Promotional squabble stalls Fedor’s next fight

The question regarding when Fedor Emelianenko will fight again remains as mysterious as the quiet fighter who is generally regarded as the greatest in modern mixed martial arts.

What is known is that there was a recent dispute between Strikeforce, which had a three-fight deal for the fighter’s North American rights, and M-1 Global, the Russian-based promotional company in which Emelianenko is a shareholder.

Emelianenko signed a deal that made M-1 Global, a company that promotes smaller events all over the world, co-promoters on every show that Emelianenko fights on. The Russian is just one fight into the contract, having knocked out Brett Rogers on Strikeforce’s CBS debut in November.

The roots of the dispute itself are shrouded in secrecy. M-1 Global director of operations Evgeni Kogan said he is working toward a new deal with Strikeforce, but until such a deal is made, any speculation about when he fights and who he fights is just that – speculation.

“First we need to make a deal,” said Kogan. “We’re almost there. Once we get that part out of the way, then we’ll decide on an opponent and a date. No fight is scheduled.”

Strikeforce promoter Scott Coker wouldn’t elaborate on the dispute.

“With Fedor, there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” said Scott Coker, president of Strikeforce. “We’re getting closer, but right now we’re not there.”

Kogan said it’s premature to say Emelianenko would fight over the summer, or fight Strikeforce’s Fabricio Werdum, the name that has been talked about the most as his next opponent. He said Emelianenko is not in training for a fight and if a deal is made, he would start training and summer would be the earliest, but said reports indicating he was fighting this summer at this point are premature.

Kogan allowed that M-1 Global was disappointed in what happened with the promotion of the last fight, but was quick to say the problem wasn’t with Strikeforce. He said he was disappointed in media coverage of the event because the M-1 Global name in stories on the show wasn’t featured more visibly.

“The way the show was promoted, that was an issue to us, but we don’t have an issue with Strikeforce over it,” Kogan said. “M-1 isn’t a management company for Fedor Emelianenko. We are a fight promotion. We have done matches all over the world, U.S., Asia, Europe, Japan. But the media didn’t feature the M-1 name [in coverage of the November show]. Specifically, it wasn’t Strikeforce’s fault. They honored their agreement. The way the media perceived the event was it was Strikeforce. M-1 wasn’t promoted that much. That was an issue with us.”

CBS promoted the November show more as “CBS Saturday Night Fights” as opposed to promoting the Strikeforce or M-1 Global brand names. “For us, this is a really big deal,” Kogan said. “We’re concerned about our brand. For us, it’s an important piece of the big picture.”

Kogan said Emelianenko has no issue with fighting Werdum (13-4-1). Coker has discussed the idea of having Emelianenko fight Werdum first, and if he wins build to a match, likely on pay-per-view, with Emelianenko against Alistair Overeem, the Strikeforce heavyweight champion.

However, Vadim Finkelchtein, Emelianenko’s manager, has in recent interviews been negative on fighting Overeem, questioning who the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Dutch fighter with the granite physique has actually beaten. Finkelchtein has questioned how Overeem, who a few years ago fought at light heavyweight, achieved his physical transformation.

The sudden contractual squabble is the latest in the out-of-the-cage intrigue that has helped create Emelianenko’s mysterious aura. Emelianenko, 33, who sports a 32-1 (1 no contest) record as a small heavyweight, has been the subject of more speculation than any modern fighter.

Since most sources still rank Emelianenko No. 1 in the world at heavyweight, above UFC champion Brock Lesnar (Emelianenko is tied for No. 2 in the Yahoo! Sports pound-for-pound rankings behind only Anderson Silva), insiders share the view that Emelianenko is above any company version of a world heavyweight championship.

He was the PRIDE heavyweight champion from 2003 until the company folded in 2007, during a time when the organization was generally regarded as having the best heavyweight talent in the world. From that point on, he’s been the subject of on-again, off-again negotiations with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which purchased PRIDE but was unable to make a deal for his contract.

Over the past three years Emelianenko has remained undefeated, but questions remain because it is generally believed that most of the best heavyweight talent, certainly the best newcomers, are in the UFC. During that time, Emelianenko has given both his supporters and his critics ample evidence to debate whether or not he still should be regarded as the top fighter in the division.

The last time Emelianenko faced someone who could legitimately be considered the possible top heavyweight contender was Aug. 28, 2005, when he defeated Mirko Cro Cop via decision. He’s fought five times in the last three years, finishing all five opponents, and only Rogers made it to the second round.

His critics question the opposition in the interim: Matt Lindland was a bulked up middleweight, Hong-man Choi was a 7-foot-2 freak show whose only MMA wins were over a Japanese television comedian and 45-year-old former baseball star Jose Canseco. Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski were former UFC champions, but Arlovski has always had a questionable chin and stylistically seemed doomed against a hard puncher like Emelianenko and Sylvia only has one significant win in more than three years.

In his fight with Rogers, both sides got even more ammunition. Rogers was unbeaten but aside from Arlovski, he had never faced a name fighter.

Emelianenko controlled much of the fight, but he was also on his back and taking a pounding at one point and it was close to being stopped. But Emelianenko rallied and won with a second-round highlight-reel knockout.

With Emelianenko on the sidelines for the foreseeable future, Coker will move forward with his plans for the remainder of the heavyweight division. A May 15 event at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis will feature Andrei Arlovski, a recent Emelianenko victim, and Antonio Silva. Overeem faces Rogers in what will be, at this point, a non-title match.

Dave Meltzer covers mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Send Dave a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Mar 10, 2010