Strikeforce has been plagued by problems leading into what should be their true breakthrough card on December 4. Aside from the mishandling of PR resources, lack of marketing, and the long period of inactivity that typically affects the Strikeforce main promotion, the December 4 card headlined by “Hendo” Dan Henderson (25-8) and “Babalu” Renato Sobral (33-9) has been plagued by fighter injuries. As is par for the course, Strikeforce faces heavy counter-programming from the untouchable media juggernaut that is the UFC. This time, it’s in the form of the finale of The Ultimate Fighter Season 12, a card which carries an entire season’s worth of hype as well as the first appearance of bantamweights (135lbs.) and featherweights (145lbs.) in the UFC. Strikeforce was set to counter the UFC, at least amongst the extremely hardcore fans and the extremely casual fans, with a card featuring not only the majority of Strikeforce’s big name fighters, but also the casual fan ratings magnet former NFL Pro-bowler and SEC college football great Herschel Walker (1-0). Then it all began to fall apart.
In addition to Walker and the main event, the initial roster for the event featured bouts between former UFC stars “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler (17-6) and “The Law” Matt Lindland (22-7) and “Semtex” Paul Daley (22-10-2) and “Hands of Steel” Scott Smith (16-7) as well as Strikeforce names that hit home with the hardcore fan base such as “Big Foot” Antonio Silva (13-2), “The Python” Valentijn Overeem (26-21), and Jesse Finney (6-1). This is about as stellar a line-up as Strikeforce can muster in terms of drawing power with current heavyweight champion “The Demolition Man” Alistair Overeem (30-12) out to compete in K-1, “The Last Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko (31-2) mired in a contract dispute, and “King Mo” Muhammed Lawal (7-1) and “The Dominator” Bobby Lashley (5-1) both having recent resounding loses to blunt their fan appeal. Even with those heavy draws out of the picture, the card was still an easy sell, even against the UFC’s TUF Finale. It’s a much more talent rich line up with much bigger implications concerning the future of the weight classes represented and has Walker and the UFC-hyped KO machine Paul Daley to draw in the casuals who are interested in the UFC event only to find out who wins the reality show. Of course, there was almost no promotion or advertisement done to support the event, as has become expected from Strikeforce. But the card speaks for itself and many of MMA’s more hardcore fans are listening and keeping chatrooms, forums, and Twitter buzzing about the Henderson vs. Babalu event.
Now Strikeforce has a real problem. They haven’t hyped the main event bout or any of the other big names on their card at all to build fan interest because they expected Overeem’s brother, “Bigfoot”, Lawler, and Lindland to bring in the hardcore fans and Walker to carry the show for the casuals. On November 24, the man who was expected to pull the casual crowd from Spike TV to Showtime pulled out. Herschel Walker had sustained a deep cut under his left eye and would not be competing. With Strikeforce again putting all of their eggs in one basket by failing to use the media to build casual interest in the other fights, the loss of Walker has all but ensured that the promotion will be forced to rely solely on the hardcore MMA fan base to compete for ratings against the UFC – no easy task even if the proper promoting had been done. Then, just hours after Walker’s withdrawal from his fight, the main card bout featuring Jesse Finney was scrapped when the fighter was forced into eye surgery. Three days later the promotion took another big hit when it was forced to cancel the heavyweight bout between “Big Foot” and Overeem when the latter suffered an elbow injury. This was a serious blow to the card’s appeal with hardcore fans who had expected the bout to be a clear measurement of just where Antonio Silva deserved to be ranked in the heavyweight division.
There is less than one week left for Strikeforce to concoct some way to make their December 4 card a success. If nothing else goes wrong, they should be able to entice the hardcore fan base into watching their card over the UFC’s by pushing the main event and the Lawler/Lindland fight on the Internet, but even that is asking a lot more out of the Strikeforce promotional division than they typically produce. Daley/Smith is the perfect fight for the casual fan, a tank battle between two tough-as-nails fighters with artillery shells in their gloves. It’s a shame that Scott Coker decided not to push that bout to the casuals instead of just blitzing them with the words “Herschel Walker’s second fight”.