Why We Will Never See "The Last Emperor" Conquering the UFCAuthor : Jack Barrington
Thursday, 30 July 2009 14:15
Affliction’s recent demise as an MMA promoter has once again stirred up talks of former PRIDE and current WAMMA heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko, and a possible move to the UFC. Add to that the manner in which Brock Lesnar disposed of Frank Mir at UFC 100, and you have a tantalizing potential clash between MMA’s two principal heavyweight champions.
Fedor has reigned over the heavyweight division for as long as most MMA fans can remember. He has brutally disposed of the only man in his division with a similar resume, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, in two of their three meetings, one fight ending in a no-contest due to a clash of heads.
Widely considered the greatest, most dominant fighter the sport has seen, and arguably the best pound for pound mixed-martial artist in the world today, one might argue that Fedor has nothing left to prove. Although UFC President Dana White has been quite vocal about how he feels differently.
The scheduled fight with Josh Barnett at Affliction: Trilogy was set to be the jewel in Emelianenko’s crown, as it was the fight hardcore fans had been clamouring to see for years, and would surely answer any remaining questions about the Russian’s dominance. With Barnett’s positive drug test, Affliction’s downfall, and Dana White being asked ever more frequently about the possibility of Fedor in the UFC—combined with his usual strident retorts, of course—the fans’ focus has shifted from the fight with Barnett to a possible showdown with Brock Lesnar.
A fight between the two highest ranked heavyweights in MMA is visibly a mouth-watering prospect for hardcore and casual fans alike. The age old MMA question of size over skill would obviously signal big PPV sales, yet both sides (Fedor and the UFC) have ardently stuck by their contract demands.
Why? Because they simply don’t need each other to be successful in MMA.
The UFC has met huge success of building the brand rather than the fighters. Just ask any non-MMA fan what mixed martial arts is, and you will likely receive no more than a blank stare as a response. Ask them what “UFC” is, however, and there’s no doubt that they will at least manage to identify it as “that cage fighting thing”.
Aside from their marquee shows, we rarely see huge peaks and troughs concerning the UFC’s PPV numbers. This is because they have established themselves as the premier MMA brand, and have a loyal group of followers who tune in to essentially every card, regardless of the line-up. They have their stars yes, but none are earning the same money that Fedor has pocketed from the first two Affliction shows, and will no doubt continue to make, wherever he ends up fighting.
From the UFC’s point of view, paying one man a salary of that size would not only make poor business sense, but agreeing to different terms with him—such as his own image rights and certain other freedoms—would no doubt create a bigger issue; unrest within the current roster and other big name fighters expecting similar treatment.
On Fedor’s side of the argument lies not only his huge wages, but also his affiliation with M-1 Global, a Russian MMA promotion. Every deal that Fedor has signed recently has involved some form of co-promotion with M1-Global, or at least short term contracts for various team-mates of his. With the UFC’s unwillingness to bend to these terms that he has become accustomed to, why would he be attracted to the organization?
He has also expressed dissatisfaction with other terms offered in previous discussions with Zuffa, clauses entailing that he would only be able to leave the company on a loss, or with his retirement would most likely be a small stepping stone. One would have to assume that this obstacle would be overcome by the UFC matching offers from any rivals. The biggest hurdle it seems, would be Fedor’s right to compete in Sambo competitions.
However great the accolades bestowed upon Fedor for his accomplishments in MMA, you can multiply them for his achievements in Sambo. He has won the World and Russian championships numerous times and is highly lauded in his home country for his achievements. To be frank, he is a national icon. That is a lot for Fedor to give up, just to sign for a different MMA promotion—a promotion that cannot even guarantee a greater fight purse than he is used to.
The UFC will continue to garner huge PPV sales and continue its expansion without signing Emelianenko. Fedor himself can earn bigger wages in other promotions, where he will retain his right to compete in his beloved Sambo competitions, all whilst gaining exposure for his team-mates and for M-1 Global. There is still a respectable amount of top competition outside of the UFC to challenge “The Last Emperor”, such as potential fights with Josh Barnett, Fabricio Werdum, and Alistair Overeem, which are surely more tempting than any match-ups the UFC can offer outside of Brock Lesnar.
The two simply don’t need each other to survive. They are both huge commodities by themselves and will continue to find success, and make a lot of money, in the fight game without bowing to each other’s demands.
No matter how badly some fans want Fedor in the UFC, it just isn’t going to happen. It doesn’t make business sense from either side and it doesn’t really contribute a lot to furthering Fedor's strengthen his legacy, or the reputation of the UFC.
We, as MMA fans, should learn to appreciate them separately. The UFC will continue to put on huge, exhilarating fight cards without Fedor’s name headlining them, and Fedor will continue to wow us with his superlative combat ability, whether he is in the octagon or not.
Sadly, the largest promotion and the greatest fighter seem set to never meet. It is time we just accepted that.