Alistair Overeem has decided that after an oh-so-busy 2010 that he needs a six month vacation. Many of you already know my feelings on The Reem so we don't have to recap why I think he is an arrogant, paper champion who thinks his relevance in MMA is much more than it is and is seen as cocky by most his peers. That's old news. As I thought about the reasoning behind this announcement I started to look back at the past few months and it seems there might be signs of something else taking place. After thought and review I think Fedor is about to go all in.
Let's go back to the weeks following Fedor's surprising loss. On July 6th of this year the MMA forums were all a buzz about the pending demise of M-1. Sources were reporting that the home base Netherlands office was closing. That investors were bailing out by the second. The end was nigh. Evgeni Kogan, M-1 global director of operations, quickly put out that fire by talking to Michael David Smith of mmafighting.com stating it was merely a restructuring.
"We've restructured," he said. "It has nothing to do with Fedor's loss. ... What happened on June 26 doesn't affect M-1 as an organization."
Hey, it's a bad economy. Lots of companies are restructuring and have come out ok, look at AIG and GM. But, the death watch continued. It seemed the clock was ticking. Then, to play right along with the script, we hear just six days later from Vadim himself that he has changed his tune regarding M-1's position towards the UFC. Here is what Vadim had to say:
"I think yes, but not on the same terms they offered us before," Finkelchtein told ProSport (translated by Fighters Only) of joining forces with the UFC. "We will not let ourselves to get owned. Fedor became very popular [already] outside the Octagon. So, long story short:
1. We would like to receive guaranteed payments. I know that if we agree for percents, they will cheat us.
2. Maybe not a co-promotion (like we offered before), but at least co-branding.
3. They also will have to permit Fedor participating in Sambo competitions, and during our last negotiations UFC were ready for that term."
Whoa, Vadim just pulled a "Crazy Ivan". No co-promotion? Company restructuring? What in Ben-n-Jerry's is going on here?
After these bombs were dropped things quieted down for a while for the beleaguered M-1 just as their Challenger's series marched on across the world with increasing popularity. The Challenger's series seemed to be the one bright spot for the company over the past few months.The only M-1 drum that was beating for Fedor in July was for a rematch against Werdum. However, as the rest of July unfolded we waited to hear if Werdum would receive surgery or not. On July 21st, Werdum's manager, Richard Wilner, spoke to mmafighting.com about Werdum's injury and did nothing but cloud the issue. Here is what he had to say:
"Dr. Fabricio Werdum is the one who said he needs surgery," he said. "But he hasn't yet been evaluated by a doctor. We have an appointment scheduled for next week, so we are still waiting to hear what the doctors have to say. If surgery is in fact necessary, it would be a very minor thing. It's not a traumatic injury."
Well, wait, surgery might not be necessary? It's minor? So, a rematch could happen soon? Not so fast. When asked about the rematch, that Werdum stated on fight night would take place in Russia, Wilner had this to say:
"That was with the emotions of the fight running high," Wilner said. "Once emotions subside and rationale thought prevails, Fabricio understands there's no upside to a rematch with Fedor unless M-1 puts a significant amount of money on the table. We have no rematch clause in our contract with Strikeforce."
Another "Crazy Ivan". These managers have our heads turning by the second. An interesting comment to me here is that M-1 needs to put a significant offer on the table for Werdum to face him. Not Strikeforce, M-1. Curious. Also, he states that Werdum has no rematch clause in his contract with Strikeforce. Does that mean Fedor does? But, wait. Let's bring Alistair back into the fray. The day before mmafighting.com spoke to Werdum's manager, Alistair had this to say:
"Let's just say this, there's a couple of fights that I would like to have, and I'm going to start with the first one: the first one is going to definitely be Werdum -- he's the winner of that fight [against Fedor Emelianenko]. I'm sure, 100% sure, I'm going to beat him," Overeem said.
So, here we all are waiting to hear what Werdum is going to do. Surgery or not? Fedor or Reem? In the meantime the BJJ seminar circuit is doing wonders for Werdum's bottom line. Good for him. He deserves it.
So, the calendar turns to the dog days of August. There is some scuttlebutt between the managers but nothing concrete till August 13th when Werdum's camp confirms he will undergo elbow surgery. The fight that Fedor and his team clearly were dead set upon was now as far away as the end of the first quarter, at the earliest. If you saw Lars Von Trier's film "Antichrist" you will know what I mean when I say "Chaos Reigns". Fedor's camp starts scrambling for a fight for the end of the year. Remember that "restructuring" back in July. Cha-Ching. Talk of a fight in Japan for Fedor starts being bandied about. Maybe even in Russia. Maybe against Barnett, who is soon after signed by Strikeforce? Then, almost two weeks after Werdum's camp confirmed the surgery, we hear directly from Fedor about Overeem, who claims the Russian has been ducking him for a year, and his desire to fight him:
"This is an important match for me and something that I personally want to happen," Fedor said in a statement released by his promotion, M-1 Global. "There have been conversations about putting this match-up together in the past and now is the time to begin making this bout possible."
Boom. There it is. Out on the table. Excitement is in the air. But just as quickly as we all get pumped up there is a hitch. Overeem claims to already be committed to K-1. All sorts of finger pointing and levels of both rage and apathy ripple across MMA internet forums but something gets missed. What is interesting about this is apparently Coker has booking approval over The Reem. He could have told Reem that he was invoking this clause in his contract and offer him a fight against Fedor in December. But, Coker told Sherdog this instead:
"It’s very clear in our agreement with Alistair that we have booking priority," Coker said of allowing Overeem to fight in K-1. "So we could have easily said no, but then is it really fair to him? It’s a personal goal of his. Let him go try to be the best standup fighter in the world.
And Dana White goes Doo do doo do doo do do doo..Coker is going to let the absolute best fight his organization could put on not happen because it wouldn't be fair to The Reem? I know Coker is a nice guy but...really? Cozying up to The Reem?
Now it is starting to become clear. There will be no fight against Overeem. It seems that being in the Fedor business is very expensive. Not just for Strikeforce but even M-1. M-1 co-promotes these events with Strikeforce which means they are putting up money to produce the shows as well. This was a sticking point that kept Fedor off the CBS card. It's a costly venture and with Fedor's aura tarnished maybe too costly for both parties. M-1 is slowly but surely growing their Challengers series and it could be a good business model for them. It helps to have someone of Fedor's stature there to guide and promote this part of M-1's business and as a partner he should continue to do so. But, perhaps, Fedor the owner needs to divorce himself from Fedor the fighter.
About a month ago, in the midst of the hysteria following The Reem's announced commitment to K-1 a rumored story was dropped about secret negotiations between M-1, specifically Fedor, and the UFC. Here we are in Brocktober and the future of UFC's heavyweight division could go so many different ways. Roy Nelson will face Shane Carwin which could be a number one contender match following JDS' bout with whomever is champ. The prospects of a JDS/Nelson championship match in the next twelve months is a very real possibility. Insert Dana's shiny, bald head exploding here. We all love divisions like the WEC has and GSP is a marvel, but let's face it, heavyweight is where the buy rates happen. That's what excites a casual audience and puts asses in seats. Whatever you might feel about Fedor there is no doubt he could inject excitement into UFC's heavyweight division, which is thin at the top. But, first some of that aura and mystique has to be restored.
Fedor has one fight left with Strikeforce. The organization has taken some steps to build their heavyweight division and they need to bring some definition to their plans. It became clear that neither Overeem or Coker wants the Fedor to fight to happen anytime soon. Here is what The Reem said recently:
"(My goals are) to become the (K-1) champion of course. And, to get the DREAM Heavyweight belt. Next year I will fight a few times in Strikeforce again,(Fabricio) Werdum, who beat Fedor (Emelianenko), was injured and Fedor only wanted to fight Werdum, so those match ups are something for next year in MMA in the States.
"I love my fans in Japan. I’m different to Fedor; I did not leave to only fight in the USA. I have Japan as my favorite place. I may make less money at this moment in Japan than in America as the MMA scene is booming there, but I love the fighting spirit from the country and the long history of martial arts in Japan. Japanese fans are the best. I will always keep fighting in Japan."
Now, the K-1 championship and the DREAM Heavyweight belt come first. Not only does he show little interest in fighting Fedor, he shows little interest in fighting in the US, period. After reading this, it comes as no surprise we won't see The Reem till the second half of 2011. In the midst of all this, Werdum is set to return before The Reem will grace these shores. I think what we are witnessing is Strikeforce and Fedor are going all in.
M-1 is going to co-promote this last fight on Fedor's contract. Looking at where M-1 has been and where they are going I would say their co-promoting days are over after this last event. The dream Monte Cox, Mix Fight, and Sibling Entertainment had is long dead. They were big plans, big dreams, but at the end of the day they were pipe dreams. Vadim's pride and stubborn nature kept the corpse warm but the heartbeat had long since stopped. They can put on exciting, small overhead events with their Challenger series. Maybe even get a TV deal for it. But, at this stage, for M-1's survival, they would best be served treating Fedor, the fighter, as a client they manage and not a means to co-promote. That changes everything. But, in this last fight there is a ton of risk for those involved.
Werdum's manager has already stated that M-1 would have to come up with a large sum of money to get him in the cage with Fedor and I think they will. For Strikeforce the risk is this; if Fedor wins he becomes a free agent and Werdum's stock drops. Do they stay in the Fedor business? Do they keep their deal with CBS without him, let alone Showtime? The upside is they are done with M-1 and the epensive cost of Fedor. If Werdum wins then Strikeforce would have tremendous negotiating control over resigning Fedor. They could get him for a fraction of what he is being paid. For Fedor the risk, I think, is even greater, as well as the reward. If Gurevich's report was accurate and UFC is still interested and even continuing negotiations with Fedor then a win over Werdum would restore some of the luster lost. If it is done decisively, like Tim Sylvia decisively, then it restores a lot of that luster. What is even better for UFC is they are dealing with Fedor simply as a fighter. No co-promoting, no crazy Russians. Just Fedor, the fighter, who Dana has expressed he has a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for. Also, if Fedor faces Werdum sometime in the first quarter it should align with the JDS vs UFC Champ fight. Fedor beats Werdum, Brock beats JDS, Fedor signs with UFC, and all sorts of MMA joy explodes.
Then there is the deep, black nothingness on the other side of that proposition for Fedor. Werdum proves the first time was not a fluke. Fedor loses. In the span of one year the man that was seen as the greatest of all time will be relegated to working his way back up via fighters like Del Rosario and Cormier, teetering on the edge of gatekeeper. Or, he is in Japan facing Ricco Rodriguez. Basically irrelevant. (I see all you Fedor haters stirring with joy at this prospect) These are huge stakes. The greatest career in MMA history is on the line.
Watching the Fedor interview on his birthday, it became clear there is some melancholy about different parts of his life. The distance between he and his brother, Alexsander, seems to weigh heavily on him. His loss to Werdum, not so much. Family, and people he loves, seem to be more important than any MMA accomplishment. Fedor has another brother about to enter the MMA scene, Ivan. Scouts have seen him at Sambo championships think he is closer to the more accomplished brother in talent. Fedor has stated repeatedly that he fights for his country and even more, his family. He is about to enter what likely will be his last contract. He still exudes confidence, skill and is clearly bright. As he enters the last stage of his career he has little to prove. He could retire with a win over Werdum. But, things like family, not titles, are what motivates this man at this point in his career. He has watched such vaunted organizations as Pride and Affliction crash and burn. Strikeforce's future is as clear as a spring day in Seattle. He has a brother with talent that he can pave the way for and give him some security in a business that rarely delivers such a luxury. Could you imagine the next TUF series with an Emelianenko and Couture competing for the top spot.? He has the rare chance to give the same kind of respect to the Emelianenko name that is associated with families like Gracie. I could see him trying to rebuild a bridge his management burned down, with Dana and the UFC, for his brother to have future access to the #1 MMA organization in the world. Testing his mettle against the UFC's best to close out his career is not so bad either. As a fan I WANT both.