Fedor Emelianenko and Strikeforce boss Scott Coker in happier days. Photo by Esther Lin, via Showtime.
So Strikeforce is hardly the first organization to have a fighter hold out; it's just that the circumstances with non-exclusive deals tilt the leverage away from the organization and towards the fighter -- or at least a fighter with the clout of Emelianenko.
Strikeforce's willingness to free certain fighters for possible paydays in non-U.S. promotions is an athlete-friendly gesture, but can now work against them. Should negotiations get ugly (and there's nothing to suggest they've yet devolved to that level) Emelianenko can simply walk away -- or threaten to walk away -- to a promotion such as DREAM or Sengoku, or even to fight under his own M-1 banner, as long as its overseas.
Keep in mind that Emelianenko's reps have a history of shall we say, hardball tactics. In 2007, he struck a deal with U.S.-based Sibling Sports that would result in a new promotion. That organization -- ironically, to be called M-1 Global -- spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees during contract negotiations. After agreeing to a $1.5 million bonus for Emelianenko and $2 million per fight to him and his management team, according to sources, the new M-1 company was in the process of planning its first show when Emelianenko's management declared him a free agent, saying he'd never officially signed a contract. They never ran a show.
In 2008, Emelianenko and M-1 signed a deal to have him compete in co-promotions with Affliction, but after just one fight with the promotion, his M-1 team asked for and received a reworked extension that would pay Emelianenko $300,000 per fight while M-1 would receive $1.2 million in fees for its services.
The really really intriguing thing here is this: nobody except the UFC has the money to outbid CBS/Showtime/Strikeforce for Fedor's services. DREAM has been held out as a possibility, and might serve Fedor for a placeholder fight against say Josh Barnett. Long-term until they get a major network TV deal in Japan, DREAM just isn't that big a player.
Here's my fantasy scenario based on the rumors I'm hearing fifth hand --
- Fedor and M-1 are pulling their usual game of changing the deal in the middle.
- They have to have other possibilities in order to justify risking killing Strikeforce.
- The only realistic alternative for Fedor is the UFC.
- His deal with M-1 could possibly create an opening for Fedor to leave M-1 and sign directly with the UFC, leaving Strikeforce holding a worthless contract with M-1 and not Fedor.
- The UFC's recent deals in Dubai might allow them to set up a non-U.S. company that could sign with Fedor and still having him fighting for the UFC, on U.S. ppv but not on U.S. soil. I'm hearing that one of the international relationships Zuffa's new middle eastern partners bring is with Russia.
- The timing is right for Fedor to be able to get a tune-up fight in the UFC (say Randy Couture or Cro-Cop) before having to face Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin, or Cain Velasquez.
But before we get our hopes up for a happy ending, let's remember that Fedor and M-1 Global are looking out for their own best interests, not the best interests of us, the fans.
Strikeforce on Showtime in May coverage