I canâ€™t help but feel a little melancholy about tomorrowâ€™s fights. Not that I dislike a main event of Bisping versus Akiyama. Or the fact that it's free on Spike. But this isnâ€™t the event I really wanted to see. A different event, one a year in the making, is supposed to be taking place, one that was destined to be the biggest event in the history of American MMA. That is the event I want to see. Tomorrow night we, along with the 40,000 fans in attendance at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, should be baring witnesses to the "Fight of the Century" that would have been Fedor versus Overeem.
When Scott Coker and Strikeforce signed Fedor, his contract stipulated that the 3rd fight would be a pay-per-view event (Watch Evgani Kogan confirm this), presumably to generate the money they would need to pay him. Going to pay-per-view would be a risky venture for the San Jose promotion, for not only had Fedor not yet proven to be a draw with American audiences, but Strikeforce really had no one else available that fans would be willing to pay to see matched against the Last Emperor. The only fighter with any potential was their champ, Alistair Overeem, a fighter who had not fought for them in over two years and who was even less known to the American public than Fedor. Coker definitely had his work cut out for him and would need time to build up awareness for the two men and interest in a fight between them if he was going to support a payperview. And from day one he made it abundantly clear (here, here, and here) that was his objective.
The first step in Cokerâ€™s grand plan was accomplished with Fedorâ€™s successful debut against Brett Rogers on CBS. Immediately following the Russianâ€™s dramatic KO - in front of an estimated 5.5 million viewers - Coker set about putting together another card for CBS to air in April of 2010. This April card in Nashville was the key to Cokerâ€™s pay-per-view plans, and "stacked" would be the only way to describe the originally planned lineup:
Fedor Emelianenko versus Fabricio Werdum
Alistair Overeem versus Brett Rogers
Jake Shields versus Dan Henderson
Gina Carano versus TBD
If 5.5 million watched Fedor vs Rogers, how many would watch this event? Coming on the heels of Fedorâ€™s highlight reel victory and with the return of Gina Carano, I think it is not unrealistic to believe it would have been the most watched card in American MMA history, surpassing the 7.3 million that watched Kimbo Slice defeat James Thompson. If everything followed its likely course, millions would have viewed Fedor, Overem, and Henderson win in dramatic fashion, setting up the main event and co-main event for Strikeforceâ€™s future mega event.
But even with a successful CBS show Coker was not going to take chances. To guarantee a successful pay-per-view he was prepared to break out every trick in his promoters bag while also taking advantage of the many assets provided by his partners at Showtime, CBS, and EA Sports.
Obviously the key to the event would be the main event. I am sure many readers are doubtful as to what kind of business a match up between Fedor and Overeem could generate. But Coker wouldnâ€™t be merely promoting a fight between two of the best heavyweights in the world, he would be promoting a clash between 33-1 Fedor Emelianenko, the number one heavyweight in the world who had reigned undefeated for over a decade, and Alistair Overeem, the Reem, a hulking champion who millions had just witnessed destroy Rogers. This fight would have been of an order of magnitudes several times greater in importance than a pairing of the two today.
And that wouldnâ€™t be the only fight on the card: it was an almost foregone conclusion that Dan Henderson would beat Jake Shields, and with that victory the newly crowned middleweight champion would be pitted against the light heavyweight champ, Gegard Mousasi, in a must-see bout for hardcore fans. In addition a match up between Bobby Lashley and Batista was being discussed in a bid to appeal to the prowrestling marks, as well as a Herschel Walker fight that was designed to garner media attention during the football season. Obviously this would be a major card with something for everyone.
And to even further hedge his bets, they would hold the event at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, with EA Sports underwriting a large chunk of it to help promote the release of their new MMA game. Think of the attention such an event would get, especially with the synergy provided by all the overlapping storylines. The largest crowd in American MMA history. Fedor vs. Overeem. Middleweight champ vs light heavyweight champ. Pro wrestler vs pro wrestler. And Herschel Walker as part the prelims aired live on CBS. Forget the MMA media, could the mainstream media ignore it? I doubt it. The coverage would be on a level that even the UFC would have been jealous of.
So what went wrong? The answer: everything. As soon as Coker starting making plans for the April event Gina Carano became unavailable. Soon word came that Overeem too would be skipping, in order to participate in a K-1 show. And then the truly disastrous decision by M-1 and Fedor to hold out. The key event that would springboard Strikeforce to pay-per-view was dead, but Coker valiantly tried to save his big fall event, even in the face of Dan Hendersonâ€™s loss. But this was short lived as the final nail was hammered home a few months later in the form of a triangle by Fabricio Werdum.
Could it have worked? I actually think so. Maybe not to a level that the UFC is accustomed to, but it would have easily been the most successful MMA pay-per-view ever held outside of the UFC. Perhaps 300,000 buys. More importantly, it would have allowed Strikeforce to attain a level of public awareness unimaginable only a few months earlier. They would now be recognized as a major player in the sport, and would have proven to themselves, Showtime, the fighters, and the fans that there was another promotion worth purchasing pay-per-views from.
It was an audacious roll of the dice, and one I toast Coker for attempting. But alas, it proved for nought, because tomorrow even Scott Coker will be watching Akiyama versus Bisping and not the "Fight of the Century" we'd been waiting for.