The summer of 2009 was one of the most interesting times to be a fan of combat sports, Zuffa’s short-lived rival organization Affliction had just went under leaving numerous talented fighters as free agents, none more important than Fedor Emelianenko.
UFC President Dana White met with Emelianenko and his representatives on many occasions offering him just about everything under the sun, except agreeing to co-promote with M-1 Global, the upstart promotion that managed the top-ranked heavyweight.
Not agreeing to work with his team was ultimately the deal breaker, the Russian Sambo champion turned down several bags of money and the chance to face the premier talent at 265-pounds, instead signing with Strikeforce, a decision he probably regrets today.
Fedor would only have his hand raised once in four trips to the San Jose based organization’s hexagonal cage with three-straight stoppages at the hands of Fabricio Werdum, Antonio Silva and Dan Henderson giving him his walking papers.
Since being exiled from the UFC’s sister-organization he dominated former UFC heavyweight title challenger Jeff Monson and Olympic gold medal winning judoka Satoshi Ishii snapping the lone losing streak of his 38-fight career.
Word around the grapevine is the former Pride Fighting Championship’s heavyweight champion has agreed to fight on June 21 in St. Petersburg, Russia for the M-1 organization, an opponent is yet to be named but all signs are pointing towards 3rd degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Rolles Gracie stepping up to the plate.
Not a knock against Gracie but in a mixed martial arts contest he poses little threat to Fedor and isn’t a fight that anyone is going to get all jazzed up about. In fact, the pickings are slim of notable heavyweights that aren’t inked to the UFC.
Since the top-contender for the heavyweight title Alistair Overeem has been popped for elevated levels of testosterone the door has been left open for someone to step up and challenge power-punching Brazilian Phenom Junior dos Santos and the former long-time ruler of the divisions name has been thrown around.
Personally, I don’t think his prior accomplishments piggy backing on a two-fight win streak over lesser competition is enough to have him challenging for the top prize in the UFC but regardless, he should be swimming in UFC waters.
There are two obvious road blocks though, co-promotion and money.
Strikeforce were willing to join forced with the Russian feeder organization because they were just trying to break through the mold and get noticed, the UFC are the industry leader in this sport and aren’t going to become fifty percent business partners for three events a year, and rightfully so.
The price tag to use “The Last Emperor” is too high, when he was scooped up by Affliction he was scoring an estimated $3 million per fight, win lose or draw and was making someone in that neighborhood working with Strikeforce too.
Walking into the UFC he won’t be getting that sort of money, especially in 2012 when he doesn’t have as many bargaining chips on the table.
That being said, public interest is still behind Emelianenko despite losing three of his last five bouts so he has a chance to draw eyeballs being thrown in the middle of the most stacked heavyweight division in the promotions history.
Pay-per-view revenue is one of the biggest sources of income for the organization’s biggest names, if he can continue to be an attraction in North America to the paying audience as he was with Strikeforce’s Showtime broadcasts he could be ringing in a large slice of that pie.
Whether you love him or hate him, the humble, chubby Russian is a large part of this sports short history and should get one final chance to cement his legacy as he enters his mid-thirties.
The fact remains that we live in a world where Mark Hunt, yes that Mark Hunt is a top-ten heavyweight and is considered to be two fights away from challenging for championship gold, if you don’t think the greatest heavyweight that ever lived could replicate that, you have a screw or two loose.
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