This Saturday's Strikeforce event is the biggest, most important event for the "younger brother promotion". Since being acquired by Zuffa, many people have questioned how long will Strikeforce stay in existance considering the fates of other MMA organizations taken over by Zuffa (parent company of the UFC). What happens at this event will determine where Strikeforce goes considering the loss of star power in the Striekforce Heavyweight Grand Prix and the questions about several fighters with expiring fight contracts.
1. Which Fedor will we see Saturday Night?
Before 2010, Fedor Emelianenko had not lost a fight since 2000. But a string of loss has put a fighter who is considered one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time in a position to contemplate retirement. Unlike some of his comtemporaries, Fedor is only 34 years old and still could be a force in MMA. The problem is that he has looked disinterested in his last few fights while not being in the best physical shape. If Fedor is motivated to end this two fight losing streak and not lose to a fighter who weighs about 24 pounds less then him, then we should see a great fight. A win for Fedor signals he is still relevant, especially considering his is "expected" to win. But a loss could signal a depressing end to the career for a fighter who at one time was considered the greatest Heavyweight MMA fighter of all time.
2. The Future of Women's MMA
Although it is sad, the reality is that the future of Women's MMA is leaning on what happens when 135 lb. Champion Marloes Connen takes on 11-2 Miesha Tate. It was only a few years ago that Women's MMA was banking on the potential success of Gina Carrano. But when Carrano got dominated by "Cyborg" Santos many thought that would be the beginning of the end. But now that there appears to be a group of talented and attractive women who fight at weights lighter then Carrano's 145 lbs. division, there is potential and still hope. Women's MMA has two major obsticles standing in the way of it becoming a mainstay with casual and hardcore MMA watchers:
The First Obsticle is depth. How many top level women's fighters are really out there? Will there be many more beyond this current generation? Both are valid questions, considering what has happened to other women's professional sports endevours. Professional Women's Hockey and Soccer leagues started out as hot commodities but over time audiences lost interest for various reasons and the talent pool never grew beyond the base that they started with. The WNBA has proved that you can market yourself on quality of product alone in order to maintain the ability to make money off of women's professional sports. Yet part of that is because Women's basketball (Pro and Collegiate) has grown in poluarity across the board. Women's MMA needs the talent to keep coming or all of its stars will get old and the sport will retire with them.
Second obsticle is marketability. In order for any sport to grow and make money is for it to find a way to appeal to people beyond the hardcore, loyal fan base. It is hard to market a sport when their champions (Cyborg and Coenen) are not very interactive with the fans or very visable. How are you suppose to gain the attention of casual watchers if your champions are as engaging as watching Olympic Curling? Also, whether right or not, fighting is a sport that appeals to a casual audience that looks at women's sports and says "Where's the cute girl?" or what may refer to as "The Anna Kournikova Effect". While this may be sexiest, its a reality that all women's sports have to deal with, especially since men watch sports more then women. Fighters such as Miesha Tate and Sarah Kauffman have shown they are comfortable with showing their feminine side and have been ok with being seen as "attractive". This is an element that other women's fighers (for example, Cyborg and Coenen) have shunned for various reasons. There's a reason boxing and MMA have ring girls in sexy outfits walking around and they just happen to be beautiful, attractive ladies. That same way of thinking is applied by many men (again, it is sexist in some ways) towards women in other sports. I know many women who like MMA because they like fighting but REALLY like looking at the guys. That is a major catilyst in marketing to women, so it isn't a foreign concept to do the same with Women's MMA. Women's Tennis grew in popularity when Anna Kournikova hit the scene so Women's MMA shouldn't ignore such realities.
So ultimately what needs to happen Saturday Night is there to be an interesting fight with some solid MMA action and then the winner flash a real nice, cute smile a few times during the post fight interviews and to act/talk like a woman (not like any other male athlete after a big win).
3. Will Paul Daley vs. Tyron Woodley entertain viewers?
Paul Daley is an exciting fighter who has great standup skills. But he has had problems in the past against strong wrestlers (see his fights with Josh Koscheck and Jake Shields). Meanwhile for Woodley, he is considered a upcoming star with great wrestling skills and athleticism. But 2 of his last 3 fights were not exactly exciting according to some and I am not sure his all around game is good enough to handle fighters who could stop his takedowns. Considering the history of both these fighters, this could be a fight in which Woodley finds out he isn't good enough to stand and trade with Daley so he takes him down and basically lays on him for most of the fight. To be fair, Woodley is still young in the sport but he has not shown that he is very active from the top when he does take a guy down. If Woodley does beat Daley in a "boring" fashion then many people will be uninterrested in him getting a chance to fight for the vacant Strikeforce Welterweight Belt.
4. Will there be any mommentum gained from this event for Striekforce?
The increase of UFC events this year has pushed them further into the public eye as a must see sporting event. Being the "little brother" or "Triple A" version of the UFC (not my labels, just what I have read) has put Strikeforce is a perilous position. Yes they have a contract through the end of 2012 with Showtime, but what about after that? Strikeforce Welterweight Champion Nick Diaz has already left for the greener pastures of the UFC and its fair to say that other top level fighters will eventually want to go to the UFC sooner or later as well. Strikeforce Champions Gilbert Melendez (Lightweight), Allistair Overeem (Heavyweight), and Dan Henderson (Light Heavyweight) are definately talented enough to contend in the UFC. When Strikeforce signed Fedor Emelianenko, the idea was that he would be a major marketing tool to gain them popularity. Instead Strikeforce's biggest money making stars (Nick Diaz and Jake Shields) left the organization while their dynamic Heavyweight Champ (Overeem) has been removed from the Heavyweight Tournament because the event was scheduled a month earlier then Overeem wanted to fight coming off an injury. So if Fedor losses, the Women's Championship fight turns out to be a bore, and upcoming star Woodley is unimpressive against Daley, where does that leave Strikeforce marketing wise? Of course the hardcore MMA fans will watch, but the casual viewers or those who only care about the UFC will not tune in. At that point the only hope for Strikeforce is that the charismatic Josh Barnett wins the Heavyweight Grand Prix Tournament, setting up a very marketable matchup against Overeem. Outside of that, there is little else. Melendez is running out of major name or talent competition at lightweight, the 185 pound division seems to be a rotating circuit of 3 talented guys fighting each other, and Dan Henderson is a 40 years old Light Heavyweight Champion whose last fight in his contract was against a fighter who weighs about 24 pounds more then him and is on a two fight losing streak heading into the fight. Also, the future is not exactly promising for an MMA organization that is broadcast on a network that many people don't even have available as part of their Dish or Cable package. All Strikeforce fans, employees, and fighters can do is hope for the best come Saturday night.