We've already posted on yesterday's Loretta Hunt piece on the current state of affairs between M-1 Global, ie Fedor Emelianenko and his manager Vadim Finkelchstein, but I wanted to elaborate a bit on the implications. Vadim and company are essentially holding Strikeforce hostage. Strikeforce has tweeted their response to Hunt's article, but I respect her track record.
If Scott Coker and company want to see Fedor, the world's #1 heavyweight, per the USAT/SBN Consensus MMA Rankings, fighting on CBS or Showtime, they will need to clear the card to make way for M-1's bevy of other world class fighters. When M-1 had Gegard Mousasi on their roster, matters were a little different, but he has since parted ways. The M-1 roster is loaded with talent like Kiril "Baby Fedor" Sidelnikov, last seen by American fans getting a long and painful lesson in how not to slip a jab from Paul Buentello at Affliction: Reckoning.
As much as I love Russian fighters, and historically they've played a big role in MMA both in the U.S. and Japan. There is no one currently on the M-1 roster other than Fedor who is remotely worthy of getting airtime on CBS.
Sadly, it appears that Strikeforce is hanging onto the CBS deal by its fingertips. In the full entry we hear from Dave Meltzer from the Wrestling Observer (subscription required):
For Strikeforce, the goal to be at least a successful secondary Pepsi brand going against Coke is largely dependent on maintaining its link to CBS. They may be able to survive with Showtime footing a lot of the bills, without CBS, but the reach of Showtime is simply too small to offer major competition. The eventual goal of Strikeforce is to be able to build stars and matches to where they can viably run a few PPV events per year. Even with CBS, that was going to be difficult. Without CBS, and that becomes a real longshot.
For Strikeforce, the big question is whether CBS will continue to air the programming, and is Strikeforce a viable prime time entity on the network. What we've learned from the past is that CBS had been successful three out of four shows in selling ads to advertisers who target Males 18-34. The ratings themselves are lower than regular programming on the network, but the ability to target market to a specific demo is considered the strength of MMA. The fact is, Strikeforce has drawn a significantly older audience, likely due to the make-up of CBS as an older skewing network, than UFC has done on Spike. They can hit the targets if they have a major drawing card. In the past, Fedor Emelianenko, Kimbo Slice and Gina Carano have fit that bill. The question was whether Dan Henderson would be added to that list, and on a show built around him, he proved not to be.
In the end, CBS did a 1.76 rating and 2.86 million viewers, doing only a 1.26 in Males 18-34 (falling from a 2.3 the prior show) and a 1.74 in Males 35-49 (down from 2.7 last show). Before the show, they said they hoped because Henderson had more TV exposure in the U.S. than Emelianenko, that they could equal the 11/7 numbers, which was a 2.45 rating and 4.04 million viewers. However, privately they did not believe that was the case, and were hopeful of beating 3 million viewers. But it was a demo play and they came up a little short. ...
CBS officials will be meeting with Strikeforce later this week. Even though the rating is going to be the primary determining factor, the rating was at best lower borderline and the demo number disappointing. The show quality is just what it is. The matches weren't good. That's probably not that significant, although perhaps if they had a hot match or two, the rating would have been very slightly higher. The show went 45 minutes long, delaying the local newscasts. Given that the lead-in was a low audience in a demo that probably doesn't translate well to the local newscast, the affiliates probably weren't thrilled. But it was well known when the show was booked that they could go long. If the ratings were strong, going long wasn't going to be a major issue. If the ratings were strong, the brawl at the end of the show wasn't going to be an issue. Bad fights, weak ratings, going long and the brawl all combined, and people very close to the situation at press time recognized CBS may throw in the towel. There was negative publicity on the bad rating, and on the brawl. There were media outlets, most notably the New York Post which insinuated it was completely staged (it wasn't) and there absolutely was a general public feeling of that same thing. CBS may be thinking that between this and Kimbo-gate, the so-so ratings and the inherent controversial nature of the programming that no doubt many station executives were against to begin with, that it's simply not worth the hassle.
I will admit that Strikeforce and CBS would have been better off airing Fedor vs Fabricio Werdum supported by virtually any warm body off the M-1 bench vs Dan Henderson than the card they aired, from a purely cynical ratings perspective.
As Meltzer shows above, Fedor proved last year against Brett Rogers that he is a serious draw with U.S. fans. He drew much stronger numbers than Dan Henderson achieved last Saturday and more importantly the numbers went up dramatically when Fedor was on screen.
The tragedy of M-1's hold out was that Fedor was primed for a break out performance on the heels of his dramatic KO win over Brett Rogers. Now I doubt that he'll have a second bite at the U.S. network television apple. Whatever M-1 Global is doing, they are NOT looking out for what's best for Fedor's career. Had he posted even better numbers and more media attention for his second CBS fight, he'd have been a star in the biggest sports market in the world. Now he'll be a might have been.
As a hardcore fan, I loved the show, but it was clearly a business disaster that might have cost Strikeforce the CBS relationship. With just Showtime, frankly they can't afford Fedor. But since M-1 is under contract with Strikeforce, expect it to take quite a bit of untangling to work out. I don't expect to see Fedor fight in the U.S. in 2010.
If I'm right, that leaves a New Year's Eve fight against Josh Barnett or Alistair Overeem in Japan the best possibility for fans to see the greatest martial artist in the sport's young history fight this year.
Dana White has been very open about his desire to see Fedor in the Octagon, but that will require untangling the Gordian knot of demands made by Vadim and company.
The reality is this, Fedor is 33 years old in a sport that is infamously hard on aging athletes. His biggest rivals from the PRIDE era -- Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira -- have seen mixed success at best against the current crop of UFC heavyweights.
Fedor has had much better luck recently, notching spectacular wins over two former UFC champs in Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski as well as a KO finish of Strikeforce's top contender Brett Rogers. But the string of unlikely business deals that brought those fights to fruition appears to have run out.
Sad as it is to say, I'm putting Fedor in the history books and giving up on my hopes for one final run of glory and heroics.