The Case Against Fedor Emelianenko Signing With the UFC

Fedor-emelianenko-1_medium Last night we posted the offer that the UFC claims to have made to Fedor Emelianenko and his management team at M-1 Global. We've even taken some heat for being Dana White mouthpieces on this issue, from Fight Opinion:

It’s the David Axelrod graduate school of marketing here, but it also helps to have willing participants ready and able to carry your water. (Carmichael Dave is on KHTK in Sacramento and Dana White is a frequent guest.) Have you noticed how the campaign of information and misinformation online is working to discredit Fedor and try to paint him in a bad light? Look, we know he’s isolated and nothing is going to change and whatever happens for the rest of his career, it will be on him in regards to why he didn’t fight in UFC. If that offends you, then it offends you. Obviously he seems happy with his current business arrangements, so let him go off and do whatever he is going to do.

However, this idea that web sites and blogs should participate in an explicit active role of ‘being used’ for spread information/misinformation in regards to what UFC is ‘allegedly’ offering to Fedor’s camp is silly. It plays right into Dana White’s hands. Hey, if the MMA web sites say anything negative about him, he has ammunition to not give them media credentials for live events. And if the web sites start astroturfing in order to generate good press for UFC, well he has his cake and can eat it too.

Fair enough I guess, if bagging on Bloody Elbow is your thing. We did run Carmichael Dave's info. But anyone who follows Bloody Elbow knows that we try to cover all aspects of the big stories and it's worth noting that Carmichael Dave is a friendly media outlet for Dana White. It's also worth noting that there is no way to verify one party's claims of what was on the table at a closed negotiation.

Speaking of friendly water-carrying media outlets, here's Jonathan Snowden with M-1's side of the story:

"The numbers being floated there are a little misleading. The UFC’s offer of $30 million over six fights isn’t a guarantee," Snowden learned from a source. "The number is based on Zuffa’s projections of what Fedor’s take of the PPV money would be, and the numbers they are projecting are based on selling a ton of PPV’s. The actual guarantee for Fedor is much more modest. It’s true that if business stays at record levels Fedor could walk away with $30 million. But that is no guarantee."

This has a certain ring of truth to it. Fedor's in a position where he doesn't have to sign for terms that hinge on a lot of "IF we do X PPV sales, then you'll get Y dollars." Going for the guaranteed money is just plain smart on his part.

Here's something else to think about. From the moment the deals were being rumored, I believed that Dana White and Zuffa were so confident that Brock Lesnar would beat Fedor in the Russian's first UFC fight that they were willing to offer lots of terms (loosening the champion clause etc) that they would not have offered if Fedor was going to be facing Randy Couture, Cro-Cop and Big Nog in his three UFC fights.

I think Fedor also is concerned that he might lose to Brock Lesnar -- and there's nothing wrong with that, Lesnar is a beast -- and even a 30% chance of Lesnar winning the first fight is a big risk for Fedor. Especially in his first fight in a cage with elbows on the ground. Fedor's history of getting cut in fights makes a cut stoppage from an elbow an exceedingly likely outcome.

In closing, here's the case for Strikeforce:

  1. No elbows on the ground.
  2. Willingness to co-promote. Remember, Fedor isn't just a client of M-1, he's supposedly a 20% owner -- that's twice the share Dana White has in the UFC. There's also a strong element of Russian nationalism. Fedor's never been seen on national television in Russia. Affliction had just scored a deal to do that. Also, don't forget how "business" is done in Russia. I don't want to speculate, but if I was Fedor, I'd be very hesitant to dump my Russian partners.
  3. Strikeforce's roster of Brett Rogers, Fabricio Werdum and Alistair Overeem is a very credible roster of foes for Fedor -- they are ranked #8, 10 and 14, respectively, on this month's USAT/SBN MMA rankings. And I'm sure each would enjoy the "Josh Barnett effect" of rising several notches upon the announcement of a signed fight with Fedor.
  4. Non-exclusivity. With Strikeforce, Fedor could quite possibly continue to fight in Japan on the odd New Year's Eve for DREAM, maybe even against Josh Barnett in a fight many still want to see.

Fedor has an enormous amount to lose if he makes the wrong step. Clearly his refusal to sign with the UFC and their aggressive PR will cost him the hearts of many MMA fans. At the same time, most of those fans will tune in to watch his next fight, regardless of opponent, especially if it's on CBS. If Strikeforce manages to book him against legitimate top 10 competition, he will only grow his appeal and be able to demand even more from the UFC if there is a next time.

Fedor has firmly established himself as the greatest heavyweight in MMA history thus far. He could decide to retire today and his legacy is secure. He really has nothing to prove. Sure he could potentially build an even bigger legacy in the sport by fighting in the UFC, but he could also damage his status as the (virtually) undefeated king of MMA.

Sure he'll take a hit with MMA fans in the U.S. But honestly, how much does Fedor care about that? He lives in Stary Oskul, Russia. How often do you think he logs onto Sherdog or BE to read the comments? The man has a financial future to think about and he's the one who steps in the ring/cage. He can do whatever he wants and the fans can either watch this supremely talented fighter and continue to wonder about might have beens or try to plug their ears and close their eyes. God willing, Fedor has many more fun fights in his future. Me, I'll be watching whatever he does.

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