Zuffa’s Former WEC Staff Takes Over Strikeforce
May 17, 2011
All it took was two events after the Strikeforce purchase was announced for Zuffa to take over the Strikeforce promotion and replace the staff, quickly disproving the “business as usual” motto tied to the acquisition two months ago.
According to MMAPayout sources, May 9th, 2011 was the last day Strikeforce was an MMA promotion under Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment, their previous owners who sold the budding promotion to Zuffa, LLC. A few days after 5/9, Scott Coker and Peter Dropick met with the old Strikeforce staff individually to inform them that their services would no longer be required to avoid operational overlap and inefficiencies. A couple of staff members were offered positions to join Zuffa, but accepting the job would required a move to Las Vegas, which was not seen as a desirable move for those that were already established in Northern California. Those few opted to stay in the Bay Area instead. Those that were willing to relocate and accept an offer from Zuffa were not offered a position.
As MMAPayout reported last month, Strikeforce employees were aware that after the April 9 event, staff changes were going to be made by early May and Zuffa would complete the process around early July, when most Strikeforce staff is expected to have worked their last days under the promotion. Rich Chou was let go a few weeks ago and was replaced by former WEC matchmaker Sean Shelby. Former WEC VP Peter Dropick will now do most of the heavy lifting for Strikeforce, as he was assigned to help run the promotion shortly after it was purchased.
It is still unclear what Scott Coker’s role will be going forward, but he will still be the figurehead of the promotion as long as they are up and running. It’s said that part of Scott Coker’s contract, besides a guaranteed job with Zuffa, included a clause that states he does not need to relocate to Las Vegas and could continue to work from his San Jose office, though that could not be confirmed upon publishing this article. Former WEC PR director Dave Sholler has been traveling with the Strikeforce staff helping promote their events since the purchase was announced, and will continue to spearhead the PR efforts for upcoming events. He flies to Dallas this week to meet up with Scott Coker, Herschel Walker, and Josh Barnett for a press tour in order to promote the second leg of the Heavyweight Grand Prix event in June.
In post mergers and acquisitions, these type of layoffs are expected and it’s no difference in this case. In fact, considering the situation regarding the Strikeforce TV deal with Showtime – which will be up around February/March of 2012 – it makes perfect sense. During that time, Showtime will have the option of extending the TV deal, which would keep Strikeforce alive for the span of that deal. Without an extension, many in the MMA industry believe the promotion could be folded as early as second quarter of 2012. Negotiations between Zuffa and Showtime should heat up in the upcoming months leading up to the expiration date of the current TV contract.
Behind the scenes, Strikeforce is continuing to sign young prospects (Yuri Villefort, Maximo Blanco) and popular veterans (Keith Jardine, Jeff Monson) to fill up their cards, since they have a heavy schedule planned with Showtime for the remainder of the year. During recent contract negotiations, fighters have stated that they only spoke to Zuffa personnel (no one from Strikeforce) and that everything ran a bit smoother behind the scenes since the takeover. Fighter manager Monte Cox told Sherdog.com that Zuffa wasted no time in making changes:
“We didn’t get per diem [money]. We didn’t get mileage [money]. They just didn’t pay those things for the undercard…. Now there’s per diem. Now there’s travel. Now there’s three nights for a hotel. Instantly that all changed. For those guys, it’s a homerun.”
Along with increasing incentives for undercard fighters, Zuffa has done away with amateur fighters in the prelim slots, which will in fact help many in the Strikeforce roster who complained that they weren’t getting enough fights. The extra room will allow to book more fighters already under contract, though Showtime will continue their policy not to air the prelims. As a result, the UFC was looking to package those fights into another outlet for the fans, and although Facebook is a likely destination, nothing has been officially announced or confirmed yet.
No matter what type of outcome the Showtime TV negotiations produce, it appears that Zuffa has their personnel ready to either keep the promotion running or start the merge process, a move similar to what the WEC experienced just a year ago. Luckily for the former WEC staff, they are on the other side of the merger talks this time around.