As pundits, fans, and MMA insiders debate why UFC decided to sign James Toney to a five-fight contract on Wednesday, Yahoo Sports writer Dave Meltzer speculated on the reasoning behind on move last night on his radio show:
“Strikeforce was negotiating or at least Dana (White) was under the impression that Strikeforce was negotiating a Herschel Walker/James Toney fight for CBS most likely, perhaps for PPV. And so he decided that I will outbid them and ruin that fight. So I think that’s what that’s all about because the key to me is that they’re letting [Toney] box. I mean, like if [UFC] had any you know thoughts that this guy was really valuable to them, they weren’t going to sign him to a non-exclusive contract. They’ve never signed anyone to a non-exclusive contract and they signed him to a non-exclusive contract. I mean, to me, that tells me it’s not really something that you know that they’re dying to have him as much as you know they don’t want the opposition to have something that you know may click, you know, there may be… it’s possible that you know you put that fight on CBS, maybe there will be curiosity and maybe it will do a rating and maybe CBS would go, “You know what? There’s something to this MMA and we’re going to run four shows a year and we’re going to get in this game big.” And you know CBS is a big enough company to where if they really want to get in, it can cause headaches for Dana White so I think that their idea is… I think that everything they’re doing right now is to try and make sure that you know even if it costs them short-term money that they widdle down the CBS rating or keep the CBS ratings low enough to where CBS is not gung-ho on this and not thinking that this is you know that this anything big to them and doesn’t fully get behind them and just kind of goes like “Well, maybe we’ll do a special” and then you know they get one or two with bad ratings and they just go, “Well, it didn’t work,” because the ratings aren’t through the roof by any means, you know no matter what anyone tries to spin.
“In fact, they’re bad ratings, although they do decently well in you know males 18-34, they do decently well in that but it isn’t that great, you know, I mean it’s not like a normal hot television show won’t beat it. You know, it’ll beat those shows that they have because they’re not aimed at that demo, but you know I mean it’s still you know some of the lowest-rated programming that they have on, first-run programming, so I think that this is all part of that and yeah, Dana White is looking to do a live show on April 17th. I don’t that they’re going to do it. He said today that it was “maybe” they would do it. You know and there’s a lot of talk of you know Wanderlei Silva and Yoshihiro Akiyama as the main event on that show and the thing there is like, OK, they go head-to-head, they will lose to the CBS show and they know that they will lose and some people will go, “Well, God, look at that! UFC lost!” and I think that their mentality is like, well if we lose but the CBS show does like a 2.1 rating, CBS is still going to be squeamish about “Do we really want to do this show again with a 2.1 rating?” So if they widdle down the rating a little bit, then it’s a win even though they will lose on the night and they will lose.
“And then in retaliation you know, Strikeforce is now looking at maybe moving. If they run the 17th, then Strikeforce may move to the 24th and that means that they’ve got a free special with three championship matches going against a PPV from WEC that’s unproven on PPV and they can hurt WEC if they make that move so it’s an interesting chess game going on right now and that’s really what this is all about.”
The chess match happening between UFC and Strikeforce is one that may consist of a lot of pyrrhic victories. HBO has two big boxing fights on the 17th (Edison Miranda vs. Lucian Bute (in Montreal) and Kelly Pavlik vs. Sergio Martinez (in Atlantic City). The next weekend on the 24th, Showtime will have two major boxing fights of their own as part of the Super Six tournament (Carl Froch vs. Mikkel Kessler (in Denmark) and Allan Green vs. Andre Ward (in Oakland). It’s unlikely that Showtime would be pleased with a fight show airing on CBS on the same weekend as the Showtime boxing matches.
Regarding the concept of Strikeforce running on the 24th to cause damage to the WEC debut PPV… that would be a waste of time. The WEC PPV will struggle to draw a big buy rate, even with Urijah Faber vs. Jose Aldo on top of the card as the main event. Plus, getting into a war with WEC is exactly what UFC would like to see happen. It would, image-wise, make Strikeforce look like a minor-league promotion going against Zuffa’s second-tier Trojan horse promotion. In other words, UFC would welcome a fight where hardcore fight fans would have to pick between Urijah Faber on PPV versus Jake Shields on free television. Faber is a star in Mixed Martial Arts. We don’t know how many people will actually pay to watch him, but the fans that want to see him will pay to do so and they won’t care that a Strikeforce show is on CBS.