Tryouts have began for the next season of The Ultimate Fighter in Las Vegas. Nick Thomas has already covered the subject here. There were some notable names grappling on the mats in front of UFC brass. There was one fighter trying out for the new season that made me do a double take; prized M-1 prospect Karl Amoussou.
For those of who aren't familiar with Karl "Psycho" Amoussou; he is a 24 year old French middleweight fighter signed to M-1 with a record of 11-3-2. He is a fighter who started his career with impressive submission skills and has shown flashes of blinding knockout power. You can catch some highlights from his career here. His budding potential was brought along inside M-1's organization and he was the nascent oranization's first real prospect. He is a terrific finisher, though wild at times, and only recently has shown weakness in his ground game as he was smothered by larger Kazuhiro Nakamura at Dream 15. His previous fight ended in a draw against Trevor Prangley due to a thumb to the eye. Those two fights were part of a four fight deal "Psycho" signed with Strikeforce/Dream, and they are the last with both organizations as Scott Coker cut the talented, yet raw Frenchman, half way through his deal. The question I have is does this signal further cooling of the relationship between M-1 and Strikeforce? To dig deeper does it mean a warming between M-1 and UFC?
Personally, I would be shocked if Amoussou didn't make it on to the show. He has tremendous talent, great personality, the right look. With intense work on his ground game he could be a star. I would imagine that M-1 has had talks with UFC regarding his participation in TUF. That alone interests me. There are no special concessions made for TUF tryouts. If Amoussou wins he would become an M-1 managed fighter with an UFC contract. In the past I opined that M-1 could be a great feeder for both UFC's TUF shows and international events as well. They have an interesting stable of up and coming talent from around the world. The Challenge series is designed just for that purpose. UFC can promote like nobody else in this business but they lack the ability to identify prospects and build their own stars. They are simply too busy putting on the big shows to develop talent. I think M-1 is shifting their business model under Evgeni Kogan. This year the M-1 Challenge events did quite well and provided some solid MMA entertainment. It is becoming clear that promoting these events is the focus of the company going forward. Fedor is about to negotiate what will likely be his last contract. He, as a fighter, is not the future of M-1. The company needs to use whatever management commissions they get from that last contract to help grow the company. I think it is interesting that they are negotiating directly with SHO and not Strikeforce. Knowing SHO, I don't think those negotiations will yield anything for M-1.
Does Coker cutting this well known M-1 prospect signal that the future with M-1 is bleak? Especially since their middleweight division is one of their thinnest in talent? I think it does. M-1 is coming to NYC for the MMA World Expo in the middle of November. Most of SHO's sports division is located in Manhattan and my guess is will be the last round of negotiations with the premium cable outlet and soon after we will hear about Fedor's future. SHO does not have the bandwidth or the budget to take on another MMA organization's product. Strikeforce probably does not have the money to afford Fedor anymore on their own. EA Sports is the only other player that could bridge a gap but they might be better off having Fedor in UFC. The best thing both organizations can do is build a big PPV with Fedor facing off against Werdum or Overeem and load up the card with a circus show fight, like Bautista vs either Lashley or Walker, bring Gina back, and highlight the best fighters they have. Then, move on.
For M-1, the best thing they could do is sign a 4-6 fight deal for Fedor to fight in the UFC and work out some kind of arrangement that gives the Challenge series some heat, even if it is only in the international markets. M-1 dropped their demands for co-promotion, they need to protect their core business going forward. If they continue to succeed, and have any UFC muscle behind it at all, the Challenge series will get US TV distribution eventually, either on their own or with UFC. The international television licensing would get a huge boost as well.There is a real business model there, albeit not the pipe dream of the past, but a solid, sustainable business model that, with a partner like UFC, could blossom.
For UFC, this deal makes sense as well. Dana, after UFC 121, reiterated what we all know; the heavyweight division is the straw that stirs the drink. Right now that division is about as thin as it has been in a long time. Fedor's aura has taken a hit, but a win against either Werdum or Overeem would change that dramatically. There are so many dream matches in UFC with Fedor in the mix. Even moreso, by Dana signing Fedor he delivers a huge blow to Strikeforce's heavyweight division, which many could debate is on par with UFC's division. Strikeforce is not a threat to UFC, but if they ever got their heavyweight division in order they could create some heat. Dana knows it is better to nip something like that in the bud rather than give it a chance to grow. He has that killer instinct in his business dealings. He gets to bolster his most prized division while weakening his competitor. Always a good move. If all he has to do is give the Challenge series some heat, somehow, he basically has a solid international feeder league that he can toy around with for the duration of Fedor's contract.
I know what some of you are thinking, the horse is dead. But, as time goes on I am seeing little signs that Fedor in the UFC is not impossible and actually is starting to become probable. M-1 has displayed a certain level of arrogance in the past that was unpalatable and Vadim will always be Vadim. But, the company is clearly taking a new direction. I find a certain amount of humility displayed in having one of their vaunted prospects rolling around with a bunch of other fighters for a shot to get on The Ultimate Fighter. If Amoussou winds up on the show I think the chances increase of a much more storied M-1 fighter joining UFC's roster.