web


And this:

The real drama of Strikeforce purchase: the live, real-time existential woe of Strikeforce fighters, especially women and ex-UFC fighters.less than a minute ago via web


More reactions of note as we collect them.

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UFC Buys Strikeforce: Dana White Talks Showtime, Scott Coker

The good folks over at BloodyElbow.com have put together a nice compendium of the previous video. Ariel Helwani mentioned in the video it's surreal to see Dana White talking about Strikeforce and looking at the early transcription below, it's hard to argue with that. Here are more details with timestamps of the video:

- 0:48 "We just closed the deal"
- 0:53 "As we continue to expand, we need more fights"
- 1:10 "Strikeforce has a following, people enjoy the fights, it made sense to us"
- 2:05 "The deal happened quickly; I don't want to disclose the details"
- 2:30 "The reality is we now own Strikeforce"
- 3:18 "Strikeforce is going to continue to run as business as usual, there are contracts in place, Showtime is happen with them, these guys will remain Strikeforce fighters. Could guys from the UFC leave and end up in Strikeforce? Yes absolutely."
- 3:46 "Scott Coker is staying on, Scott is a good guy"
- 5:20 "Lorenzo can deal with Showtime"
- 6:00 "Scott Coker will continue to run that business (example: M-1 Global, Dan Henderson)

A few other notes:

Fighters like Josh Barnett are not out of a job. According to White, Coker will continue to run that brand as he sees fit. White will not make a play for Barnett once his contract is up, but Coker is free to sign whoever he feels is best for the Strikeforce brand.

You will see ads for Strikeforce shows on UFC broadcasts. Weird. It will be interesting to see what kind of a bump Strikeforce gets from the added promotion. Apparently there will also be live show help and television assistance of the Strikeforce product.

This entire purchase could also be a play to get a slice of the Showtime/CBS deal.

If a UFC fight is booked and a fighter pulls out due to injury, Strikeforce fighters will not be called upon to fill in. The only time a fighter changes rosters is when they sign a new contract agreement after a previous one expires. For now.

White is very complimentary of Coker and agrees Strikeforce does respectable ratings numbers on Showtime.

You also won't see White at Strikeforce shows, but you will see Lorenzo Fertitta and Joe Silva.

More to come as this develops.

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BREAKING: UFC's Parent Company Zuffa Purchases Strikeforce

In a shocking turn of events, Dana White announced today that the parent company of the UFC, Zuffa, has purchased top North American MMA competitor Strikeforce. This deal is effective immediately. The brands will continue to operate separately and Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker will managed the Strikeforce brand. Fighter contracts with Showtime or with Strikeforce will continue to be honored. Dana White made a point to repeat the refrain "business as usual" in terms of how the brands interact.

 

The number of issues to unpack are enormous, but as a beginning primer: Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem and other Strikeforce fighters will remain on with Strikeforce. The UFC will not cherry pick top talent for UFC purposes.

Given the contentious history with Showtime and rival Showtime Vice President Ken Hershman, White said UFC Chairman Lorenzo Feritta will be the point man in dealing with them.

Strikeforce shows, for now, will continue as scheduled.

The reason for the purchase, as stated by White, is that the UFC wants to expand the number of fights they put on and where, geographically, they are placed. Given Coker's strong ties to Japanese MMA, one expects his expertise and ability to navigate that to be a long-term component of expansion.

A notable fact to consider: every organization the UFC has purchased has eventually been dismantled. PRIDE was dissolved, the WEC as well and scraps of the IFL, namely footage, was picked up as well. I expect this to be a play where the UFC holds on to Strikeforce until such time they can reasonably dissolve the brand without difficult contract issues and absorb the brand's assests.

The UFC now has a near complete monopoly on the sport of mixed martial arts. More as this story develops.

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