According to a report by MMA Junkie, Showtime pulled in an average of 528,000 viewers for Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley on Saturday night. The event peaked with 806,000 viewers during the Nick Diaz vs. Paul Daley title fight.
The numbers suggest a few things. First, Showtime as done an excellent job of turning itself into a destination for combat sports fans with elite boxing and MMA live programming. Second, despite the numbers being very high, they do not tell us if there was a clear "UFC effect" in play. Fans that subscribe to Showtime to watch live Strikeforce content are likely more up to speed on MMA news and generally had a sense about the UFC's (Zuffa's) purchase of the organization. That customer base already existed and it isn't clear new fans were added as a result of the marketing push from UFC channels.
We can also surmise that because of Diaz's now clear history as a ratings draw. To wit:
The five top-rated Strikeforce-Showtime shows, as compiled by MMAjunkie.com, include:
- "Strikeforce: Silva vs. Fedor" (February 2011): 741,000 viewers
- "Strikeforce: Carano vs. Cyborg" (August 2009): 576,000
- "Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Cyborg" (January 2011): 561,000
- "Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley" (April 2011): 528,000
- "Strikeforce: Miami" (February 2010): 517,000
It is true that Diaz has been the focal point of a push by Showtime and Strikeforce. The last three cards he's fought on he's headlined and the event moniker included his last name (Diaz vs. Noons 2, Diaz vs. Cyborg, Diaz vs. Daley). He's been a key figure the promotion has pushed at the top of bill on five occasions since April of 2009 beginning with Diaz vs. Shamrock and including Strikeforce: Miami. There's an argument to make that even by sheer volume and ubiquity of having Diaz's name on a fight card that those events would rank somewhere towards the top of Showtime's best dates.
The amount of pushing Diaz received, in part a result of a thinner fight roster, probably helps that argument a little, but Strikeforce wouldn't position ratings cancer with such frequency. They also wouldn't so heavily invest in talent that couldn't demonstrate capacity for growth as a draw. Diaz has been pushed hard by Strikeforce, but he's clearly delivered. Consider this: only Gina Carano and Fedor Emelianenko have headlined Strikeforce events with better ratings. Think about that for a moment.
Strikeforce has long been accused of being unable to create stars. They could harness the existing power of stars for decent effect, but there was a sense they weren't able to move careers or narratives forward. Nick Diaz might be the best evidence that Strikeforce has finally moved past that stumbling block. This was a card Strikeforce put together before any UFC purchase. With the recency of the UFC takeover, it's unlikely what little attention they were able to give this show mattered much in the final tally. As for now, Is the praise even relevant now that UFC-infused juice will be put into major future Strikeforce cards?
It's probably overly generous to suggest Strikeforce was turning a promotional corner when Zuffa purchased them. But it is fair to acknowledge that while slow going for years, the Strikeforce machine had finally shown evidence of producing names that serve as ratings and live gate draws. It took intense focus and heaping amounts of attention. In no way does it even compare to UFC efficiency on those terms. But it's admirable and a real achievement in the world of MMA promotion.
Too bad we'll never know how far it could've gone.