Examining the Delay of the Strikeforce GP


Scott Coker. Photo by Esther Lin/AllElbows.com.

After weeks of speculation from media outlets and silence from Strikeforce, the organization officially announced today that it has postponed the remaining quarterfinals of its heralded heavyweight grand prix tournament.

Alistair Overeem vs. Fabricio Werdum and Josh Barnett vs. Brett Rogers will now take place on June 18 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX. In addition, Strikeforce's planned April 9 event is now loaded with a pair of title fights - Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez defending in a rematch against Tatsuya Kawajiri and welterweight king Nick Diaz facing Paul Daley.

It looks like April 9 will be a success for the promotion after all, but the momentum gained from the start of the tournament last month has surely been lost. So why did things get pushed back anyway?

The simple answer is a trio of factors, and not the answer that Strikeforce figurehead Scott Coker gave in a press release this afternoon:

“Strikeforce is coming off a record pre-sale and impressive attendance for the kickoff of the grand prix at Izod Center in New Jersey that also drew a record viewership on Showtime for live MMA. To build on the tremendous momentum from New Jersey we needed the proper time to promote an event of this magnitude, which is why we have decided to continue the tournament on June 18 at American Airlines Center in Dallas, a venue that has been identified as one of the premier sports and entertainment venues in the U.S.

Right...

Firstly, Strikeforce neglected to plan ahead when it came to the grand prix. They are essentially playing it by ear when it comes to scheduling future events for which tournaments fights can take place and as you can see, they ran into problems when it came to April 9, and will continue to if they don't change their strategy.

For all of the fantastic tournaments that PRIDE Fighting Championships put on all of those years, they had a set schedule mapped out before the tourneys even began in terms of which shows the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals would take place on.

Bellator employs a similar approach and it has worked to a tee for them so far during their existence.

In all honesty though, scheduling conflicts for April 9 mainly came into play because of the participation of Josh Barnett, who refuses to cooperate with the California State Athletic Commission when it comes to re-licensing procedures.

Coker is adamant that Barnett served his suspension and then some, and also tested negative for performance-enhancing drugs under the state's supervision in recent months. Still, Barnett's actions currently have him essentially barred from fighting in California, Strikeforce's home base and a state where they have an immense following. Other options for April 9 outside of California simply just weren't there.

Texas remains one of the only states with an athletic commission that doesn't take advantage of pre-fight drug testing. A handful of others are in the same boat and are also some of the only states that will disregard California's trouble with Barnett and allow him to fight.

Unfortunately, those are the type of venues that Strikeforce will likely have to opt to use for the rest of the year since Barnett is on the weaker side of the bracket and is expected to go far in the tournament. I'm actually picking him to win it all.

The whole Barnett ordeal is exactly why Strikeforce was hoping to stage the remaining quarterfinals in Japan, using Overeem and Barnett's drawing power to garner a modest audience. The plan backfired. Zach Arnold knows why and anticipated this outcome last week:

When the promotion decided to book a year-long ‘tournament’ as the main theme for 2011, they had to realize that everything needed to set up for the year. That means the arena bookings, the matches, and everything logistical. Even PRIDE, of all organizations, had a slate of dates booked for Saitama Super Arena or buildings like Yokohama Arena. (They had to, since most buildings in Japan require a 4-6 month advance booking date, if not longer.) The fact that Strikeforce still doesn’t reportedly have a venue booked for April 9th for the rest of the first round is absurd.

...

All of this chaos started with the dumb notion of wanting to run events in Japan. Yes, I predicted that the promotion would try to run there, but I never thought it made any financial sense. With all the chaos going on there now, why make things harder for yourself? Seemingly, that seems to be the theme of this operation right now. Once the landscape in Japan fell apart, the promotion should have already had everything ready to go to promote an event on April 9th. After all, that’s the date the promotion pushed on Showtime for the next event. You have all those eyeballs watching Fedor’s fight and you tell fans that a certain date will be used for the rest of the first round and now you are hedging on that. Why? None of this uncertainly should have happened in the first place.

Through all of this mess, Strikeforce still managed to put together a card on April 9 that will most likely managed to be very successful. The two title fights between Diaz-Daley and Melendez-Kawajiri are pitting world-ranked fighters against each other as well as being great matchups for the fans.

In addition, Gegard Mousasi will return to action at the event against Mike Kyle and the inclusion of Shinya Aoki, K.J. Noons and Hiroyuki Takaya is also rumored.

Let's not forget though that pushing things back to June dealt a huge blow to the momentum Strikeforce picked up after a pair of upsets last month. The probability of the tournament being completed by the end of the year, something that the organization promised when it was originally announced, is now unlikely, and that's something that could bother a lot of people.

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