The future looks grim for a match featuring Junior Dos Santos vs. Alistair Overeem at UFC 146. Though Overeem's failed drug test comes as no surprise to those who have followed him since his lanky K-1 days, the timing couldn't be much worse. Desperate fans have taken to lobbying via Twitter for journeyman Mark Hunt as a potential replacement to face Dos Santos (a rumor summarily quashed by UFC President Dana White.)
With the short list of suitable replacements looking very short indeed, a novel idea would be for White to sign Russian legend Fedor Emelianenko to challenge Dos Santos for the UFC heavyweight title. Given White's acrimonious history with Emelianenko's management, the possibility seems as unlikely to ever become a reality as it is intriguing, but there is real logic behind it. Considering White's promotional savvy and history of confounding expectations, one should never say never.
Here are five reasons why Dos Santos vs. Fedor actually makes a lot of sense.
Although Fedor's recent record may not seem to warrant an immediate UFC title shot, the determination of UFC contenders historically seems more academic than quantitative. From Forest Griffin and Brock Lesnar to Dan Hardy and more, many fan favorites have been given a fast track to the title shot as matchmakers strategically select the most marketable and stylistically interesting fighters from their pool of candidates.
While the UFC's "black box" title contention algorithm may not satisfy purists or statisticians, their fan-driven approach to matchmaking has paid off with record pay-per-view sales, and there's no question Dana White has done a great job selling fans the fights they want to see.
Whether you consider him the world's greatest or completely overrated, Fedor Emelianenko is without question responsible for some of the most exciting moments in mixed martial arts history. With a fearless style that keeps fans around the world on the edges of their seats, Emelianenko's star power gives him the unique leverage to repeatedly pass on a UFC contract and yet still maintain a lucrative fighting career.
Junior Dos Santos has more in common with Emelianenko than perhaps any other professional fighter. The Brazilian's jovial, everyman personality and sense of humility stands in ironic contrast to the reputation he has earned as the world's most feared heavyweight striker.
For a young sport still struggling with an image problem, a main event pairing two world-class fighters and exemplary sportsmen gives the UFC an opportunity to make inroads into markets their current brand cannot reach.
The recent departure of pay-per-view gold mine Brock Lesnar leaves a gaping hole in the UFC's heavyweight division. With main event regulars Shane Carwin and "Minotauro" Noguiera out due to injury and younger prospects Brendan Schaub and Matt Mitrione ostensibly out of contention due to recent losses, the UFC is short on any obvious choices for a replacement for Overeem.
The addition of Fedor Emelianenko to the UFC's heavyweight division not only gives Zuffa an instant replacement, but a monopoly on MMA's heavyweight superstars. Although Emelianenko is undersized compared to the UFC's heavyweights, he has made a career of fighting and beating bigger, stronger opponents (including two former UFC heavyweight champions, Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski.)
This spring's run of 12 consecutive weeks without a pay-per-view event represents the longest UFC pay-per-view drought in recent history. With The Ultimate Fighter TV ratings on a steady decline, the undoing of Dos Santos-vs.-Overeem threatens to slam the brakes on the UFC's summer momentum.
Meanwhile, Fedor Emelianenko has been training all spring, ostensibly in preparation for a tentative early summer match up with a yet-unnamed opponent from a short list of mid-tier fighters. After three consecutive losses in Strikeforce—the first of his career—Emelianenko's two most recent victories show improvement upon his exciting but arguably reckless style.
At a time when MMA is getting most of its publicity for the wrong reasons (see: TRT, pro wrestling,) the addition of Emelianenko to UFC 146 would bring much-needed appeal and instant legitimacy to the event.
Since walking away from tedious and protracted negotiations with Emelianenko's management two years ago, White has gone on the record to remind the world just how overrated he believes the Russian fighter always was. In considering Emelianenko as a last-minute replacement for Overeem, therefore, White may seem to be faced with a dilemma and risk looking like a hypocrite.
As a savvy business promoter, however, White probably knows he can't lose. If Dos Santos wins, White was right about Emelianenko all along. But, conversely, if Fedor manages to upset Dos Santos, the world's greatest is now the exclusive property of Zuffa, LLC.
Either way, there's no risk here for Zuffa. Everyone wins.