A little over one year ago the short-lived Affliction fighting promotion collapsed when Josh Barnett failed a drug test and his fight with Fedor Emelianenko was cancelled. The ensuing bidding war between the UFC and Strikeforce for Fedor's services was a critical turning point for the sport.
At the time Fedor was essentially undefeated and had been the undisputed top heavyweight in the world since 2003 and had just crushed two former UFC champs in his Affliction tenure. Brock Lesnar had just unified the UFC titles by crushing Frank Mir at UFC 100. Fans were salivating at the prospect of Brock Lesnar vs Fedor Emelianenko for all the marbles. Dana White guaranteed he would give them the fight.
But Fedor's management had other ideas. They elected to sign with Strikeforce for a variety of reasons, some political (an aversion to helping the UFC establish a monopoly on world wide MMA), some personal (Dana's habit of smack talking Fedor in the press), some business related (lucrative deals with EA Games and CBS Sports). There was also an undercurrent that Fedor's management didn't want him to face Brock Lesnar in the cage, with elbows where Fedor could lose via cut.
In the ensuing year, especially after Fedor's 69 second submission to Fabricio Werdum, the consensus has been that time and the heavyweight division had passed The Last Emperor by.
Now that Brock's been "Cain-ed" things don't seem so clear cut. Here's Kevin Iole handicapping Fedor vs Brock and Fedor vs Cain:
Brock's biggest weakness is a questionable chin and horrendous defensive boxing. Fedor is a hard puncher, and I think he'd hurt Brock on the feet and finish him similar to Cain. I think a Velasquez-Emelianenko bout would be an amazing match. I'd favor Velasquez now because he's more in his prime, but I wouldn't totally rule out an Emelianenko win.
I've been very critical of M-1 Global, Fedor's management team. It's very clear in retrospect that they blew it when they signed with Strikeforce rather than the UFC. They compounded that error by holding out and skipping Strikeforce's second CBS show in April. In the end, they neither protected Fedor nor got him big time exposure and it's clear that they missed a huge opportunity for their man to show what he could do against a compelling and formidable, but flawed UFC champ.
It's still possible that Fedor and the UFC will cut a deal, never rule anything out in the fight game, but it's unlikely.
Let's end with this near-poignant quote from the time from then M-1 exec Jerry Millen:
"I think M-1's new alliance with SHOWTIME and Strikeforce will allow Fedor to reach a whole new plateau of stardom in America. While Affliction was a great partner, their core business was not the fight game. SHOWTIME has been in the fight business for years and Scott Coker has been promoting martial arts for a long time. With Strikeforce's long track record of promoting fights and SHOWTIME's promotional resources, Fedor now has a real shot to become the most famous fighter in all of MMA."