Strikeforce rule changes; Jake Shields' future, more MMA notes
Strikeforce implemented a new cage-entry policy after last month's Nashville brawl
Jake Shields, who is coveted by UFC, hasn't discussed a new Strikeforce contract
Ricardo Mayorga and Din Thomas were paid despite their fight being canceled
The last time Strikeforce set up shop, Jason Miller closed out the show in Nashville, Tenn., underneath a pile of fighters inside one very cramped cage. Lesson learned: Brawling on CBS is fine, so long as it's not five on one.
"The days of having all your entourage in there and people storming the cage, that's not going to happen," Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker said after an incident-free Saturday night in St. Louis, where Alistair Overeem won in his first fight in the United States since 2007. "What you saw in Nashville will never happen again in Strikeforce."
Recognizing the need to act in the wake of a sharp rebuke from fans and media after the unfortunate postfight scrap on April 17, Strikeforce set about putting into place a plan aimed at limiting the chances of something like that happening again. Coker brought together his staff, building security, officials from the Missouri Office of Athletics and representatives from Showtime for a series of meetings, the last of which happened the Thursday before the event, to make sure his words were met with action.
The company's new cage-entry policy -- one cornerman, cutman and translator, if necessary, per fighter are allowed inside -- worked Saturday, as the large cage remained virtually empty after each bout on the card.
Strikeforce officials attempted to hammer home the changes to fighters during Friday's rules meeting.
"We said these are the rules and regulations and that's it," Coker said.
Coker conceded that no matter how strong the policy, there's no guarantee it will keep people in line: "You can take as mayn precautions as you want, but who would know that Paul Daley is going to punch Josh Koscheck 10 seconds after the bell when they're supposed to shake hands?"
"Here's the thing," he said, "the scrutiny was so high form the last situation because mixed martial arts is such a new sport. I really believe if it happens in boxing, no one says anything. It happens in football, baseball, hockey, but it's accepted as part of the culture of sport. But in MMA, if it happens you're under the light because those guys are cage fighters. It could throw back the sport five years if you're not careful. To me, it's not just about fighting; it's the evolution of martial arts combat. You hate for something like that to happen and take away from what the real focus should be on, which is the fighters and matchups and beauty of the sport."
Overeem, the subject of steroids speculation, was tested along with the other fighters last Friday in St. Louis. Now it's a matter of waiting for two sets of results -- one from the Missouri Office of Athletics (expected by Wednesday) and another from Strikeforce, which hired an independent lab to test its fighters for the first time.
MOA Administrator Tim Leuckenhoff told SI.com that results would not be made available unless a case is filed with the Administrative Hearing Commission, at which point it will be public record.
Coker said the decision to test in St. Louis is the first and not the last time Strikeforce will ask fighters to submit to additional screening in areas without a legitimate program. The move puts Strikeforce in line with the UFC, which implemented similar measures in 2007.
"I think it's the right thing to do because it leaves no room for speculation," Coker said. "Then the playing field is even. Fighters will know that any state that they come to, they're going to get tested if there's no commission testing, or if the commission is randomly testing, we're going to test too. These guys are all OK with it."
Should a fighter test positive, Coker said Strikeforce would ask for counsel from respected commissions to determine "what is a normal fine, a normal suspension. That's probably what we'll do. We're not just going to slap them on the wrist. That part has to go out of the sport. As much as that was talked about leading into the fight, it takes away from the athletes. These guys are amazing athletes. These guys suffer to train and be mixed martial arts fighters. The accusations take away from all the hard work and they focus on the controversy and not athletic ability."
If Strikeforce has any intent on re-signing Jake Shields, it may want to call his manager. The Strikeforce middleweight champion's camp has not discussed a new contract with his promoter since dominating Dan Henderson during a five-round decision last month.
"The time is ticking," Shields' father and manager, Jack, said Monday. "We'd like to move forward as soon as possible. I'd like to be negotiating right now."
Jack Shields said he was told by Strikeforce that its ambitious schedule of four events in six weeks was getting in the way of "serious negotiations" and that he would hear from them this week.
Yet one source with knowledge of Strikeforce's thinking regarding the 31-year-old Shields told SI.com that the promotion has discussed releasing him outright before an exclusive negotiating period concludes three weeks from now. Once that expires, Strikeforce would also have the ability to match any offer made on Shields, whose 25-4-1 record features 14 consecutive wins since 2004.
"Can I guarantee that we won't release him? No, I can't," Coker said when asked about cutting Shields. "It depends on how the last two or three weeks of negotiation go. I won't be able to answer until negotiations are over. Is it a possibility? It's a possibility. If we're not going to be in the Jake Shields business, let's just move on. That's how I feel. This is a business. Jake has a career and a life and it's not fair to him. But Jake is a guy we've appreciated having him as part of the family."
Shields, whose championship-clause-free contract was picked up last year when Strikeforce purchased assets from ProElite, is coveted by the UFC. Should Shields, as it appears likely, depart Strikeforce, the promotion will need to establish a new title holder while maintaining some sense of validity to the belt.
Coker is open to crowning a new champion through an eight-man tournament, which is plausible since middleweight is Strikeforce's deepest division featuring well-worn commodities to new prospects. However, others inside the company weren't so enthusiastic about the concept.
For now, both sides are in a holding pattern until Strikeforce and Shields move forward.
"Jake has worked really hard for 11 years," his father said. "When he got in the sport, there wasn't any money. One time he fought in a tent, another time he fought in a barn. He did it for the love of the sport, but he's worked really hard at it and I'd like to see him do well [financially]."
Shine Fights failed to meet its obligations as a promoter, prompting the cancellation of Saturday's Ricardo Mayorga-Din Thomas pay-per-view main event, North Carolina Boxing Authority's Terrance Merriweather told SI.com.
The regulatory body charged with overseeing Shine Fights' card in Fayetteville, N.C., on Saturday said it became necessary to cancel the event after it was "apparent that Shine fights would not be able to meet North Carolina Boxing Authority requirements," including depositing the sum of all the fighters' purses into a bank account two hours before the event, and providing for a ringside physician.
Confusion dominated the upstart promotion the week leading up to the fight. With the company's CEO, Devin Price, forced to remain in Florida to contend with an injunction filed by Don King Productions over the promotional rights to Mayorga, details in North Carolina apparently went unattended.
Price said he "may have been alerted" to the need to make fighter purses available in a bank account the Friday before the event. "It was sprung on me last minute," he said. "If I had known before, this would have been dealt with a long time ago."
Merriweather said Shine representatives were "very aware of what we required well before the event on Saturday. We actually sent things out, corresponded with them in e-mails so they know ... what's required by the Boxing Authority by 6 p.m. that day."
North Carolina, according to officials, attempted to work with Shine by pushing back the start time. "We thought we had a work-around on Saturday," Price said. But that disappeared after the ringside physician hired by Shine canceled the afternoon of the event, and a new doctor from a North Carolina-approved list did not arrive until it was too late.
"The issue was I could not get to North Carolina soon enough because of extraordinary circumstances since I was tied up in court," Price said. "My counsel asked the judge to let me leave and he wouldn't let me leave."
As Price boarded a plane to Fayetteville on Saturday, he received a call notifying him that North Carolina had pulled the plug.
"This is rare," Merriweather said. "My understanding is Mr. Price was tied up in Florida dealing with other issues."
Said Price: "We have things worked out with the fighters. I wish not to release that information. All I'm going to say is the fighters will be taken care of. Quite frankly, a lot of promoters in this situation would just cut and run. We made no money, clearly. We're really on the losing end of this. But I feel it's still important to take care of fighters regardless. That's what's so frustrating: They canceled the show yet we're still paying out the fighters.
"This is not the death of us. We started looking forward."
North Carolina, which through the middle of May regulated some 70 amateur and professional MMA cards in 2010, welcomed Shine Fights to promote in the state "as long as all the requirements are met."
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