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Fedor Emelianenko Signs With Strikeforce; First Fight to Air on Showtime

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Strikeforce manages to cut MMA's free agent Gordian Knot. From a press release in my inbox:

World's No. 1 MMA Heavyweight To Fight

In STRIKEFORCE / M-1 Global Co-Promoted Events

First Fight To Air This Fall, Live on SHOWTIME®

NEW YORK (August 3, 2009)--After a week of intense negotiations and speculation, the hottest topic of discussion in the professional fight world has come to a head as the world's number one heavyweight and most sought after mixed martial arts (MMA) champion Fedor "The Last Emperor" Emelianenko has signed a historic, multi-fight agreement that will see him headline mega-events co-promoted by world championship promotions STRIKEFORCE and M-1 Global.

Emelianenko, known globally as Fedor, will make his premium television debut this Fall when his first fight under the new agreement airs live on SHOWTIME®.  Up until now, Emelianenko's live fights have aired exclusively on pay-per-view in the United States.

"I am looking forward to going back to work and fighting at the highest level," said the 33-year-old Emelianenko.  During his nine year professional fight career, which included a four and a half year stay with the world's former top MMA promotion, the now defunct PRIDE Fighting Championship, the Russian native has faced and defeated all comers.

In his last effort, the 6-foot, 235-pound Emelianenko decimated the number two ranked heavyweight at the time Andrei "The Pitbull" Arlovski with a single punch in the first round (3:14) of the main event of Affliction:  "Day of Reckoning" at Anaheim, California's Honda Center on January 24.

"STRIKEFORCE is a top fight promotion that houses some of the greatest fighters in the world," continued Emelianenko.  "I am prepared to fight any of them."

"We are extremely excited to have the opportunity to work with M-1 Global and Fedor," said STRIKEFORCE Founder and CEO Scott Coker, a martial arts fight promoter of over 25 years.  "Fedor has been the reigning king of MMA's heavyweight division for quite some time now so being able to work with M-1 and Fedor will substantially increase the level of competition amongst the athletes in this weight class."

A few early takeaways:

1. Before we get into any discussion about whether this move will or won't bankrupt Strikeforce, we need to see what the explicit terms of the deal Fedor/M-1 actually reached with the California-based MMA organization. Period. Certainly, though, the task of promoting Fedor while profitting from him has not been something easily accomplished by fight promoters either at home or abroad.

2. I take this to be the official declaration of UFC's mostly "hands off" policy towards Strikeforce. While losing Carano to Coker probably doesn't keep White up at night, this one most certainly means aggressive counter campaigning and media marginalization by Zuffa. Let's also see how bold the UFC becomes in luring away Strikeforce talent. Conversely, will UFC heavyweights leave to seek a Fedor fight in Strikeforce? I wouldn't rule it out.

3. In terms of adding subscribers to Showtime, Fedor could prove beneficial. He's obviously well-known to MMA hardcores and believe it or not, rather easily attracts the attention of large-scale media outlets. Add in the popularity boost he'll likely receive from the EA Sports game and the prospect of Showtime adding thousands of new subscribers doesn't seem like the long shot that turning him into a PPV draw actually does.

4. I suppose we'll see Fedor take on Brett Rogers first , which is a fun and legitimate undertaking, but not necessarily the stuff of Fedor vs. Lesnar or Fedor vs. a wide array of UFC heavyweights. Although should Emelianenko lose to Rogers, the heavyweight division could be turned on its axis.

5. The UFC management who tried to broker a deal with Fedor and M-1 must be beside themselves. They made many of the concessions Fedor and his team were looking for, but it was too little too late. The scorched earth policy of White after the initial round of negotiations soured Emelianenko on any prospect of working with Zuffa. Fedor and his team's desire to make the aggrandizement of M-1 a central tenet to any deal sealed their fate. Zuffa tried to rush the deal through by making the other concessions sweetheart compromises but thereby unwittingly raised Emelianenko's value in one fell swoop. After the completion of this deal, Fedor will likely see no value in signing with the UFC and will be more expensive than ever.

6. The missed opportunity in having Fedor vs. Lesnar is indeed sad. It's a shame for the sport, for the division and for the fans of MMA. But the upside is that Fedor has at least some noteworthy fights ahead of him all on American soil. It's not what the MMA community asked for, but I suspect they'll take it. Albeit with a very bitter aftertaste of what could've been.

Congratulations, Strikeforce. The rest of the release after the jump.

"With the addition of Fedor and STRIKEFORCE's new relationship with M-1 Global, SHOWTIME is now the home of the best pound-for-pound male and female fighters in the world," said Ken Hershman, Senior VP and General Manager of SHOWTIME Sports®.  "The Aug. 15 Carano-Cyborg matchup on SHOWTIME will clearly determine the best female mixed martial artist on the planet.  Then, come this Fall, our subscribers again will witness history when the universally recognized best male fighter-Fedor Emelianenko-joins the already long list of world-class athletes on the STRIKEFORCE roster, and for the first time ever plies his skills live on SHOWTIME."

Hershman continued: "We are better positioned now than ever before to deliver on our promise to televise the top fighters in mixed martial arts today."

"I am very happy and excited about the upcoming collaboration with Strikeforce," said Vadim Finkelchtein, President of M-1 Global. "We are very pleased that we found a reliable partner and I feel that Strikeforce and M-1 can support each other on many things. This will create big opportunities for both parties to test their fighters against worthy opponents."

Though his official professional record is 30-1, Emelianenko is considered undefeated.  The only blemish on his record is a December 22, 2000 fight that was stopped after 17 seconds and declared a TKO in favor of his opponent, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, due to a cut Emelianenko sustained in the opening seconds of the matchup in Osaka, Japan.

Amongst those on Emelianenko's list of impressive conquests are former PRIDE Heavyweight Champions Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mark "The Hammer" Coleman, and Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic as well as former UFC Heavyweight Champions Kevin "The Monster" Randleman and Tim Sylvia, whom Emelianenko submitted with a rear naked choke only 36 seconds into their main event showdown at Affliction:  "Banned" on July 19, 2008.

Despite his extensive experience, Emelianenko's debut under the new STRIKEFORCE-M-1 venture will, interestingly enough, mark his first start in a cage.  To date, all of his bouts have taken place in a ring.

After co-promoting two events live on SHOWTIME in 2007 and 2008, STRIKEFORCE in March 2009 signed a multi-year agreement to stage live MMA events on the premium cable television network.