The long-rumored return of Strikeforce to CBS has been confirmed for April 17 in Nashville, Tenn. Speaking with Ken Pishna of MMA Weekly, Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker acknowledged the location and date, but remained tight-lipped on the particulars of the fight card.
The ever-resourceful staff at MMA Weekly would later confirm that consensus top-ranked heavyweight and Strikeforce's marquee man Fedor Emelianenko would not be taking part in the April event.
With Emelianenko's matchup with Fabricio Werdum being pushed back to a future fight card, middleweight champion Jake Shields will defend his title against the debuting Dan Henderson in the main event.
Scott Coker has done well up to this point, but the savvy Strikeforce CEO better be ready for a barrage of questions and criticisms from the media as the next CBS event draws closer.
Here are just a few of the questions that cross my mind:
1. Can Jake Shields and Dan Henderson Bring the ratings?
Shields is often criticized for being a "boring" fighter; he wins, but there is no flash to his fight game. His five-round struggle with Jason Miller drastically slowed an otherwise exciting card in January, and it's not like Henderson has been a bastion of excitement, either.
Part of the reason he was allowed to leave the UFC—you know, besides money—was that the former Olympian and Team Quest leader was never a major pay-per-view draw. While network TV is another animal altogether, the pairing doesn't exactly scream action and excitement.
2. Does No Fedor Mean No Mousasi?
A few months ago, news of Gegard Mousasi being connected at the hip with Red Devil Sport Club and M-1 Global stablemate Emelianenko made its way around the Internet newsdesks.
Last month, Mousasi hit the headlines again by severing ties with M-1 Global, but the question remains: is the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion still tied to only fighting on cards featuring Fedor?
While the break from M-1 Global would lead to me say "nyet," said stipulation was apparently part of his contract, so despite no longer being represented by M-1, Mousasi may have already signed himself up for sidekick duty that he can't avoid.
This would be a crushing blow for Strikeforce, as a rumored bout between Mousasi and Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal has generated a great deal of attention around the MMA community, and adding a second title defense to the April card could lessen the blow of Fedor's absence.
3. Conspiracy Theory: Fedor to the UFC?
Accept it now: whenever things aren't going 100 percent as planned for Strikeforce, someone is going to speculate that a deal is in the works to get Fedor onto the biggest stage in the game.
They started earlier in the month when Strikeforce hadn't confirmed the April 17 date or venue. Now, with Emelianenko being excused from the event, the rumor mongers are sure to offer up more of the same.
For my money, it's not happening. Dana White and the UFC still have no interest in sharing profits with M-1 Global, and the UFC Heavyweight division has never been in better shape.
While I'd love to see it happen, I won't be holding my breath and recommend that you don't either.
4. If Ratings Drop, Will CBS Stick Around?
CBS signed on for another event following the January Fedor vs. Rogers event because more than five million people parked it on the couch to watch "The Last Emperor" do his thing on free TV.
Those same people got really bored when Jake Shields was fighting Jason Miller, and it's not like Dan Henderson is an unknown quantity. A two-year run with the UFC and a stint as coach on The Ultimate Fighter has made Hendo a household name with fight fans.
But even if Strikeforce loads up the rest of the card with title fights and exciting pairings—early rumors had Gilbert Melendez defending his Lightweight title against Shinya Aoki, as well as the aforementioned Mousasi-Lawal bout—will enough people turn to CBS to keep them in the MMA business?
Remember—as great as the numbers for Fedor's first network television appearance were, they still fell short of those for Kimbo Slice.
With Emelianenko out of the picture, can Shields, Henderson and the rest of the as-yet-unknown competitors draw enough eyes to make CBS want to offer up a third installment?
My early guess is no... and here's why.
5. Is April 17 the Best Date?
UFC 112 hits pay-per-view from Abu Dhabi the week before, and the WEC's first foray into the PPV arena takes place the week after.
While watching fights for free is always more appealing than dropping $50, are enough casual fans going to be more interested in a Strikeforce card without Emelianenko as will be willing to pay the price to see two title fights at UFC 112 or a tremendous card of mighty mites waging war a week later at WEC 48?
Hardcore fans are tuning in no matter what, but we're not the key to success. Joe Sportsfan and his buddies are the deciding factor, and with more well-known commodities on either side of this event, the discount price tag might not be enough to win their attention.
Admittedly, there really isn't a good time in the next two months to schedule this card. Next weekend kicks off a killer eight-week stretch of serious MMA, and that was before Strikeforce put this event on the calendar.
All the San Jose-based operation can do is load up the best card they have to offer, roll the dice and see what happens.
Make it through this intact, and I'll be ready to call you a true competitor to the UFC.
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