Despite years of negotiations gone wrong, the UFC was close to signing former PRIDE champion Fedor Emelianenko to fight Brock Lesnar less than a year ago before the Russian champion ultimately decided to retire from fighting.
UFC president Dana White dropped the bombshell following the UFC on Fox 6 press conference when speaking to members of the media about the company's possibly move into Russia later this year.
At UFC 146 in May 2012, former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar attended the event and met with White in a meeting he called at the time “one of the worst meetings we've ever had with Brock Lesnar.” In reality, White's chat with the former champion went extremely well because, despite saying he was retiring from mixed martial arts just five months earlier, Lesnar was ready to sign on for a superfight against Fedor Emelianenko.
“We were right there. When I was talking about doing that big Dallas Texas Stadium show it was going to be Brock Lesnar vs. (Fedor Emelianenko),” White revealed on Saturday.
“Remember when I met with him and said it didn't go well? It actually went well. He wanted to fight Fedor. (Fedor's dad passed away) and he said, ‘I'm done. I want to spend the rest of my life with my family.'”
Following a three-fight losing streak in Strikeforce that ended in 2011, Fedor returned by fighting twice for M-1 Global and at a New Year's Eve show in Japan, picking up three consecutive victories to get him back on track.
It was after his June 2012 fight against former UFC heavyweight contender Pedro Rizzo that Fedor decided to retire from the sport of MMA and spend more time at home with his family. White says it was actually the death of his father that led to his retirement and increased his desire to focus on his family instead of fighting.
During the long process to try and get a deal done, UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta traveled to Russia and met with Fedor to try and negotiate a fight with Lesnar. The two parties came very close to a deal, but then when Emelianenko's father passed away, he ultimately passed on the fight.
That eventually led to Lesnar opting to stay retired and focused on his career in professional wrestling in the WWE.
“We were negotiating for months and then after his dad died and he said ‘that's it, I'm done' or whatever, and then Brock said ‘I'm done, too,'” said White.
If pro sports has taught us anything, it's that an athlete's desire to compete doesn’t just go away because they say they're retired. Still, White's pretty sure Fedor was serious about calling it a career, and he's fine with that, but you can still never say never.
“From what I understand, he has absolutely, positively made the decision never to fight again. But, I mean, anything's possible,” said White.
As for former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar, once the dream of facing Fedor fizzled, so did his desire to give fighting one more try. He's now content with his professional wrestling gig, and much like the Russian legend, Lesnar is fine spending plenty of time at home with his wife and kids.
“He's done,” White said about Lesnar. “He's gonna do his stint in WWE and then go away. He's got a big farm up and Canada and (expletive). He loves to farm, he loves to be with his family, and out in the middle of nowhere.”