PRO MMA (http://promma.info) was on hand this afternoon for the Strikeforce conference call. Ken Hershman, Showtime’s Senior Vice President and General Manager of Sports and Event Programming, Strikeforce CEO, Scott Coker and Frank Shamrock talked to the press about Strikeforce’s future. Many topics were disscussed including the Shamrock vs. Nick Diaz main evet, Gil Melendez, Josh Thomson potentially facing K.J. Noons, Alistair Overeem, possibly holding an event on the east coast and female MMA.
Ken Hershman provided the most tense moment of the one hour conference call when he vehemently stated that “there has been no conversation and they’re wont be” in regards to Ken Shamrock facing Kimbo Slice in the future. Shamrock also proclaimed that he will “knock out” Nick Diaz on April 11th at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, CA.
STRIKEFORCE CONFERENCE CALL audio:
Complete transcript of the conference call after the jump…
Late last week, it was announced that Showtime Networks, Inc. and world championship mixed martial arts (MMA) event producer Strikeforce have joined forces to create an all-new series of MMA events that will air live on SHOWTIME® as part of the SHOWTIME Sports franchise.
The multi-year agreement calls for SHOWTIME to produce and televise up to 16 live events per year including Strikeforce world championship events as well as a series dedicated to showcasing up-and-coming fighters in the sport.
The initial Strikeforce event on SHOWTIME is Saturday, April 11 (10 p.m. ET/PT, delayed on the west coast) at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., and will feature legendary MMA pioneer Frank Shamrock against world-class Nick Diaz in the main event at a catchweight of 179 pounds.
Hershman, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Sports and Event Programming, Showtime Networks Inc., was responsible for pioneering the network’s entry into MMA in 2007, when SHOWTIME became the first premium network to televise the explosive sport.
Coker, the Strikeforce founder and CEO, has promoted MMA for more than 23 years. His 14-year-old Strikeforce organization has been a major player in MMA since a March 2006 event drew a capacity crowd of 18,265 at San Jose’s HP Pavilion. The live gate figure also broke the then-all-time record for attendance at an MMA event held in North America.
The executives and Shamrock spoke on a national media conference call Tuesday. The following are highlights from the call:
We had the opportunity to work with SHOWTIME on the Shamrock vs. Baroni fight in June of 2007 and it was a great success. It was a great matchup. We went on to promote another event with SHOWTIME, which was the he Shamrock vs. Cung Le fight. It was very well attended, attendance was over 15,000. It was an amazing battle. At that point we said MMA is here to stay.
This is a monumental event for our company. We look forward to putting on the best MMA events in the history of Strikeforce. With the two rosters combined, we have a roster that makes for a lot of compelling matchups. We look forward to put on some amazing events and we look forward to moving forward.
We’ve had MMA on the network since 2007. That (EliteXC) programming was actually very successful despite ProElite’s financial struggles. One thing that we’re very proud of is that we always put on compelling contests that are very well received by our subscribers.
We’ve been in boxing the last 20-plus years. We expected MMA to start off slowly until people caught up, and I’d have to say that that’s not the case. It’s right up there with some of our highest rated sports programming.
We’re thrilled to be getting back into this space and equally excited to get back into it with Strikeforce and Scott Coker. There’s no one better and classier in this business. We’re really looking forward to launching this platform together. We now have a great compliment on the network again to our NFL programming and our boxing programming. And I can’t wait until April 11.
I want to thank SHOWTIME for once again not only taking the risk with MMA but also embracing it wholeheartedly. My experience with Scott Coker is a very long one and a very successful one.
Scott was that guy that got me out, got me back in the cage and got me going again. I put my trust in him and put my faith in him to promote me well and to present us with honor and respect that I think the athletes deserve. In that way I think Scott is a tremendous friend and promoter.
SHOWTIME, man, you guys are good guys. You’re commitment to MMA is honorable. I, as an artist, really, truly appreciate that. It’s been 15 years since I’ve been a professional mixed martial artist and I can’t imagine having another job or wanting one.
(For) April 11, they called me and I took my suit off and put my training clothes on. One thing Strikeforce is really good at and SHOWTIME is really good at is making and booking exciting fights. My opponent for April 11 is an exciting fighter. He’s a guy who throws, talks trash and on April 11, I’m going to knock him out. And his name is Nick Diaz.
Many of you guys know him. He’s sort of the other bad boy that I haven’t beat down yet. But come April 11 we’ll take care of that.
Do you plan to continue to cross promote?
We haven’t had the sit down with Ken and the guys at SHOWTIME, but my thought is that the co-promotion fights that we did together with EliteXC and Gary Shaw were probably two of the best fights we’ve ever done. When organizations get together and have compelling matchups that make sense and are relevant that work out in the end for both fighters and all parties, I feel why wouldn’t we? I think if it’s good for business that I will support it. But it’s something we still have to iron out.
On fighting Ken Shamrock.
I do plan to fight more often. I had a program which was kind of fighting twice a year, but think I need to tie them a little closer so I don’t get out of shape.
In reference to fighting Ken, it’s a fight I’d always want to do. I think it’s a very compelling story. Ken’s going through some personal and emotional problems right now and we’re letting him do that. But this fight is something that is very personal for me. I think it’s very important that we tell the story of the sport and the Shamrock family and what type of influence the family has had on the sport. I think it’s important that I kick his butt, but right now we’re putting it on the back burner.
What went into Shamrock-Diaz?
Everything I’ve seen from Frank is there is never a dull moment. With Nick, you know what you’re getting from him. He’s just going to come at you and not stop.
When I program boxing I’m much more involved in the matchmaking. I look for styles that will make compelling contests and will make compelling fights. When we talked to Scott about this matchup this was one of those that was like three seconds. Do it. These guys are going to go at it. It’s going to be fun. Who knows who wins? Frank has to lose some weight and that’s a challenge for him and Nick has to fight a guy that is a legend. So come April 11 all I can say is I won’t miss it.
Has there been Kimbo Slice contact?
Well there is a lot of reasons why (there hasn’t been contact with Kimbo Slice yet). We had to work through the whole EliteXC thing and unwind that transaction. It was a big bit complicated and a bit cumbersome. My hat goes off to Scott and his team for hanging in there. It was a long road, but we got there. And now we just closed this deal a few days back. We’ve already put together an event. Scott’s already matched up the main event and a couple of other cards. Now we’re going to go to the next step, which is to secure those fighters that we want and Kimbo is one that we think we have a future with. We’re going to make every effort to get him done. But there are only so many hours in a day. He’s an important part of where we’re going and we’re going to see if we can line that up with him in the coming weeks.
We have been in touch with I think half of the fighter roster. Yesterday, I did talk to Kimbo Slice’s lawyer, just to say hello and let him know we will be in touch shortly and that we are very excited to have Kimbo fighting with Strikeforce and getting him back into the cage as soon as possible. My goal is to get these guys back working and back fighting as soon as possible.
We will have reached out to everybody by the end of day tomorrow. And then we’ll start putting the matches together and move forward.
I think that we are going to have at least five major events this year and hopefully at least five of our up-and-comer series which was so successful before. As Scott said, we are going to sit down and go through the calendar and try and space these things out. But you know SHOWTIME hasn’t had MMA on the air with live, new events since September of last year, so we’re chomping at the bit. We can’t wait to get going and we’re looking forward to this April show to kick it off. You’re going to see a number of events in pretty rapid succession thereafter.
Just to clarify, there will be the championship level events and the up-and-comer series which is similar to our boxing series ShoBox, which showcases young fighters who are up and coming and trying to make their way to the big time championship fights.
Plans for women’s MMA:
Being from a martial arts background, we’ve always looked forward to women’s fights. At the end of the day, this is a martial arts contest. I’ve always supported women’s martial arts competitions. MMA is just taking it to the next level. We’ve had some compelling matchups. When you look back at the history of the women’s fights in Strikeforce there are a couple fights that are right up there with the big boys as far as exciting matchups. They can bring it. There’s no difference. A kick is a kick. A punch is a punch. An arm-bar is an arm-bar. If a girl is 125 pounds doing it, it’s still effective.
We’re going to continue supporting women’s MMA and we’re going to be inviting Gina (Carano) to come fight on April 11. And we’ve already got confirmation from (Cris) Cyborg that she is available if we can put that match together. And if not maybe we’ll put Cris Santos-Cyborg on the April 11 card. But those matchups are still to be determined and nothing is confirmed on that end. But we will be supporting women’s MMA in Strikeforce.
What’s the status of Cung Le?
Cung has been doing his movie star career. He’s had some success with it, he’s doing very well and we’re all happy for him. I talked to him about a week ago and he is itching to get back in the cage. He does have an injury on his elbow right now which is stopping him from fighting in this show. Otherwise, he would be fighting on this show because his schedule is open. He’s just injured. You will see Cung Le back in the cage on Strikeforce at least two times before the end of the year. I haven’t say down and talked to Frank about it, but the fight between Cung and Frank number two is a fight that actually should happen before the end of 2009. We are planning on having Gilbert (Melendez) fight (on April 11).
What is solidified for April 11?
Frank and Nick are going to be the main event. The other fight that we have matched is Benji Radich, who is an amazing fighter and great striker. He will be fighting Scott Smith, who in the last Strikeforce event knocked out Terry Martin in the first round. Those two guys will probably go right to the center of the cage and start throwing as hard as they can because that’s how they work.
The fighter that we are looking to match is Gilbert Melendez.
What’s the status of Josh Thompson?
I haven’t sat down with Josh yet, but we would like Josh to fight and the opponent we are going to invite to fight Josh, who is not confirmed, is KJ Noons.
Question on EliteXC Titles:
We should give them the ability to come fight and unify the titles at some point in ’09. We’re offering it to KJ because KJ was the EliteXC champion and Josh Thompson is our champion. That would be an amazing fight and that’s why we’re trying to put that together so we can unify the belt. But to get through all the weight classes that we have and they have, I think it is going to take the remainder of the year.
Announcers and start times:
I think we are going to stick with it the same way we did with EliteXC, which is mostly a 10 p.m. start time, east coast. The announce team we are putting in place as we speak. We haven’t figured out a way to have Frank Shamrock fight and announce at the same time, but I’m sure he’ll figure that out. I think we would like very much to bring Gus Johnson back, who did the CBS shows and is now our main commentator for boxing, and then we’ll round out the crew from there.
Title ramification for catchweight fight between Shamrock and Diaz:
This fight works because Nick Diaz fights traditionally between as low as 150 and up to 180. He goes back and forth depending on the matchup. He was fighting at a lower rate and I talked to Cesar Gracie (Nick’s trainer) and he said ‘we can’t make that weight anymore so we want to fight at 170.’ That’s were he would like to go back and fight and make his match. As you know, Frank is in the 185-pound weight class.
Putting those two fights together, it just made a lot of sense to me because of the history behind Cesar, the Gracie’s and the Shamrocks. I thought it was a compelling story. And it would be a fantastic matchup because of the styles. That’s why we put that fight together.
We’ve had a few fights at a catchweight, not that many. But once in a while to put one on that’s very special together like we are able to do for the launch with SHOWTIME and do it here, at our home, with Frank and Nick it just made a lot of sense and we’re very excited to do it.
In terms of exclusive fights:
If we had a fighter under contract but we couldn’t keep them busy then we would let him fight here or there. But based on the schedule, I think we are going to be very busy and we’re going to need the athletes to come participate because we are going to have so many fights. For right now we’re going to need athletes to fill these slots.
Alistair Overeem (Strikeforce heavyweight champion) will be fighting for Strikeforce. The question is when? I’m hoping to get him back before the end of the year. He’s just had a very busy schedule in Japan and fighting in Europe. One of my top priorities is trying to work out his next fight with us.
Kimbo against Bob Sapp?
That fight was just a conceptual fight. How great would it be if Kimbo and Bob could ever work out the weight and have that fight? I think it would be an entertaining fight to say the least. But by no means was that something that was contracted or talked about with both sides. It was just a “what if.”
Does Shamrock have the need or desire to avenge the loss to Cung Le?
A need or desire, no. They’d probably pay well very well and it would probably be the fight of the year again. Other than that, fighting is fighting to me. It’s a transaction between two artists and somebody wins.
Shamrock’s comments on Nick Diaz:
I do know Nick personally. It’s rare that I do know fighters on a social level. Nick Diaz is very similar to me. He grew up in a broken home and had abusive parents and really had a tough childhood. He and I have that in common and we’ve spoken about it a few times. He’s also gone on his MMA quest and traveled around to all the gyms. He ended up with my father for a minute training with him. So we have common ties that tie us together. I know for a fact hat he wasn’t too happy when I knocked out his coach Cesar and he said some words afterward that got him into this fight. But we’re going to fight and I don’t care about Nick. He’s a nice guy and I’m going to knock him out. Then I’ll move onto the next one.
Question about ProElite:
The reality of the situation is that ProElite ran into funding problems as many, many companies much bigger and far flung are in this world today. We had to figure out a way to unwind the relationship in a way that worked for everybody and that allowed MMA to have a life and to continue on SHOWTIME. That was very important to me and it was very important to SHOWTIME that we continue to showcase this programming for our subscribers.
Absolutely we had a say in that (the ProElite deal with Strikeforce). We were a stockholder number one and we had a programming agreement. We had to be very comfortable with the partner we were going to continue with. We absolutely had input there and we’re very happy with the way it worked out.
There were a lot of factors that went into it. First and foremost, we wanted stability that I think Strikeforce has demonstrated in their long tenure of operating successfully. We like their roster of fighters and we like the combination of rosters between the EliteXC fighters that we’re picking up and their current fighters. It presented a lot of compelling content in a very short time frame for us, so we didn’t have a building process.
What did you learn from failures of EliteXC?
They learned a lot as we did throughout this process about expansion too quick, too much, too fast. Things like that we’ll apply here. We just want to have a steady partner. We want to put on great shows. The benefit of our model and Strikeforce’s model is we’re not dependent on pay-per-view. So we don’t have to go out there month in and month out and charge our fans $40 or $50 to see our content. You get SHOWTIME, you can watch them every month, month in and month out. We think we have a really good model that will allow us to grow in the future and we’re looking forward to it.
Exclusive deal with Strikeforce?
We weren’t exclusive to EliteXC either and we’re not exclusive with Strikeforce. But I will tell you that when we’re in with a partner, we’re in with a partner. We feel like we’re going to be doing a lot with Scott. I’m not sure we have the capacity or the desire to do anything with anyone else. If somebody came along with something compelling we would examine it and also talk with Scott about how he felt about it because that’s the type of partnership we’re going to have.
What synergy is there between boxing and MMA?
I think that when we looked at our sports platform and the ways to expand it we looked at boxing and that is, in essence, one of the original extreme sports. Adding mixed martial arts, to me, is a very natural extension of that. Obviously that sport has evolved and developed in a very quick fashion and has caught the attention of a young demographic, which we will see. And we have the NFL, which, on a lot of levels, is as extreme and challenging of a sport as a combat sport. We love the triumvirate of those three together. We think that they all cross-pollinate each other and we expect that fans of one will become fans of each of the other.