Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) beware.
Strikeforce is breathing down the company's neck in the race for supremacy of the fastest-growing sport in the country, mixed martial arts (MMA).
In a colossal sports television deal that could have huge ramifications on the MMA landscape, San Jose-based Strikeforce recently purchased the assets of the defunct EliteXC and plans to air MMA events on Showtime and its broadcast partner CBS.
EliteXC folded after it's biggest star Kimbo Slice, a bulky street fighter who the company unofficially marketed as the second-coming of Mike Tyson, was KO'd by a replacement fighter on national television in 14 seconds.
The first Showtime show is scheduled for April 11 and will feature legendary cage fighter Frank Shamrock, 36, the first ever UFC middleweight champion, crowned in the 1990s.
The multi-year agreement calls for Showtime to produce and televise up to 16 live events per year.
"We are very excited to have the opportunity to deliver live Strikeforce events on the Showtime premium television platform," said Scott Coker, founder and CEO of Strikeforce.
The Mexican-American Shamrock, who was born Frank Juarez, before taking the name of his adoptive father Bob Shamrock, will battle Nick Diaz, 25, a rising star in the emerging sport.
With the national exposure of Showtime, Shamrock and Diaz are likely to become the faces of the Strikeforce, a company that has enjoyed success in California's Bay Area.
Shamrock exudes charisma and is probably the sport's best self-marketer. He was a UFC original, winning titles in the 1990s, long before UFC's meteoric rise this decade, and combines multiple fighting disciplines. He pummeled another UFC legend, Tito Ortiz, to win his first championship.
Diaz is known for his soft demeanor, but short fuse and knockout power.
The two have a compelling back-story that will help fuel emotions heading into the fight.
Shamrock soundly defeated Diaz' boyhood trainer, Cesar Gracie, in a stinging 21-second loss at San Jose's HP Pavilion in 2006.
"I'd be pretty pissed off if someone smashed my coach," said the brash Shamrock, in a Strikeforce media release.
"He's gonna be carrying the pride of his school with him, but a fight's a fight. Someone's getting smashed and it's just not going to be me."
Diaz said he's ready for the opportunity and isn't intimidated by Shamrock's legacy.
"Frank and I have always lived in a 100 mile radius of each other and, when I got into this (sport), the people around here were all about Frank Shamrock, so I turned around and walked the other way," Diaz said.
"I've crossed paths and trained with people who have also trained with Frank. I know what they do, how they fight, and the way they act, so it's great for me to get this fight while I'm still young. There's a lot of things I can talk about, but I'm going to represent Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and I'm down for whatever's going to happen in this fight."
In another major fight on the card, Scott "Hands of Steel" Smith and Benji "Razor" Radach will battle.
Tickets for "Shamrock vs. Diaz," priced from $30, go on sale to the general public on Monday, February 23, at 10 a.m. PST at the HP Pavilion ticket office (408-287-7070) as well as at all Ticketmaster locations (408-998-TIXS), Ticketmaster online, and Strikeforce's official website.
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