The first 11 years of Zuffa’s involvement in the mixed martial arts business: zero fight card cancellations. The last four weeks: two events nixed.
Strikeforce has called off this Saturday’s event scheduled for Sacramento, Calif., after headliner Gilbert Melendez, who was to defend his lightweight championship against Pat Healy, was injured in training last week. The announcement came with the UFC still feeling the aftershocks of its first cancellation in over a decade under Zuffa, which purchased Strikeforce a year and a half ago.
Whereas UFC 151 fell apart last month after light heavyweight challenger Dan Henderson pulled out with an injury and champion Jon Jones declined to face a replacement opponent on nine days’ notice, Strikeforce had no such fallback possibility for salvaging its title fight, with the champ being the one injured.
The event was to be televised on Showtime, but according to Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker, when the cable outlet learned that the star of the show was off the marquee, it opted not to air the evening of fights. “Without a television partner,” Coker said in a statement issued late Sunday night, “we simply could not move forward with this event.”
Showtime Sports issued a statement Monday evening: “On Friday night Strikeforce informed us that lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez had sustained an injury and would not be able to compete in their Saturday, Sept. 29, card. Without our headline fighter and main event or a marquee undercard, we reluctantly informed Strikeforce that we could not continue with plans for the telecast.”
On its face, Showtime’s decision signals nothing other than dissatisfaction with one event’s diminished ratings potential. But the cable executives’ disenchantment could very well run deeper. Since buying Strikeforce, Zuffa has stripped the fight promotion of most of its best fighters, moving Nick Diaz, Dan Henderson and Alistair Overeem to the UFC. Other than Melendez, who is among the top 155-pounders in the world, and a women’s division featuring the star power of Ronda Rousey, the only premium cable-worthy attraction left might be Daniel Cormier, winner of the recent Heavyweight Grand Prix. But he, too, will move to the UFC after one more Strikeforce appearance.
Curiously, the two-time Olympic wrestler’s scheduled Nov. 3 fight is nowhere to be seen on the Showtime Sports website, which touts boxing matches slated as far forward as December. Of course, it’s a bit awkward to promote a fight between Daniel Cormier and Mr. TBA. Frank Mir was to come over from the UFC for the fight, but the two-time heavyweight champ was injured last week, and a replacement has yet to be named. The fight is less than six weeks away, and Strikeforce and Showtime need a plan. The same could be said for the two organizations’ big-picture partnership.