Two strikes and you’re . . . still alive?
Strikeforce canceled its scheduled Nov. 3 event on Friday afternoon, making the Oklahoma City card the fight promotion’s second in a row to implode.
That part of the announcement, made in a terse press release issued by both Strikeforce and television partner Showtime, was not a surprise. The unexpected part was the accompanying announcement that Showtime will air a Strikeforce event in January.
That Strikeforce will live to fight another day — or at least is still publicly expressing its intention to do so — might flabbergast some who follow mixed martial arts. The promotion’s Sept. 29 event in Sacramento was canceled after Gilbert Melendez, scheduled to defend his lightweight championship, was injured in training and Showtime declined to televise the evening of fights without its main event. Then, after Frank Mir pulled out of the Nov. 3 event with an injury, and Strikeforce dragged its feet on announcing a replacement opponent for Daniel Cormier in the Heavyweight Grand Prix winner’s final bout before moving to the UFC, it looked like the end might be near for a promotion that parent company Zuffa already had stripped of many of its best fighters — Nick Diaz, Dan Henderson, Alistair Overeem — and sent them over to its corporate cousin, the UFC.
Earlier this week, the AXS TV show Inside MMA reported that “the Nov. 3 event is in serious jeopardy” and, citing multiple sources it did not name, that “the relationship between Strikeforce and Showtime may be coming to an end.” The report was vaguely worded — “strong possibility,” “could very possibly signify” and such — and no other media outlet was able to confirm the demise of the fight promotion. Still, both Strikeforce and Showtime officials were quick to tout the January event to quell the rumors.
“Due to a series of injuries, we were forced to cancel the upcoming card on Nov. 3, but are already working to put together a stacked card in January,” CEO Scott Coker said in the Strikeforce statement, alluding to not just the Mir injury but also the event’s loss of a Luke Rockhold title defense after the middleweight champ was injured.
About that “stacked card” Coker mentioned …
“While we’re disappointed with the cancellation, we are looking forward to an even bigger Strikeforce event on Showtime early next year,” said Stephen Espinoza, executive vice president & general manager, Showtime Sports.
The enthusiasm was lost on Tim Kennedy, who was scheduled to face Trevor Smith in one of the few announced bouts on the Oklahoma City card. The middleweight took to Twitter with his frustration, writing, “Thank you @Strikeforce for letting me read about my fight being canceled on the Internet. I was 9 weeks into my fight camp. Awesome!”
The cancellation is an especially bitter pill to swallow for Cormier, who before becoming an Olympic wrestler was an NCAA Division I runner-up at Oklahoma State. Excited for a homecoming fight, he’d been patiently waiting for an opponent to be placed in front of him, even if it meant a shortened preparation time. “I’ll fight now, no matter what,” he told SI.com last month. “I’m not bowing out. I’m not doing that to my Okies.”
After Friday’s announcement, Cormier remained surprisingly upbeat. “Very sad about not fighting,” he wrote on Twitter, “but at the end of the day something positive will come from it. More time to train. I am with a good company. Things will be OK. Very sad and upset, but it’ll work out. @UFC, @Strikeforce and @ShoSports are all top-fight organizations. Will be fine.”
Considering his positive outlook amid a doom-and-gloom backdrop of two straight cancelled events, Strikeforce might want to enlist Cormier to run the show from now on. Either that or turn to Tony Gwynn for guidance. In his time, the Baseball Hall of Famer built as reputation as his sport’s greatest two-strike hitter.