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Showtime Sports executive reveals fight plans

June 26, 2010 |  4:22 pm
As Showtime's vice president of sports programming, Ken Hershman is tasked with juggling the best interests of both forms of combat sports: boxing and mixed martial arts.

In the hours before Hershman's network presents a major Strikeforce MMA card with renowned heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko fighting a main event against Fabricio Werdum, the executive met The Times at a downtown San Jose hotel to discuss his premium cable network's fighting schedule.

-- As for Emelianenko, who after the Wedrum fight has one match  remaining on his Strikeforce contract, Hershman said it's too early to address the Russian's likely next fight against Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem, except to note San Jose's passionate fan base makes the city's HP Pavilion the front-runner to land that bout. 

-- What role will Hershman play in Strikeforce's attempts to retain Emelianenko after the fighter briefly held out for money?

"It's important we try to keep him," Hershman said. "He's the most important fighter in the world of MMA, clearly the best fighter out there. There'll be a lot of competition for his services, though, and we won't be irresponsible in our effort to keep him. But we will do everything in our power to make it happen."

-- How does Hershman feel about the most obvious knock on Strikeforce, that the company's stable of fighters is too thin?

Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker "is doing a good job building the base, running big and small shows [16 planned for the next year] and securing talent as he can," Hershman said. "There are some good young fighters there, with Tim Kennedy and Tyrone Woodley, and [light-heavyweight champ Muhammed] "King Mo" [Lawal] is getting attention."

The network's challenger series is another effort to increase exposure for Strikeforce's young signees.

As for boxing, Hershman announced he's struck a deal to place Showtime fighter and former two-division world champion Rafael Marquez (39-5, 35 KOs) against world featherweight champion Juan Manuel Lopez (28-0, 25 KOs) -- provided Puerto Rico's Lopez beats Bernabe Concepcion on July 10 in Puerto Rico.

The Marquez-Lopez bout is scheduled for Sept. 18 -- Mexican Independence Day weekend -- at MGM Grand in Las Vegas, as Mexico's Marquez fights for the first time since defeating Israel Vazquez in May in the capper of their four-fight series at Staples Center.

"It's a good fight for Lopez," said his promoter, Bob Arum. "There'll definitely be a big crowd."

Hershman is also presiding over the super-middleweight "Super Six" tournament, which will enter its third and final stage of fights beginning Sept. 25 with Mikkel Kessler vs. Allan Green in Europe and Andre Ward vs. Andre Dirrell at a location to be determined, possibly Las Vegas.

The unbeaten Ward is the only member of the "Super Six" to have clinched a semifinal berth in the tournament. The others, except the winless Green, can continue with a victory.

The remaining bout will be Carl Froch vs. Arthur Abraham Oct. 2 in Monaco, Hershman told The Times.

Since the point totals are so tight, Hershman reminded fight fans the tiebreakers will be decided like this: 1) head-to-head result; 2) total knockouts; 3) most round points.

-- Lance Pugmire