Showtime Sports VP Stephen Espinoza explains why they are no longer in the Strikeforce business

It will mark the end of an era when Strikeforce holds their sixty-third and final show on Saturday in Oklahoma City.

Stephen Espinoza, the Vice President of Showtime Sports, was a guest on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani today and explained why Showtime’s relationship with Strikeforce has finally come to an end:

“We had the option to extend for another year. We decided not too. And candidly, one real reason behind it, or one main reason, as any fan who follows Strikeforce generally knows, there’s been some talent problems in the last half of the year, and there’s been 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 toward the end of the year 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 had set with Showtime before I got here and as the year went on it was clear that wasn’t going to happen.”

Whenever UFC President Dana White was asked about the Strikeforce situation, especially recently, he refused to talk about it. Espinoza was asked if there was some reason (i.e. Dana) Showtime could not get along with Zuffa. Espinoza denied it:

“Actually, let me take a little bit of issue with the question or with the assumption behind the question. The relationship was actually fine between Zuffa as a company and Showtime as a company. Dana has been pretty outspoken. He’s outspoken on everything. We know he’s passionate and 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 really hasn’t been 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.”

Espinoza was also asked if Zuffa was a “good” television partner? He said they were “good” — but that’s a pretty generic term considering Zuffa had already raided Strikeforce’s roster of some pretty major talent.

Here’s how Espinoza put it:

“They were… they were a good partner. The hesitation you hear is because 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 a lot of our talent was stripped out as part of the deal really created some challenges in sustaining the organization going forward. But having said that, I think we put on some very good events this year with some very good fighters as evidenced by the fact the UFC can’t wait to get their hands on them.”