While I've heard negative whisperings within the industry about M-1 and Dana White has blasted Fedor Emelianenko's management for their outrageous requests at the negotiating table, Evgeni Kogan suggests there might be a method to the M-1 madness:
M-1 Selection is an undertaking that follows along the general theme of M1’s leadership in Russia. The goal is to bring MMA to the masses, making rabid fans throughout the country, but also get a grass-roots fighter movement going, where those who have the guts to compete get a chance to strut their stuff on a bigger stage (initially St. Petersburg -- Russia’s second city) and maybe make a career for themselves.
This sounds trite. Fighters have been making careers out of their craft for ages, but in Russia -- where only 10 years ago men with combat sport backgrounds were only useful as bodyguards or mafia strongmen -- to be a successful professional fighter is a big, big deal.
M-1 is approaching the issue of the sport’s lack of popularity in Russia on both fan and fighter fronts. On the fan front, the main issue is government-owned television coverage.
If you’re not convinced of the importance of television to MMA, Google "Fuji TV and the demise of Pride."
The issue at hand is that state-owned -- read: by far the most popular -- television channels here refuse to show MMA, claiming a lack of interest among the general TV watching public. Seeing the perceived lack of interest as a chicken-and-egg supply-and-demand issue, M-1 is currently in the process of petitioning the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, with a plea to weigh in and request the television programmers to add some Smeshannye Edinoborstva (as MMA is officially called here) to the average Russian’s weekly TV diet.
I certainly do not expect White or any other corporate parent to finance M-1's operations - noble or otherwise - but for folks who've often wondered why Fedor or other Russian MMA fighters aren't as popular in their own home country as they conceivably could be, one has to keep in mind there are clear barriers to entry that will not easily be overcome for either the fighters or the sport. Putin may be a judo black belt, but unless he's willing to flex his muscle on MMA's behalf, it's not at all clear how the sport will change the minds of state-run media even if they can amass grass roots support. One shudders to think what the UFC would do were the most popular television media in European expansion cities both state run and hostile (or indifferent) to MMA. So while M-1 may be maligned or mocked within the U.S. (and not necessarily for flippant reasons), it's probably better to have some sort of advocate for MMA in Russia (even if M-1 is mostly interested in media carrying M-1 programming), unsavory though they may be.