It has been a pretty good week to be Strikeforce, and a pretty great week to be a Strikeforce fan.
Not only did the upstart MMA promotion’s live debut on network television peak at over 5 million viewers last Saturday night, but consensus top-ranked heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko proved he can be a draw in the US and Strikeforce made moves to bring in a few highly touted free agents to bolster its roster.
Even amid criticism that the company didn’t do enough to hype its first show on CBS, Scott Coker’s California-based group established some real momentum as an up-and-coming challenger to the UFC, largely owing to a main event that saw Emelianenko knock out heavy underdog Brett Rogers in the second round.
Emelianenko, the stoic Russian who’s been difficult for nearly every promoter who’s claimed his contract to utilize for a variety of reasons, received an unexpectedly thunderous reaction from the Chicago crowd. He also provided a spike in ratings that vaulted his bout with Rogers into the Top 10 of most-watch U.S. MMA fights of all time.
A former tire technician at Sam’s Club, Roger also fared well – at least for six or seven minutes – bloodying Emelianenko’s nose with the first punch of the fight and using his considerable size and strength advantage to muscle his much smaller opponent around the cage. Rogers even ebbed dangerously close to a stoppage victory by landing some vicious ground-and-pound shots to Emelianenko’s head midway through the first round.
In the end though, the man MMA fans simply call "Fedor" reasserted his dominance. Despite the fact that Emelianenko looks and acts nothing like the American conception of what a professional athlete should be in the 21st Century, he proved that he is still the best fighter in the world by shaking off Rogers’ early efforts and landing one of his trademark looping punches, putting "The Grimm" instantly to sleep a little less than two minutes into the second.
As long as Emelianenko can keep landing the vicious, overhand sledgehammers he throws in the stand-up game, it won’t much matter that he doesn’t speak English, doesn’t in any way desire the spotlight and doesn’t physically resemble a natural athlete.
After establishing some momentum with a successful "Fedor vs. Rogers" card, Strikeforce has also announced the signing of highly touted free agents Muhammed Lawall, Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza and Matt Lindland to its ranks. With former UFC and Pride standout Dan Henderson still floating around without a contract, Coker’s company has a good chance right now to establish a real foothold and take steps to minimize its biggest Achilles heel – that it doesn’t have enough top-tier fighters to compete nationally with Dana White and the Ferttita brothers.
If it can do that – and keep putting on quality show on CBS – Strikeforce could have a bright future.
The only downside continues to be the network itself, which still doesn’t appear to really know what it’s doing with its MMA programming. The live broadcast it provides Strikeforce looks pretty cheap and the broadcasting giant didn’t do much at all to advertise the show before the fact. In order for the fight company to truly succeed, CBS is going to have to jump in with both feet.
But hey, a couple more vicious knockouts by the silent Russian killing machine and you’ve got to figure even the networks will see the light. Right?
Chad Dundas is a daily contributor to The Sporting News’ MMA blog The Rumble and writes a weekly column for CraveOnline. He lives in Missoula, MT.