UFC's absorption of Strikeforce well underway

Ever since Zuffa announced its surprise acquisition of Strikeforce back in March, the MMA community has essentially been standing vigil, wondering aloud how long it would be before the UFC moved to pull the plug and officially fold the smaller organization into its ranks.

Not sure what we’re waiting for, exactly. A press release? An official time of death? Strikeforce to begin literally selling the office furniture, like IFL executives did before that league shuttered its doors in 2008?

In reality, while we all sit poised for some kind of dramatic conclusion, the end could come much more quietly for Strikeforce. Even as the company unflinchingly prepares to hold the semifinal round of its heavyweight grand prix tournament next weekend in Ohio and as promotional officials steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that anything might be amiss, it’s getting harder and harder to ignore the fact that the UFC’s absorption of Strikeforce has already begun.

As soon as Dan Henderson and Alistair Overeem actually get around to putting pen to paper on the Zuffa paperwork, it will mean the UFC has softly suckered away three of Strikeforce’s five male champions during the last few months. We already know that Nick Diaz will fight Georges St. Pierre later this year and though Henderson and Overeem officially remain unsigned, reports out this week indicate Overeem is already talking with Las Vegas-area gyms about moving his training camp there to prepare for his Octagon debut, and that Hendo was at least briefly considered for the main event for the UFC’s upcoming network television debut.

As former Strikeforce PR Director Mike Afromowitz told Sherdog.com this week: The writing is on the wall.

Once the UFC has Henderson and Overeem, what’s left to do? Not much, other than scoop up Gilbert Melendez, Ronaldo Souza and any other stragglers the big show thinks might be useful as their contracts come due. Melendez signed a new “multi-fight” deal with Strikeforce in February, but is scheduled to complete the second bout on it against Jorge Masvidal on Dec. 17. Souza, far and away the quietest of Strikeforce’s titlists, will take on Luke Rockhold next weekend in Cincinnati. In other words, it won’t be long now.

And, in fact, this is exactly how they told us it would go. All along, the UFC has said it would wait for fighters’ Strikeforce contracts to lapse and then negotiate with them one by one. Perhaps a climactic mass exodus like the one we saw with the WEC in January was never in the cards here. Maybe it was even a little naive of us to think that at some point, UFC brass would throw up their hands and say, “You got us, we’re closing Strikeforce.”

At some point, certainly, the other shoe will drop on the smaller promotion. You could argue it has already outlived its usefulness to Zuffa, so eventually the shades will get pulled down, a press release will be issued and retrospective pieces will be written. At this stage, though, it’s starting to look like the end will be a slow grind rather than a smokey burnout.

Who knows, perhaps right up until the day the pink slips are issued, Strikeforce officials will continue to insist they’re still going to find a fight for Cristiane Santos, that they’re still “in talks” with Henderson and that they’re just waiting for the “right timing” to crown new champions in the heavyweight, light heavyweight and welterweight divisions.

Somehow, that would seem strangely appropriate.