Are UFC Fight Nights the new Strikeforce Challengers?
From 2009- 2011, Strikeforce Challengers showcased the up-and-coming talent in the roster and was usually headlined with well-developed fighters from their regular roster. The less-experienced fighters were appearing on a large-scale event and were hungry to make an impression.
Zuffa, parent company of the UFC, acquired Strikeforce in mid-2011, and initially planned to keep the promotion running independently, including the Challengers series. When this was announced, one of the assumptions from the MMA media was that Strikeforce as a promotion would be a feeder league into the UFC. Essentially, the entire Strikeforce brand would be turned into a Challengers of sorts for the UFC.
In November of 2011, the last Strikeforce Challengers event was held. Many thought this confirmed the notion that Strikeforce was now transitioning to UFC feeder league. This was helped by a small number of Strikeforce figthers that were already moving into the larger promotion.
Eventually, of course, the UFC just absorbed Strikeforce, giving many of it’s fighters contracts and releasing the rest. Along with it’s earlier acquisition of the WEC, the UFC roster was larger than ever.
One of the issues many have with current UFC events is that developed stars are becoming harder to come by, and because of that people are not as engaged in the backstories of the fighters on non-PPV UFC cards. UFC Fight Nights have always served a dual purpose as showcase for an interesting main event while giving exposure to less-known talent and providing excitement prior to a pay-per-view event.
Tonight’s UFC Fight Night 35, from Duluth, Georgia, contains several strong matches, and certainly will deliver a great deal of action. But it does feature many lesser-known fighters and a main event that might otherwise headline the prelims of a PPV card, but probably couldn’t rise much above that level, which is not to say it won’t be a great fight, just that the isn’t what you’d call a high profile bout.
In other words, tonight’s card would be a perfect “UFC Challengers” series event.