Jake Shields expressed a note of nervousness while talking to MMA Mania about his upcoming Strikeforce middleweight title fight with Jason "Mayhem" Miller:
I think it's awesome to be fighting on the card with Fedor Emelianenko. He's one of my favorite fighters of all time. He's the headliner but to be the co-headliner is quite an honor to be fighting alongside him. I'm really excited about it. Unfortunately, I haven't seen the promo for it so I hope it gets good ratings.
It's easy to see why Shields would be nervous. He co-headlined an EliteXC card in July 2008 that was a serious ratings flop and proved that the broadcast TV audience that flocked to CBS to watch Kimbo Slice and Gina Carano wasn't interested in good fights between top mixed martial artists. The network audience wants sizzle, not steak. Strikeforce and CBS know this and yet are insisting on serving up Fedor Emelianenko, the definition of low-profile, no flash, high caliber sportsman.
Our own Michael Rome set the perimeters for what will be a successful broadcast debut for Strikeforce, "Anything below four million total viewers would be a disappointment for CBS."
Sherdog has a piece up chronicling the network's dilemma in trying to sell the Russian legend to an American audience:
Emelianenko cannot appear on a CBS talk show (his English is somewhere north of Chuck Liddell's); Emelianenko cannot appear in advertisements displaying a ripped musculature (he doesn't have one); Emelianenko cannot have a speaking part on "CSI: Miami" (he might be convincing as a corpse). As marketable athletes go, Emelianenko is not very marketable.
They do mention that the biggest pop Fedor has gotten with American fans came from the UFC's attempt to sign him last summer:
And ironically, Emelianenko's biggest push may have come from the UFC itself: Summer's drawn-out coverage of his negotiations with the UFC ran rampant, and he came off as a mythical figure the company desperately wanted. There's intrigue in that.
I wrote in August that the UFC management's obsession with signing Fedor was motivated by the fact that Dana White and the Fertittas are true MMA fans. There certainly was very little business logic in their hugely public courtship of Fedor after the collapse of Affliction. We'll see if that comes back to bite them on Saturday.