Ever since UFC bought out PRIDE in March 2007, discussion began on whether the consensus top heavyweight in the world, Fedor Emelianenko, would eventually sign with Dana White and UFC. Nearly two years later, Fedor has yet to show any indication of signing such a contract.
After reading various interviews and other articles on this subject, I thought I would offer my take on the Fedor-UFC situation. While there are obvious benefits to Fedor signing exclusively with UFC, I don't see them outweighing the reasons against it happening.
Benefits of a Fedor-UFC Signing
UFC Gains Fedor - The most obvious pro in the entire situation would be UFC, the world's No. 1 mixed martial arts promotion, bringing in the long-recognized world's top heavyweight. While UFC has always had a robust 205-pound division, has superstars in Anderson Silva at 185 and Georges St. Pierre at 170, and a strong 155-pound division, the UFC's heavyweight division has often been criticized as weak. Bringing in Fedor would erase any doubts that UFC has the best heavyweights in the world. Depending on who wins the Mir-Lesnar unification bout, Fedor could instantly contend for the UFC championship. A Fedor-Lesnar matchup, either for the belt or not, would be one of the biggest fights ever promoted. Fedor could face Couture in a battle of two legends. No matter how much Dana White would pay Fedor to come, the revenue from a fight would more than make up for it.
Fedor Gets the UFC Machine Behind Him - Despite being the top heavyweight in the world for the past six years, Fedor remains relatively unknown in the United States. His last two wins against former UFC Champions Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski in Affliction have helped his notoriety, but he still is nowhere near as popular as UFC stars such as Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, and Anderson Silva. If Fedor were to come into the UFC, there is no doubt that the UFC promotional machine would make him a star. No matter who he faces in his debut, the matchup would no doubt be given a UFC Primetime series, much like the recent Penn-GSP fight received.
Fedor Can Win the UFC Title - No matter the criticism of the division, the UFC Heavyweight Title is still the most coveted heavyweight championship in MMA. After Fedor faces Josh Barnett, there are no top heavyweights outside the UFC for him to face. If Fedor were to vacate his WAMMA Title (which, even with Fedor holding it, does not have the legitimacy or history of the UFC Title) and win the UFC Title, any doubts to Fedor's legacy would be erased.
Reasons Against a Fedor-UFC Signing
Exclusive UFC Contracts - A previous sticking point in UFC-Fedor contract negotiations has been UFC's insistence on exclusive contracts. Unlike Fedor's current Affliction contract, or even his PRIDE contract, UFC ensures that their fighters only fight for them. Fedor's managers have publicly stated that Fedor wants to continue doing sambo competitions, something that would be banned in a UFC contract. Fedor would also be unable to fight overseas, especially in Japan on New Year's Eve, something he has done five of the past six years.
Money Demands - While actual complete fighter pay is never divulged by companies, it is believed that Fedor signed a contract with Affliction with a $3 million signing bonus. His fight with BodogFight gained him over a $1 million, and his PRIDE contract was quite lucrative. Dana White has built UFC on reasonable pay for fighters. While no one is sure of bonuses top UFC fighters receive, such as a share of the pay-per-view revenue, a typical fight purse for a star is never more than $350,000. This is nowhere near the money Fedor has demanded and received from other promotions. The failure of promotions that Fedor has been in does not matter to him. There is always another promotion that is willing to pay him what he demands, given his iconic status.
America - UFC is an American company that runs American shows, outside of a few trips to Canada and Europe every year. While Dana White has talked about expansion into Japan, there are no immediate plans. Fedor built his reputation in Japan and is a beloved figure in Japan and other parts of Europe and Asia. While he is popular in America, he likely knows he will never reach the iconic status he has in other parts of the world. Additionally, Fedor's simple life in Russia makes a move to America unappealing. While Fedor could still train in Russia and come to America for fights, the higher promotional demands of a UFC fighter would constantly take him away from home.
UFC Doesn't Need Fedor - UFC has built itself as the clear No. 1 MMA company without Fedor. They have a potential new heavyweight superstar in Brock Lesnar. Fans are unfamiliar enough with Fedor that his absence from UFC does not affect popular opinion of the company. UFC has a solid fanbase and great depth in almost all their divisions. One fighter will not affect their success that greatly.
Fedor Doesn't Need UFC - Fedor has built a reputation as the greatest heavyweight of all time without ever setting foot into the Octagon. He could retire now and maintain a legacy unlike any other fighter. He has a virtually undefeated record and has beat five former UFC champions. Given what appears to be a basic lifestyle in Russia, he has plenty of money to retire on. He can continue fighting in Japan and maintain his iconic status with any fight he takes.
Overall, it seems unlikely that Fedor will ever sign with UFC. Simply put, neither side really needs each other for success. As fans, though, let's continue to hope that a deal can be reached so we can finally see Fedor inside the Octagon.
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