What Went Wrong in Nashville?
Ok, well I’m sure most people affiliated with mixed martial arts already know about what happened last Saturday night. Strikeforce: Nashville took place and it ended up being a ratings disaster. More than that, it left a black eye on the entire sport of MMA when the event was over and Jason Miller was beat down live on national television. Now Strikeforce is not entirely to blame, there were a lot of problems leading up to the event that factored in. I decided to comprise a list of them all.
The event was not casual fan friendly – Most people who first get interested in mixed martial arts do so by seeing things they’re used to. Most sports fans know about boxing or kickboxing and they become interested in MMA after seeing an incredible knockout or a stand up war. One of the first fights I ever saw was Josh Neer vs Melvin Guillard and it was a barn burner with Guillard opening Neer up badly before Neer rebounded with a fantastic triangle choke submission victory at the end of the first round. I wasn’t sure what exactly was going on…but I liked it. Fans love finishes, we all do, and having all 3 title fights go to a 5 round decision really was only something that hardcore MMA fans could enjoy. I liked it, I loved the chess match on the ground between Gegard Mousasi and King Mo, I loved Jake Shields rebounding from nearly getting KO’d in the first round to dominate Dan Henderson, but most casual fans were not entertained. Throughout the night, the event actually lost ratings as every round had both fighters on the ground without a finish and progressively getting more tired. If you wanted to bring in new fans of the sport, this was not the event to do it with. Most people have to learn to understand the ground game before they can appreciate a great war on the mat.
Lousy Announcing – Compounding the problem were three announcers who continuously were talking over each other. Each man had his own set of problems. Frank Shamrock was very biased towards his favorite fighters and looked just plain goofy with those big metal braces in his mouth. Mauro has turned from a respectable announcer from Pride into a shouting hyperbole machine. I’ll give Gus Johnson credit for actually training in BJJ and trying to learn about the sport, but right now his MMA commentary is at about 25% of the level of his NCAA basketball announcing. His line at the end of the night was the worst, “sometimes this happens in MMA” when talking about the 7 on 1 brawl in the cage was about as bad a word choice as possible. There haven’t been brawls like that in years, not a real bad one since the Pride days. If I had my way I’d have Gus and Mauro by themselves. Frank is just too much.
45 minutes over – CBS did a very poor job of time management with this event. They should have known that when you have three title fights on one show, there is the possibility that they all could go to a 5 round decision. The event lasted about 2 hours 45 minutes, that’s 55 minutes per fight. A title fight that goes to decision takes up 29 minutes of fight time, add in entrances, interviews, announcing, clean up etc there’s no way they should have had 25 extra minutes of nothing. If they just cut that by 5 minutes for each fight it would have only been a half hour over and it wouldn’t have been quite as bad. Regardless, east coast network affiliates were pissed about having to delay their evening newscasts and I don’t blame them.
No Fedor – Strikeforce didn’t know what they were getting into when they signed Fedor Emelianenko. They signed a deal with the devil and that devil was the co-promotion with M-1 Global and Fedor’s management team. Ever since the deal was signed they have been twisting Strikeforce’s arm with their huge leverage that they’ve gained. Fedor carried the event in Chicago last fall and by not having him fight this card, they were shooting themselves in the foot big time. Fedor knows he has all the leverage, and it only became more obvious after how poorly this event did without him. It was like Elite-XC without Kimbo, it just didn’t have that sizzle. Now M-1 is demanding even more co-promotion and more M-1 fighters featured on the main card. Strikeforce is treading a dangerous path.
Poor Promotion/Advertizing – If CBS really wanted this event to succeed, they would have done a hell of a lot better job promoting the event. How early do we hear about UFC cards? They promote the hell out of their shows, their ads are action packed and exciting. We didn’t see or hear much until a week or two before the fight, and it was going to be on national television! Look at this poster and tell me what you see:
How awful is that fight poster? Both men are in awkward poses that make them look like they aren’t even in shape. Their names are too small, it just doesn’t look good. I know plenty of people on MMA forums that could have pumped something 5x better than that in less than an hour. The CBS advertisements were awful too, Dan Henderson punching a heavy bag and proclaiming “I’m coming for that belt” didn’t do it for me whatsoever. See for yourself.
Star Signings Fall Flat – Right before the event, Strikeforce announced that they had signed current light heavyweight champion Gegard Mousasi to a 2 year deal. This would have been great news if he hadn’t gone on to get smoked by the overpowering wrestler “King Mo” Luwal in a 5 round grappling match. Mousasi failed to get off his back for five straight rounds, throwing up hammer fists at Luwal from the bottom and even losing a point in the final round for kicking Mousasi from the bottom while he was grounded. Worst of all was Dan Henderson’s performance. Strikeforce placed a big gamble when they signed Henderson. They promoted him as the main attraction and for about 3 minutes, he looked like he would be. He creamed Jake Shields with his big right hand and dropped him multiple times in the first round, but Shields held on. Shields would go on to outwrestle Henderson for 4 straight rounds, constantly gaining mount position and raining down weak punches.
Handling of Jake Shields – Strikeforce couldn’t have screwed this one up any worse. Jake Shields was their middleweight champion, yet nearly every advertisement focused entirely on Dan Henderson, the challenger. Sure the Vegas odds favored Dan, but Shields is one of the top welterweights/middleweights in the world right now. They even had a chance to re-up his deal and they chose not to because they assumed Shields would lose. In doing so, they disrespected their champion and now, after defeating their all-star signing, he’s going to jump to the UFC with all the buzz. This may have been their biggest mistake of all.