Stephen Espinoza is the Executive Vice President of Showtime Sports. This was the guy charged with putting forth a quality product while all the top Strikeforce talent was being poached by the UFC. Sounds like an impossible job, right? Well, seeing as after this Saturday night Strikeforce will be but a fond memory, impossible job is an understatement.
Espinoza spoke on MMAFighting’s The MMA Hour, and even though he uses the typical executive speech strategy of saying a whole lot of nothing to explain stuff, he offers some clues as to why they chose to nail the coffin shut:
“We had the option to extend for another year. We decided not to, and candidly, there’s one main reason behind it. As any fan who follows Strikeforce or MMA generally knows, there’s been some talent problems in the last half of the year, and there’s been some injury problems throughout the sport. But given where the talent pool in Strikeforce is, we really got decimated by injuries and suspensions. And in the overall scheme of things, we just weren’t comfortable with the trajectory of where the shows were going. We didn’t believe towards the end of the year that we were getting shows that were premium television level shows, and we didn’t see that situation getting any better. I wanted to live up to the high standards that Strikeforce set with Showtime before I got here, and as the year went on, it was clear that wasn’t going to happen.”
Basically, putting on quality shows became problematic when the bulk of their stars left for the greener pastures of the Ocatagon. That kind of shit happens when you lose Nick Diaz, Dan Henderson, Alistair Overeem, Antonio Silva, and Fabricio Werdum; and when it’s announced that the heavyweight division (the one division where Strikeforce was, before the Zuffa acquisition, actually competitive with the UFC) is being dissolved; and when the G.O.A.T., Fedor gets taken out of the equation; and when the remaining stars have little motivation to risk their status against unknown challengers. You get the picture.
Espinoza further explains the exact same thing he said earlier, and it’s quite clear this man’s favorite word is ‘trajectory’:
“This problem with the talent pool and the trajectory of the promotion going forward wasn’t going away. It wasn’t just a streak of bad luck for a couple months. It was a trend. Look at it from the big picture. Look at the trajectory of the organization Strikeforce before the acquisition by Zuffa and after. I think, with due respect, everything that we did after, the trajectory wasn’t the same. That became very clear by the end of the year.”
He then goes on to discuss the actual relationship with Dana White and Zuffa, and while he falls short of calling White a pugnacious prick, he does discuss the “awkward structure” that made things so difficult while stating there were, in fact, no difficulties:
“The relationship was actually fine between Zuffa as a company and Showtime as a company. Dana has been pretty outspoken. He’s been outspoken on everything. We know he’s passionate and he often speaks off the cuff, and so I take what he says with a little bit of a grain of salt. But outside of that, there hasn’t been really any difficulties in the relationship once we got things sorted out way back in January. The fact that Dana wasn’t happy at times and sort of distanced himself, that really wasn’t a factor in the decision at all.”
“They were a good partner,” Espinoza said carefully. “The hesitation that you hear is that, we had an awkward structure. Having this promotion and operating the shows in the context of the larger deal that Zuffa had with FOX, and the limitations it put on us, and the fact that a lot of our talent was stripped out at the start of the deal, really created some challenges in sustaining the organization going forward.”
“There were adjustments that we needed, there were adjustments that they needed, just within the context of the deals, because neither of us anticipated this would happen at the time when we signed our respective deals. So in the process of, sort of, reconfiguring that deal, there was give and take. In retrospect, maybe we should have tried a little bit harder to hold on to some more talent, so we weren’t going to be faced with the challenges towards the end of the year.”
So there you have it, straight from one of the top insiders in this situation. Clear and concise, cut and dry. Espinoza does leave the door open to future MMA programming, and seems to like Invicta. That could be a very good thing for the all-women’s promotion, considering the clusterfuck their last effort to present their product was.
Check out the whole thing. It’s long and tedious, but informative, once you sift through all the redundancy.