Fedor Emelianenko. Photo by Tracy Lee/CombatLifestyle.com.
It was supposed to be different this time around.
With the collapse of Affliction complete and the list of suitable non-UFC opponents dwindling, the top heavyweight in the world, Fedor Emelianenko, seemed likely to finally sign with the Ultimate Fighting Championship. However despite early reports suggesting that a deal was imminent, we stand here with the two sides as distant as ever, and it comes as no surprise.
The first time that the UFC and Emelianenko’s management team, Vadim Finkelchtein and Apy Echteld of M-1 Global, met to discuss the future of the former PRIDE heavyweight champion, things didn’t go so well.
Following preliminary negotiations, Dana White started to refer to Finkelchtein and Echteld as “Crazy Russians”. M-1 Global criticized White as being unprofessional. Rumors of unnecessary requests such as the UFC needing to build an arena in Russia to house M-1 events being part of the laundry list of requirements circulated and White opted to bash Emelianenko for his recent choice of opponents rather than give him his earned respect.
Emelianenko responded quickly, but not quietly. In two appearances under the Affliction banner, he needed just under a combined four minutes to embarrass former UFC heavyweight champions Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski in consecutive fights.
Hardcore and casual fans alike had already been calling for the UFC and Fedor to come to terms, and their voices only became louder after his Affliction performances. White’s tone concerning Emelianenko even started to change. Instead of berating him, White admitted that he would love to add him to the UFC’s heavyweight roster.
So once Josh Barnett tested positive for steroids last week and forced Affliction to cancel its “Trilogy” show and ultimately end their promotion of MMA events, it became obvious that the UFC and Emelianenko needed to meet once again to attempt to work things out.
They did. Things didn’t go so well.
Depending on who you ask, the UFC may have offered Fedor the most substantial contract in terms of money in the company’s history: a 6 fight, $30 million contract, an immediate title shot, the ability to compete in Sambo competitions, and PPV cuts and exclusive sponsorship for the M-1 Global brand.
Others aren’t buying it, even M-1 Global themselves.
Turning down that kind of money may seem absolutely crazy to the normal fan or fighter, but to Finkelchtein and his co-workers, the idea of co-promoting with the UFC is something they refuse to stray away from. It’s too bad that co-promotion is something that the UFC will never agree to ever again, forcing it to continue to be the biggest hurdle in these negotiations.
Back when Zuffa first purchased the UFC from SEG nearly ten years ago, they were very open to co-promoting and exchanging talent with other promotions.
But after being burned by PRIDE Fighting Championships on three separate occasions through one-sided talent exchanges and broken promises (the UFC sent over Chuck Liddell and Ricco Rodriguez to fight over in PRIDE, and were promised the services of Wanderlei Silva, but never received anything in return), White and Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta vowed never again to promote with another organization, regardless of the situation.
The idea that M-1 Global would simply just be using the UFC for financial gain is also a minor bump in the road as well. The M-1 Global brand is relatively unknown in North America, and while the UFC wouldn’t hurt themselves very much by promotion a rival organization, they would essentially just be giving money away, even though Fedor appears to be a part owner of the company.
The UFC isn’t the only promotion interested in Fedor’s services. Strikeforce is making their own push as well. Scott Coker’s willingness to co-promote with M-1 and offer Fedor a non-exclusive contract (a non-exclusive deal creates the possibility to fight in Japan once again) would make Strikeforce the most appealing option, despite the financial terms likely being much lower than what the UFC and others can offer.
Finkelchtein has said that his client isn’t going to make a decision anytime soon, meaning that a chance for Emelianenko to test himself in MMA’s toughest heavyweight class is still there. However because of a certain number of historical events, Fedor could be stuck fighting another string of random opponents for years to come.
Is it possible that PRIDE failing to loan fighters to the UFC and the first meeting with M-1 Global officials going so badly will ultimately end up with Zuffa being unable to acquire Fedor and agree to co-promote once again? Last time I checked, Fedor isn’t close to being signed.
If the UFC and M-1 Global can’t strike a deal, neither side is to blame in my opinion. It’s the past that will be.
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