Strikeforce Lands Showtime Deal
Strikeforce and Showtime Networks have agreed to a three-year
broadcast deal that will see mixed martial arts return to the
premium pay channel by April.
The much-coveted deal, which has been quietly negotiated since
December, proposes up to 16 live events per year from the popular
San Jose, Calif., promotion, insiders have told Sherdog.com. The
agreement also opens the door for four primetime specials on CBS,
which owns the Showtime channels and had much success with MMA
though EliteXC in a Saturday night primetime slot.
Sherdog.com has learned that the first Strikeforce event under the
new arrangement will likely take place on April 11.
CBS Primetime Senior Executive Vice President Kelly Kahl would not
comment on any potential timetable to springboard MMA back onto the
major network, though it is widely believed that CBS’s interest in
the sport remains steadfast.
CBS enjoyed strong ratings with the three live EliteXC “Saturday
Night Fights” installments it hosted in 2008 with peak audiences in
the six million viewers range. The network also saw substantial
gains in its Saturday primetime slot with the coveted young male
demographics, including a 127-percent rise in men 18-49 and a
whopping 271-percent jump in men 18-34 for the first event on May
A follow-up event on July 26 fell 43 percent in viewership without
stars Gina Carano
and Kevin "Kimbo
Slice" Ferguson to anchor the card but rebounded back up to
4.84 million viewers during its Oct. 4 affair, which saw the iconic
Slice fall in 15 seconds to last-minute replacement Seth
However, the much-troubled EliteXC promotion, owned by the Los
Angeles corporation Pro Elite, closed its doors on Oct. 20 buried
underneath nearly $55 million in debt, with upwards of a reported
$20 million of that owed to Showtime.
Understandably, CBS executives were said to have been gun-shy
inking a new deal with another MMA outlet. But the burgeoning
relationship with Showtime and Scott Coker, who owns and operates
Strikeforce with other investors, is being viewed as the first step
in bringing the fast-growing sport back to the masses.
Coker, who has cultivated a fervent kickboxing fan base in the
South Bay area since 1985 and promoted California’s first regulated
MMA event at San Jose’s HP Pavilion in March 2006 before a record
18,265 spectators, was said to have been selected for his
“irreproachable” reputation in the combat sports arena. It is said
Coker bested four to five other outlets that bid on the deal as
well. The UFC, as well as various incarnations organized by Pro
Elite executives in the wake of its stalling, also threw their hats
in the ring.
As part of an assets purchase deal announced by Strikeforce on
Thursday, Coker and company have acquired rights to Pro Elite’s
video library and other past footage. The ShoXC brand may still
prove viable with the deal, although it appears the EliteXC name
will no longer be used.
At this time, it appears no Pro Elite employees will take positions
with the Strikeforce organization., though Pro Elite still holds
ownership of other promotions, including King of the Cage helmed by
longtime MMA promoter Terry Trebilcock, who was also identified as
in the running for the Showtime deal.
In addition, Strikeforce has also acquired “some” of the reported
100-plus fighter contracts that were left in limbo as Pro Elite
attempted to salvage its debt.
EliteXC’s marquee fighters, like Carano, Ferguson and former
EliteXC middleweight champion Robbie
Lawler among others, are being approached by Strikeforce to
re-negotiate contracts with Pro Elite that have been deemed
non-transferrable without time-consuming litigation.
Many are expected to want more lucrative deals, especially in light
of the unintended layoffs that have occurred with Pro Elite’s
Sherdog.com has learned that Lawler was under heavy consideration
to coach opposite Brit Michael
Bisping on the currently taping ninth season of “The Ultimate
Fighter,” but UFC brass had to pass up the power-punching Iowan
when his contract obligations could not be untangled.
Lawler’s manager, Monte Cox, would not confirm or deny his client’s
consideration for the high-profile position, and it looks positive
that Lawler will re-sign a fresh contract with Strikeforce.
“We respect Strikeforce and we believe Scott Coker does a great
job,” said Cox. “Robbie would like to continue fighting for him on
Showtime and CBS.”
Carano, who was voted among Yahoo’s Top-10 Women of the Year
alongside Hilary Clinton and Oprah Winfrey, is also said to be in
renegotiations with Strikeforce.
The 26-year-old “American Gladiators” star appeared in a nationwide
Pepsi commercial alongside Bruce Lee during the Super Bowl last
Sunday, but netted only $25,000 for her victory over Kelly
Kobold-Gavin in October.
"Gina has nothing but the highest regard for Scott Coker and the
Strikeforce organization and looks forward to meeting with them
soon to discuss the future of women's MMA," said Carano's agent,
Matt Walker, of the Wasserman Group.
Though various negotiations for key fighters seem imminent over the
next few weeks, Coker has sewn up a monstrous opportunity to bring
his promotion into the major leagues of the sport.
“We all know what he’s really buying,” said a source familiar with
the negotiations. “Though it’s only the library and other assets on
paper, Strikeforce is really getting its product onto Showtime and
Note: This article was updated at 8:00 p.m. EST with info that
the agreement proposes up to 16 live events per year.
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