Fedor Emelianenko will make a grievous mistake if he opts to sign with any mixed martial arts organization other than the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Emelianenko has been so successful in his career as arguably the sport's best heavyweight ever that he's developed a cult following that is little more than a group of clapping seals who blindly approve of his every move.
Now that Affliction has gone belly up and is no longer promoting fights, the UFC is the only viable place for Emelianenko. Oh, he could sign with one of the Japanese organizations or he could fight for M-1 Global, of which he's a part owner.
It's fairly clear that Strikeforce isn't an option. Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker has built a profitable promotion by spending his money wisely. The investment in Emelianenko wouldn't make sense for Strikeforce because it doesn't have the kind of marquee opponents who would generate the kind of money that would allow it to pay Emelianenko's asking price.
There are no legitimate heavyweight contenders in Japan, and if Emelianenko were to sign there he'd only do it for freak show-type fights.
Emelianenko's management also is involved with M-1 and is trying to build that promotion. Part of manager Vadim Finkelchtein's insistence that the UFC co-promote Emelianenko with M-1 is a desire for M-1 to be able to piggyback on the UFC's success and establish itself as a top-level promotion.
That's also the reason that Finkelchtein was working with Affliction.
M-1 Global officials have shown zero awareness of how to promote and aren't giving any indication they're trying to learn. Finkelchtein should drop the silly insistence that the UFC co-promote with M-1 and work a deal that is as good as can be gotten for his fighter.
But the UFC also should make certain it does right by Emelianenko. He's not the attraction that his adoring fans believe he is. The sales of Affliction's two pay-per-view cards combined weren't even an eighth of the total of the pay-per-view sales of UFC 100. The pay-per-view card he headlined for PRIDE in Las Vegas in 2006 didn't reach 40,000 sales.
Emelianenko is truly a great fighter, but the average fight fan in America simply doesn't know who he is and isn't going to plop down money blindly to find out.
The UFC, which plans to put Emelianenko in against heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar in his first fight if it can sign him, will spend an extraordinary amount to promote him and raise his profile once it has his signature on a contract. A fight between Lesnar and Emelianenko could do stratospheric pay-per-view figures again if the UFC is able to convince a largely unaware American public that Emelianenko is a legitimate threat to Lesnar and one of the great fighters of all-time.
Doing the right thing by Emelianenko means paying him a competitive wage with its top stars; he doesn't necessarily have to be the highest paid, because other fighters have accomplished more when both box office and in-cage success are considered. But receiving a contract that is comparable in pay with the UFC's top stars will be a sign the company is serious.
It also should give him a guaranteed end date. Sign him to a four-fight deal and the contract is done when the fourth fight is finished. That means that he could conceivably fight Lesnar, the winner of the Randy Couture-Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira fight that's scheduled for UFC 102, the winner of the Shane Carwin-Cain Velasquez fight that's planned for UFC 104 and Frank Mir or another contender who emerges between now and then.
Emelianenko's people have expressed concern about automatically renewing contracts tying him to one company indefinitely. If M-1 concedes on the co-promotion, the UFC could concede on that. Then, Emelianenko would have financial security as well as the opportunity to secure his legacy and prove the clapping seals were right all along.
Before we delve into the mailbag and I respond to your questions and comments, I'd like to remind you to follow me on Twitter. You can send me questions for the mailbag there or just choose to talk some boxing and MMA.
Has the UFC absorbed all of Affliction's fighter contracts? That means Fedor would still owe the UFC the one fight correct? If Fedor and M-1 are going to play hardball, why not put Fedor in the octagon for one fight with a Cain Velasquez, Frank Mir, Randy Couture or even a Cheick Kongo? Roll the dice, make some cash off him for one pay-per-view and hope one of those guys beats him? If he wins, then go back to the negotiation table. If he loses, then have a safe trip back to Russia!
Aaron, nobody has said what will happen with the Affliction fighter contracts, though sources have indicated to me that the UFC will absorb the contracts of approximately 20 fighters. Significantly, though, Emelianenko's is not one of them. That bit is confirmed. The UFC still needs to negotiate a deal with him. As I said, no one in a position to know will comment about the other fighters' contracts, but it appears from what multiple sources are saying that they'll land in the UFC. Your scenario isn't good for Fedor or the UFC. If he fights one time and beats, say, Couture, the UFC will be the one who has built his name and then let someone else make money off of him. And from Emelianenko's standpoint, he deserves security given what he's accomplished. If he loses a tough fight to Couture, it shouldn't mean his UFC career ends at one fight. He should be brought back to fight others.
Interesting article about MMA's staying power. I think that a real fight ends when a guy is on the ground, like in boxing, hockey or anyone with honor in a street fight. Watching someone struggle to free his arm from some twisted position or take 55 shots to his unprotected head is about as exciting as watching an animal die. It's cheap. It's no better than five punks who kick a guy in the head while he is down and think they are tough. Wrestling is the worst of any kind of combat, and there is nothing manly about two sweaty guys rubbing on each other for minutes at a time. "Oh, I don't understand the technicality of it?" Well, yeah, I do, and I don't care. MMA stinks and the only thing that stinks worse is all the fans out there who are so happy to have become an "expert" in a sport that nobody was watching that they won't stop running their mouths about all the moves they see on TV. Shut up already.
I'll take the bait, Kevin. I can't resist, honestly. I'm a diehard Pittsburgh Penguins fan (as evidenced by the boatload of Stanley Cup championship material I've purchased since June) and love hockey, but it's strange you'd rip MMA and somehow find it all right to fight in hockey, since fighting is against hockey's rules. And I think there might be something wrong with you when you reference wrestling. It's a lot more than two sweaty guys rubbing on each other. MMA is not for everyone, just as hockey is not. I love hockey and have loved it desperately for more than 40 years, but I can tell you that 97 percent of North America doesn't share that passion. We're not going to force you to watch MMA or become a fan, but it's clear you have no clue what you're talking about.
I think that the media coverage of UFC 100 will make the sport grow more in the mainstream. I think a lot of casual or curious fans who tuned in to the event were blown away and that MMA as a whole will continue to grow. I think the real question is, will MMA overshadow boxing for good? I believe it will and let me tell you why. I am a boxing fan and always will be, but I am also an MMA fan. In boxing, there are only maybe two big fights a year that I would buy pay-per-view to watch, and I am really only interested in the main event fights. As for MMA, they offer way more great fights to watch throughout the year. Almost every fight on the main card is worth a watch. Could it be because of the coverage that they give fighters leading up to the fight? Who knows. Boxing doesn't really give you that all access to fighters. In closing, I would have to say that MMA will be a global powerhouse within the next five years or so.
San Antonio, Texas
Are you sure you're not a Zuffa employee, Golden? It seems like you've memorized Dana White's sales pitch. I think MMA has already surpassed boxing in terms of popularity and the gulf will only widen. I also agree with your point about boxing pay-per-view cards. In boxing, because there are so many promoters, each with the interest of protecting his fighter and making the most money from him, they think of risk-reward when making fights. But White, for instance, makes fights that are huge risk for his guys, because he knows that's what fans want to see. And he fills his undercard with compelling fights. Boxing could be just as big because I truly believe there are lots of people who love to see a good fight, but boxing because of its splintered nature simply doesn't put on the consistently strong top-to-bottom cards, and it frequently doesn't make the main events the public is demanding.
- Fedor Emelianenko