We are on the eve of a major night in the history of the Strikeforce promotion. On Saturday evening they will present arguably the biggest free card in the history of the sport live to millions of people via CBS in the United States.
It sounds like a dream scenario, but at the same time it should not be forgotten that there are risks as well as rewards for the promotion on a night like this.
The first concern is regarding the ratings. If Strikeforce wishes for their appearance on CBS to be more than a one off then they have to draw the kind of numbers that will satisfy the network bosses.
It is not known what the ‘magic number’ is, but it is safe to assume that anything less than the average of 2.5 million viewers who tuned in for the lowest rated of the three Elite XC shows from last year would be a disastrous result and could well ensure that future events will only feature on Showtime, which has a far smaller overall audience.
Is that likely to happen? On paper it shouldn’t. The second EliteXC featured neither of it’s two top ‘stars’ at that stage (Kimbo Slice & Gina Carano), instead relying on a headline bout between Robbie Lawler and Scott Smith.
Strikeforce clearly have a superior card lined up, particularly for the main event where they will showcase the man many claim to be the worlds best mixed martial artist – Fedor Emelianenko. Other respected fighters will face solid match-ups in the main card including Jake Shields, Jason Mayhem Miller, Gegard Mousasi and Fabricio Werdum.
A stumbling block may be Fedor himself, despite his impressive credentials. As Kimbo Slice has proved, both in EliteXC, and more recently in The Ultimate Fighter reality show, you don’t always have to be a great fighter to gain the attention of the casual viewer.
It will be interesting to see if the mainstream U.S audience finds Fedor’s quiet, unassuming demeanor and humble lifestyle (which was clearly displayed in the ‘Fight Camp 360‘ documentary which aired on CBS this week) compelling, or a turn-off.
The second major risk for the promotion is that Fedor could lose.
As was seen with the collapse of EliteXC after Kimbo Slice lost live on CBS, it is not wise to build a successful promotion based on one fighter. Strikeforce do have a number of quality fighters on their books, though there is still significant work still to be done to deepen their talent pool. For now they have put together a main card for the event that is certainly credible and compelling, if a little lopsided in terms of the competitiveness of some bouts
Much of the burden of responsibility then falls on CBS’s shoulders to promote the fight correctly. Have they learned their lessons from their past experiences of broadcasting MMA? On the evidence of the promotional push ahead of this fight, perhaps not entirely.
It is clear that both Strikeforce and CBS have invested a lot in Fedor however, both literally and figuratively. On the positive side, Fedor’s opponent Brett Rogers has received a significant amount of exposure in the ad campaign that has led up to tomorrow nights event. His ‘rags to riches’ back story is engaging and does give the promotion something to build on should he pull off an unexpected win.
That being said it would unquestionably be a blow if Fedor, who has been built up to almost mythical proportions as the ‘baddest man on the planet,’ is defeated by Brett Rogers, who has been painted as ‘the guy who used to work at Sams Club’.
Without the mystique that surrounds Fedor thanks to his long unbeaten run, it may prove challenging to create a compelling narrative for the fighter that will continue to hold the average viewers interest for future events that he features in.
Perhaps the most noticeable flaw in CBS’s promotion of the event however has been the lack of hype surrounding the other fighters who are featuring on the card. Despite having a middleweight title match-up between Jason ‘Mayhem’ Miller, who undoubtedly has a significant fan-base due to his role on MTV’s ‘Bully Beatdown’, and former EliteXC champion Jake Shields serving as the co-main event, they have been almost completely overlooked in the promotional campaign.
Gegard Mousasi is another fighter who has the potential to be a major draw for the promotion with his impressive 13 fight winning streak and highlight reel K.O in his last outing, but yet he too will appear on the show with little or no fanfare.
If CBS wishes to successfully promote Strikeforce in the longer term then this strategy of putting all their eggs in the one basket could prove to be a risky one.
Of course on the flip-side, Strikeforce have reason to be excited by the potential rewards that this event could bring.
Telling people that he is the best MMA fighter is one thing, but actually seeing it for yourself is another. If Fedor wins, as he is widely expected to do, then they will have established their marquee fighter as a force to be reckoned with in front of millions of viewers.
With the recent news that Alistair Overeem is ready to defend his title against Fedor, Strikeforce will also have a highly anticipated blockbuster fight ready and waiting for the early months of next year.
Thanks to a solid main card featuring a number of talented MMA fighters, there is also the hope that we will see an entertaining night of fights that will promote the sport in a positive way. Despite the lack of publicity surrounding the other fighters, a stand-out performance in any of the other main card fights would be beneficial. If Mousasi for example pulls of a performance similar to his one minute destruction of Renato Sobral in his Strikeforce debut, then that will give them another potential star to develop for future events.
Also, despite the earlier criticisms, there is still every chance that the event will perform well in the television ratings. Though it is unlikely that they will match those of Kimbo Slice’s debut fight for EliteXC on CBS which peaked at 6.5 million (averageing 4.85million throughout the show), anywhere close to that would be a major result for the promotion, and would all but guarantee more events being aired on the station in the future.
The risks and rewards attached to the event undoubtedly make it even more compelling viewing. Regardless of the outcome, on Saturday night we will be witness to another significant moment in the young history of this sport.