Death is knocking on Strikeforce’s door, and there’s one lady who has to feel its presence more than anyone else in the promotion’s locker room.
That lady is women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.
For every other champion and top name in that locker room—lightweight champ Gilbert Melendez, middleweight kingpin Luke Rockhold, Heavyweight Grand Prix winner Daniel Cormier, and even the likes of top contenders Pat Healy, Josh Thomson, Tim Kennedy and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza—a home awaits in Strikeforce’s bigger sibling, the UFC. That is, if the rumors and reports prove true that the promotion’s Nov. 3 event is in jeopardy and that its cancellation would also signal the shuttering of the entire organization.
For Rousey, there’s no such luck.
But Rousey is a star, possibly shining the brightest among those potential Strikeforce refugees Zuffa won’t just bid her adieu. UFC President Dana White knows that he has a draw on his hands, and that might lead the UFC in a direction the promotion has never taken before: cross-promotion.
Prior to this dilemma, the UFC’s answer to any proposal involving talent sharing or plastering another organization’s name on the Octagon has always been, “Hell no!” The best example came in Zuffa’s negotiations with former Pride heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko. One of the demands from Fedor’s camp was that M-1 Global would co-promote events with the UFC. In other words, the Russian organization’s name would appear alongside the UFC’s in all promotional packaging for events involving Fedor. The UFC balked, and as a result, Emelianenko has never seen the inside of the Octagon.
Why would that change for Rousey’s benefit? Well, because Rousey’s predicament would be a far cry from Fedor’s demands.
Rousey is already under contract with Zuffa, and she needs opponents. The UFC is highly unlikely to launch a new division just to support her—Dana White is warming to women’s MMA, but his doubts as to the depth of the talent pool do still remain. And while it might seem convenient to just buy Invicta Fighting Championships, a quickly rising promotion that serves as home to the majority of the best female competitors out there, it’s doubtful that Zuffa is ready to take that leap. After all, not only would such a move involve the acquisition of an entire promotion, it would also require Zuffa to negotiate a television deal, something not likely to happen with Showtime, given the two entities’ deteriorating relationship, nor with the networks already reportedly in talks with the all-women promotion, as Zuffa would likely want to start from scratch and lay out its own terms.
The path of least resistance, then, would be cross-promotion.
In the case of M-1 Global, the UFC had a good point. Why elevate M-1 Global’s status for one fighter? The UFC would get a man who might be a legend, but with one loss (as was eventually the case in Strikeforce) that man became just another heavyweight. M-1 Global, however, would have its name standing next to the UFC’s.
That would be like McDonald’s agreeing to put up a Burger King sign next to the golden arches and sell Whoppers, but only for a limited time. By co-promoting with M-1 Global, the UFC would effectively give its competition a long-term boost while only receiving the services of one fighter, whose career could take a nosedive at any given moment.
But in the case of Rousey, the UFC could turn to Invicta for a partnership that benefits both sides. Invicta, after all, is not a direct competitor to the UFC. Both deal in MMA, but one promotion is all about the men whereas the other is solely about the women. In addition, the two already have a good working relationship that has allowed Sara McMann to cross from Invicta to Strikeforce and was prepared to allow Sarah Kaufman to travel in the opposite direction.
Invicta has already established a deep pool of talent, most notably at 135 pounds, Rousey’s division. By giving the promotion billing alongside the UFC name, Zuffa would be turning more eyes to the promotion, therefore increasing the stock of the best fighters Invicta has to offer. The result would be opponents for Rousey that the fans would see as real challenges—fighters such as McMann and Shayna Baszler, both of whom performed well on Invicta shows. With even more names emerging as stars on Invicta’s roster, the UFC could secure access to a deep roster of potential foes for Rousey.
While Invicta benefits through its name sharing the spotlight at pay-per-views and on network television, the UFC gains the type of competition it needs to place opposite Rousey. It’s something the promotion would have a hard time doing on its own. With only one-off fights, rather than a full division, Zuffa might even find it hard to snatch talent away from Invicta, and the talent at 135 pounds outside of Invicta is almost non-existent.
With this opportunity for a mutually beneficial cross-promotion, does anybody really lose?
Photo: Strikeforce Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey (Rob Tatum/The MMA Corner)