So now that the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix is over, what should Zuffa do with Strikeforce?

Well, the average fan would answer that question by saying that the promotion should be rolled over into the UFC.

As great as that would be, unfortunately it’s not that simple.  In December it was announced that Strikeforce and Showtime had signed a deal that extended their contract with one another through 2012 with the possibility of extending until 2014.  When the deal was announced, it was highlighted that the promotion would hold onto their already existing stars such as Gilbert Melendez and Luke Rockhold.

But that deal really puts the promotion between a rock and a hard place.  For starters, the fact that the promotion airs on the premium cable television already puts them in a bad spot.  The channel isn’t on standard television packages, and a lot of fight fans aren’t willing to pay for the channel for the limited number of events and fights that come with it.  If Saturday’s fight card was available for a reasonable price on pay-per-view, it would have had a decent buy rate considering that Melendez was on the card along with the finals of the Grand Prix.  But it wasn’t, and therefore, it wasn’t seen by the optimal amount of fans that Zuffa would have liked.

Gilbert Melendez is the biggest draw Strikeforce has to offer (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Which leads to the star power, or lack thereof, which the promotion currently has.  Grand Prix winner Daniel Cormier will have one fight left with Strikeforce before the division gets permanently merged with the UFC’s.  Former title holders Alistair Overeem, Dan Henderson and Nick Diaz left the promotion for various reasons, but collectively all ended up in the UFC and have been offered a chance at a title.  Many Strikeforce fighters have expressed that they wanted to head over to the UFC, and even B.J. Penn turned down a chance at the promotion’s lightweight title against Gilbert Melendez.

Simply put, all of the fighters want to be in the UFC while none of them want to be in Strikeforce.  Free agent fighters likely don’t want to join Strikeforce for the purgatory that it could put their career in, despite the potential for success.

This leaves Melendez, Rockhold, and women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey to carry the weight while the other championships have been left vacant.  Despite plans to fill the welterweight and light heavyweight championships in the near future, is it enough to get the promotion back on its legs?

So what can the promotion do to get back to the level it was at when it was a direct competitor with the UFC?  Well, there are still a couple of plays buried back in the playbook that they could execute to get back in the game.

First, Strikeforce should do what Zuffa did previously when it controlled two promotions and focus strictly on three weight classes for the men and keep one women’s division.  When the WEC was at its height, it was home to some of the best lightweight, featherweight and bantamweight fighters on the planet.  If Strikeforce disbanded all but middleweight, welterweight, lightweight and women’s bantamweight, it would be able to build on what it already has.  Nate Marquardt and Tyron Woodley will fight for the welterweight title in July, which would give all four divisions champions and keep current stars Rockhold and Melendez in house.  It would be more attractive for free agents in these weight classes to sign on considering that right now two of the best fighters of all time are the UFC middleweight and welterweight champions, respectively. Plus there are about eight guys that you could make a case for taking on the next UFC lightweight champion.

Second, Strikeforce could follow its own lead, and borrow an idea that Bjorn Rebney had, and start up some more Grand Prix tournaments.  Fans loved the recent heavyweight one, and it built a new star in Cormier that most fans knew nothing about, which is what Bellator does constantly.  Spice the tournament up by finding a way to incorporate a wildcard spot like there was on The Ultimate Fighter.  Let the fights and other things be determined by fan vote, which will get the fans further involved.  Now that the promotion tends to air between eight and nine fights across Showtime and Showtime Extreme, these fights do not need to all be at the top of the bill at first, but eventually turn them into bigger deals and put them on the main card as they unfold.

MFC has held many events inside a ring, so why not Strikeforce? (maximumfighting.com)

The third idea is probably the most drastic, but could be the biggest:  Turn the cage into a ring.  If Zuffa wants Strikeforce to be a different promotion from the UFC, then make it a different promotion from the UFC.  Bellator, Tachi Palace Fights, Titan FC, XFC, King of the Cage, Shark Fights and many other televised MMA organizations hold their fights in a cage; why not change it so that the fights take place in a ring?  Pride held all of its events inside a ring and could be argued to have been bigger and better than the UFC, which proves that a ring can work with MMA.  Simply put, it can be done, and it would definitely garner a lot of buzz.

So should Strikeforce be eliminated?

No, it shouldn’t.  Outside of the contractual obligations that come from keeping the promotion afloat, there are things that could be done to turn it back into a worthy promotion.  There will have to be reform, but it would be worth it.

Top Photo: Luke Rockhold (Esther Lin/Showtime)

About The Author

Brian McKenna
Staff Writer

Brian McKenna was born and raised in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. A sports nut from as long as he can remember, he came to be a fan of Mixed Martial Arts from a roommate watching The Ultimate Fighter while attending Westfield State College. Brian came to writing by starting his own blog, Four Down Territory, which focuses on Boston based sports, life, and of course MMA.