Slamming The Door Or Clever Tactic? Emelianenko Signs Strikeforce Deal

StingerCContributor IAugust 3, 2009

NEW YORK - JANUARY 20:  Fedor Vladimirovich Emelianenko, heavyweight mixed martial artist and current World Alliance of Mixed Martial Arts heavyweight champion rings the NASDAQ opening bell at NASDAQ in Times Square on January 20, 2009 in New York City.  (Photo by Joe Corrigan/Getty Images)

I, like a host of other MMA fans, were shocked and surprised with this morning's announcement that Fedor Emelianenko and Strikeforce had signed a multiple fight deal. 

As I sat and tried to digest this two thoughts came to my head; either this was the dumbest, most egregious slap in the face and bridge burning insult ever affronted to Dana White and the UFC or simply the shrewdest move in MMA history, garnering the exposure that fighting in a promotion that is beamed free of charged to millions of homes across America, thus solidifying his status as the best heavyweight in the world and making himself a more desired asset for the UFC.

I was sorely disappointed when Dana White announced that the big signing that had occurred as a result of the demise of Affliction was Tito Ortiz. Nothing against Tito, who's a fantastic competitor and a legend in the sport, but the big prize in the folding of that company was that Emelianenko.  The news that he no longer was tied to any promotion in the US sent a rush of excitement around the blogsphere about the possibility of man considered by many as the best pound for pound fighter in the world finally making his way to the most successful promotion in the world. 

I watched in disappointment as negotiations sputtered and stalled, as rumors of Emelianenko's reluctance to sign a deal he saw as restricting. 

Last week however, was a awash with a flutter of news. It seemed that the UFC and Emelianenko had finally gotten passed the larger differences and that at a news conference scheduled for Friday Dana White would triumphantly announced the signing of the Last Emperor and an immediately book the much awaited fight with UFC Heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar to the delight of MMA enthusiast everywhere. Boy, were we in for disappointment. 

As White began to divulge the details of the failure to reach an agreement, it became apparent that the UFC reluctance to co-promote events with M-1, the European based promotion that represents Emelianenko, was the deal breaker.  

White, who for a long time had been cast as the bad guy in the picture, appeared to be genuinely disappointed of the UFC's failure to sign Emelianenko and had a justifiable reason to why this had occurred. Even the most die-hard fans of Emelianenko would see how ludicrous it would be for the UFC to allow a rival promotion to cut in on it's action just to sign one guy, even if that man is Emelianenko. 

While die-hard fans were beginning to ponder what over the hill ex champ the UFC would manage to unretire and suit up so Lesnar could pounce on while the younger, promising talent in the division matured into legitimate contenders, a bomb went off.

This morning second banana promotion Strikeforce had managed to do what the UFC could not, land Emelianenko. If the news made me do a double take, I could only imagine what it did to the notoriously short tempered White. 

A mere three days after he had to tell the world about how close he had come to landing the biggest fish in the MMA world, he had to sit back and watch a lesser promotion snatch him up once more. 

This makes me wonder, does Emelianko have something personal against White and the UFC? Did they insult him in some way? Is it something about the UFC being unabashedly American that insults the extremely patriotic Emelianenko's Russian sensibility? 

Is the otherwise seemingly nice and quiet Emelianeko secretly a jerk and a bully who enjoys baiting and taunting White and the UFC? Did he want to slam the door shut, then weld it for good measure, on ever being on the Octagon? 

As all these things came to mind, something else occurred to me. Maybe it was just another clever attempt by a man who is by most accounts extremely clever go gain more leverage for the future. 

Although Strikeforce lacks the prestige and credibility the UFC has with MMA fans, it does have something the UFC does not. A deal to transmit it's premiere events to a wider audience. 

Even though the UFC has been doing record business of late and it's constant presence on cable with shows like The Ultimate Fighter, the UFC still uses Pay-Per-View as a primary source of income. 

Strikeforce transmits it's fights on Showtime, a channel that is packaged as part of series of premium movie channels millions of Americans get as part of their cable service. What this deal could eventually do for Emelianenko is expose him to millions of people who would regularly would not see him. 

The UFC gets great numbers in pay-per-view because it has a proven track record and loyal following, despite this, millions of other Americans would not fork over the 49+ dollars every UFC event costs. 

With Emelianenko on board, Showtime now has a bonafied star on it's roster and will promote it as such, and unlike the Kimbo Slice debacle, it can actually count on him not loosing to some no name journeyman. 

Potentially this deal can garner a huge amount of exposure for Emelianenko. Think of HBO and a young Mike Tyson circa the late 80's, when through a series of highly publicized matches on cable, Tyson went from being a well-known champion to a media sensation.

Dana White might feel slighted now, but if it all pans out right, and in a year or two Emelianenko is a household name to most Americans and has received a gigantic amount of exposure, I'm sure White will come to the table offering a blank slate to Emelianenko. 

As we have seen, White has been willing to let slights and insults against him be bygones if in the end it can better the UFC.