For the better part of the past two weeks, the big question surrounding members of the Mixed Martial Arts community and fans alike has been, “Where will Fedor wind up?”
Fedor Emelianenko, the man regarded by many as the top heavyweight fighter in the world was scheduled to compete on August 1 in the main event of Affliction: Trilogy against Josh Barnett. In the days after it was announced that Barnett would not be granted a license by the California State Athletic Commission for failing a urine test which showed traces of a banned substance, the news came down the event was going to be cancelled altogether.
Affliction, who had co-promoted the event with M-1 Global, signed a deal with the Ultimate Fighting Championship to become one of their main sponsors, thus closing its doors as a promotional entity. This left Emelianenko and his management team at M-1 Global on the outside looking in.
The talk around the water cooler amongst MMA fans for several days was on the fate of Emelianenko. Would he finally be heading to the UFC to face their top heavyweight in Brock Lesnar? Will he be heading back overseas to resume his career? Does Strikeforce, the small but strong MMA promotion based out of San Jose, California have a chance to sign the powerful Russian heavyweight?
After days of negotiating between M-1 Global and UFC President Dana White, a deal seemed about as close as it ever had been. UFC made concesions on many levels. According to an article by Yahoo Sports Kevin Iole, UFC’s proposed deal allowed Emelianenko to continue to compete in the Russian sport of combat sambo, offered to pay him more than he’s ever made which was between $3-$6 million depending on the success of his pay-per-view appearances, was willing to allow him to advertise M-1 on the fight shorts and apparel he wore along with the banner his cornermen brought with him to the cage.
In the end, what kept Emelianenko from competing inside the octagon was his manager Vladimir Finkelchtein, who is also the president and co-owner of the M-1 Global company, insisting that the two sides be full promotional partners.
If I was in the position of the UFC I would have walked away from the table as well. Considering the fact that UFC is the biggest promotion in MMA with most of the worlds top fighters, it made no sense for them to essentially give away half their company.
The failure to land a deal opened the door for Strikeforce, a strong and respected promotion in the North American MMA market but a distant number two behind the UFC powerhouse. Monday it was announced by Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker, that Emelianenko had signed a multi-fight deal which would have him headlining multiple events co-promoted by both M-1 Global and Strikeforce. Emelianenko is scheduled to be making his debut some time this fall against a yet to be determined opponent.
The deal is undoubtedly huge for Strikeforce who has a contract to air their events on Showtime as well as options to air events on network television through CBS. Fedor is already a huge name amongst the die hard MMA fans and now Strikeforce has the opportunity to give him exposure to build his name as well as the Strikeforce brand through network television.
Although network television exposure is not enough to sustain a company by itself as we saw with Elite XC, it is a huge factor of building a name in the worlds fastest growing sport when ran properly. Coker has shown a track record of running a company the right way. He keeps his costs low, has negotiated a good television contract with the potential for great exposure and often runs shows in events where he knows that Strikeforce can draw good live crowd numbers.
In a previous blog I wrote that competition is good for the growth of MMA. By signing the top name available on the MMA free agent market, Strikeforce showed they are alive and well as a MMA promotion despite being nowhere near the level of the UFC juggernaut. Only time will tell if the signing of Emelianenko catapults Strikeforce to the next level but for the time being I’m glad to see someone in a strong second place position regardless of how far back they might be.