Multiple sources confirmed to Yahoo! Sports Thursday that Zuffa has reached a deal with Showtime to end the Strikeforce promotion sometime early in 2013, a move that will bring superstar Ronda Rousey into the UFC.
Neither UFC president Dana White nor UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta could be reached for comment on Strikeforce's demise, which was first reported Thursday by TMZ. Chris DeBlasio, a spokesman for Showtime, which has broadcast Strikeforce events since 2009, declined comment.
The plan is for the promotion to fold after a Jan. 12 card in Oklahoma City, in which all of the Strikeforce men's champions will defend their belts. A source stressed that nothing has been signed and, thus, things could change.
That, however, appears unlikely, given the frequently rocky relationship between White and Showtime officials. Folding the promotion into the UFC would also follow Zuffa's pattern.
Zuffa purchased Strikeforce from Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment in March 2011, reportedly for more than $40 million. Given that Zuffa had previously purchased competitors PRIDE, World Fighting Alliance and World Extreme Cagefighting and merged them into the UFC, speculation mounted almost instantly about Strikeforce's future.
Strikeforce cards in September and November were canceled as the tensions between the sides heated.
Rousey and UFC president Dana White (Getty Images)
White told Yahoo! Sports late last month that Rousey, Strikeforce's bantamweight champion, would fight in the UFC one day, a statement that marked an abrupt change of position. White had previously said there weren't enough quality women to form a division in the UFC and that he saw no sense doing what he termed "one-off" fights.
But Rousey, an Olympic bronze medalist in judo who has become a sensation with her meteoric rise in MMA, changed his mind. He said he was blown away by Rousey's ability to both fight and promote.
"Look, I know a lot of people are going to say we're doing this because she's pretty. But [ex-Strikeforce star] Gina [Carano] was pretty, too. Ronda is a whole other story. She's nasty. She's a real fighter. She not only likes to win, she likes to finish. Think about this: Everyone she fights knows what is coming, that armbar of hers, and no one can stop it. They have a whole [expletive] training camp to prepare for that one move and nobody has been able to stop it yet.
"People who are nasty and technically sound and have that attitude, I love them. She's an Olympic medalist and she's got a great history, but she's in the gym all the time. She's a dude in a girl's body. She loves to beat the [expletive] out of people and she's serious about getting better. She's not saying, 'I'm the champ and I've beaten everyone in the first round,' and taking a victory tour. She's up there in Stockton working with the Diaz brothers, trying to get better."
Details are sparse about how the merger will work and when Strikeforce fighters will begin appearing on UFC cards.
White, though, likes to do things in a major way and it wouldn't be a shock to see Rousey defend her belt in February in Las Vegas on the UFC's annual Super Bowl weekend card. That's one of the company's biggest shows of the year and, given that Rousey hasn't fought since defeating Sarah Kaufman on Aug. 18, would be a perfect launching point for her career.
Whether she will be the first woman to actually fight in the cage is questionable. When Strikeforce ends, the UFC will assume the contracts of its women's fighters. White told Yahoo! Sports last month that women such as ex-champions Miesha Tate and Cris "Cyborg" Santos and Sara McMann, a wrestling silver medalist at the 2004 Olympics, would also fight in the UFC.
Other elite fighters in Strikeforce who would be headed to the UFC include heavyweight Daniel Cormier, middleweight champion Luke Rockhold, lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez and welterweight champion Nate Marquardt. Melendez is rated seventh in the current Yahoo! Sports pound-for-pound ratings.
Several fighters took to social media Thursday evening to comment. Tate wrote on Twitter, "So Stoked to be fighting for the @ufc it's been a dream of mine for along time! SO happy it's finally come true:-D" UFC middleweight contender Brian Stann also seemed to tweet confirmation of the news.