Strikeforce has officially closed up shop, and now Showtime will be without its MMA program. The closing of Strikeforce opens the door for a number of MMA promotions to step up and fill the void as “the number two” game in town. Airing on a network like Showtime didn’t work out for Strikeforce, but that doesn’t mean the network isn’t interested in continuing to broadcast MMA programming.

Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza admitted that the network is in the process of finding a company to fill the void left by Strikeforce’s demise.

“This company, this network, has been a pioneer in the sport in many ways,” Espinoza said. “It’s been a huge supporter of the sport and done some of the most watched events in recent history.

“Whether there is the right opportunity is still a sort of process of determining that’s still going on as we speak. I don’t know what the future is going to hold, whether we’re going to find the right opportunity, or opportunities, in combat sports. But we definitely would love to continue in MMA.”

If Showtime does indeed intend to continue to be a pioneer in the sport, Invicta FC may signift that “right opportunity.” The network helped create stars out of women like Gina Carano, Ronda Rousey and Cristiane “Cyborg.” Invicta FC has become a sort of golden child in the eyes of MMA fans, receiving quite a bit of praise despite the debacle of its recent venture into online streaming pay-per-view.

A partnership between Showtime and Invicta makes sense for both sides on some fronts, but it would be a risky venture for Showtime. On the positive side, Invicta FC offers a product no other company, not even the UFC, can match. It is a full-fledged WMMA promotion. The UFC is taking baby steps in integrating women into the Octagon, but its slow progress into women’s MMA, combined with Strikeforce shutting down, has made Invicta FC the go-to place for WMMA competitors.

Invicta FC also has the ability to put together a number of talented WMMA fighters whereas the UFC is basing its entire venture into WMMA around one woman. As we all know in MMA, it only takes one punch and it can all come crumbling down. Should Rousey lose, it’s highly unlikely the UFC will be as adventurous in exploring the possibility of expanding its WMMA commitments.

While a deal with Showtime makes a lot of sense for Invicta President Shannon Knapp and company, it could prove to be a risky choice for the network. For one, WMMA is still a niche aspect of MMA. Seeing two women throw down is not watchable in the minds of some MMA fans. The sport is enjoying a boom in popularity thanks to Rousey, but many fans don’t know who’s who below the top tier of Rousey and “Cyborg.”

It would also be a risky move for Showtime in that Invicta FC is so new to the MMA world. The promotion is coming off a disastrous attempt at online pay-per-view programming on Ustream in which, due to a number of technical errors, it was forced to air the event for free. It was also only the promotion’s fourth event, and although growing pains are to be expected in a new promotion, Showtime may not want to endure those pains with Invicta FC.

Outside of Invicta, another promotion that could step up is the Xtreme Fighting Champsionships organization. Based out of Tampa, Fla., the promotion has become the premier “regional” show in the MMA world. The company specializes in promoting fighters who don’t necessarily have the big name or come from a MMA powerhouse gym in an attempt to help fighters gain more exposure.

The promotion has had 21 events thus far in its brief history but enjoys a partnership with AXS TV. A deal with Strikeforce would not only give the XFC a boost in popularity, but it would also lend a measure of credibility for the XFC to compete with the big boys (UFC and Bellator) in MMA.

XFC also has a star in the making upon which Showtime could build its first event with XFC. Nick Newell became a household name in December after winning the XFC lightweight title via submission in the first round. That sounds like an ordinary method of victory, but when you consider Newell has a shortened arm and is a perfect 9-0 in MMA, it’s quite an accomplishment indeed. Propping Newell up as the face of the company wouldn’t be hard as it would not take much for fans to gravitate towards the XFC lightweight champ.

What will hurt the XFC in attempting to garner a deal with Showtime is the lack of titles in the promotion. Title fights always equate to more interest and more viewers. XFC currently only has three champions and they all compete at 155 pounds or lower. The popularity of the smaller guys isn’t what it should be and MMA fans haven’t taken to the featherweight/bantamweight divisions like we expected since the WEC closed its doors.

The promotion will need to crown new champions in the heavier weight divisions if it wants to have any shot of getting a deal with Showtime. Fans love to watch the bigger guys fight, and outside of the WEC, it’s hard to recall another promotion creating a solid niche in the sport for itself while building a promotion around smaller fighters.

One last promotion that could throw its hat into the ring as a dark-horse contender is the Resurrection Fighting Alliance. The RFA is based out of the Midwest, and although it is unknown by many in the MMA community, the RFA features a bevy of recognizable fighters. The promotion will be airing only its sixth event later this month, but it has already featured guys like Gilbert Yvel, Joe Stevenson, Toby Imada, Efrain Escudero and Tyson Griffin. The RFA has also featured a number of top prospects, such as Aaron Ely and NCAA Division I wrestling champion Bubba Jenkins and four-time All-American Lance Palmer.

The promotion just recently acquired Titan FC, which came gift wrapped with Titan’s network deal with AXS TV, so the RFA may not be as active in pursuing a deal with Showtime. Still, if the promotion wanted to make a run at securing a network deal, it already has a number of recognizable names to sell fans on, along with some very good up-and-coming fighters to build a future around. With big names competing and a foundation of youth to build upon, don’t be surprised if the RFA’s name comes up in conversations when talking about the future of MMA on Showtime.

With Strikeforce now officially gone from Showtime’s airwaves, the search for a replacement is on. These three candidates are certainly on the list, but the question remains as to which one Showtime believes can best fill the void.

Photo: Joanne Calderwood (L) delivers a knee at Invicta FC 4 (Jerry Chavez/The MMA Corner)

  • Robby C.

    Legacy and Showdown are pretty solid too. Showdown on Showtime could be a fun tag. My favorite regional promotion is Score Fighting Series but I’m not sure how that would work since they’re based in Canada. Also, Cage Warriors is getting big but they’re not likely to change their base of operations either. Invicta is a great idea and I do remember Espinoza offering a passing word to WMMA. But does he have the balls?