The Cold War: Fedor Weighs His Options
From all appearances, Fedor Emelianenko's
(Pictures) fiercest battle will come
not at the dangerous hands of Mirko Filipovic (Pictures), nor the submission acumen of
Nogueira (Pictures), or even the gelatinous,
suffocating girth of Zulu, Jr.
Instead, the sport's pound-for-pound king is waging war at the
negotiation table, leveraging his considerable status for the
sweetest deal possible.
Discretion not being one of the sport's strong points, the legal
jiu-jitsu has played out in the various news outlets. UFC President
Dana White denounced Fedor's handlers as "crazy Russians," while
said handler Vadim Finkelstein told Sherdog.com that the promotion
was "very harsh" in their terms and "not that eager to
Fans have precious little patience for the maneuverings. To their
collective mind, Fedor hasn't fought a ranked heavyweight in over
seven months, and his conspicuous absence from substantial
competition is an annoyance.
Of primary concern to Finkelstein is that Fedor's ancillary
interests are protected, including opportunities for his Red Devil
squad and a guarantee of his continued participation in Combat
Sambo. The UFC is naturally reluctant to agree to the latter,
figuring that a loss in a modified MMA bout would be damaging to
their investment. (Worse, they can't even promote the winner.)
But Combat Sambo, while certainly a rough-hewn sport, doesn't
present the same physical threats as full-bore MMA. Contestants
wear headgear, shin pads, and fight under time restrictions: the
potential for serious injury, even to Fedor's notoriously brittle
hands, is mitigated.
Moreover, Fedor presents as being so far and above the standard
talent level in that sport that his involvement, while a risk for a
promotion banking on his "baddest man alive status," isn't likely
to suffer for the concession. Watch a Sambo bout featuring him and
it's little more than a glorified sparring match, televised for the
whole of Russia to revel in.
Assuming the worst -- that Fedor is knocked into Belarus by a
silent killer on the Sambo circuit -- is that footage any more
debilitating to the show than Anderson Silva succumbing to a
flying leg lock courtesy of Ryo
Chonan (Pictures), or Quinton Jackson (Pictures) getting fed through the ropes
after Wanderlei Silva
(Pictures) was done with him?
His management's insistence on providing fights for others at the
Red Devil gym is not without precedence: infamously, there was Tank
Abbott's "recommendation" that the UFC employ Eddie Ruiz (Pictures) during his underwhelming comeback
bid of 2003. (Ruiz, who never would've entered the Ultimate
otherwise, was battered by Yves
If Zuffa was willing to indulge Abbott, it doesn't seem
unreasonable to slot the qualified Russian athletes in their WEC
Assuming White and his contractual rivals aren't able to meet
halfway, it would be a serious blow to both the UFC heavyweight
title (which would be rendered as hollow as a malfunctioning
Twinkie) and Fedor himself, who would be faced with a serious lack
of competition on top of which to construct his legacy.
K-1, while strong in the lighter weight categories, is a Ringling
Bros. affair once the scale exceeds 220. If anyone would be
entranced at the idea of seeing Fedor square off with genetic
mutations like Hong-Man Choi or Akebono, I would suggest you
practice a self-lobotomy with a power drill.
Showtime's EliteXC series, while certainly possessed of a desire to
have qualified athletes, is still too diluted at this point to
offer Fedor any appreciable competition. And the less said about
bodogFIGHT, so starved for heavyweight talent that it enlisted a
middleweight Matt Lindland
(Pictures) to face Fedor, the
The sole salvation for a freelance athlete is Josh Barnett (Pictures), who would seemingly be in a
position to follow Fedor if he were so inclined.
While Fedor has options outside of the UFC, there's virtually only
that one meaningful match on the table outside of their
jurisdiction. Anything else -- bouts with Antonio Silva (Pictures), Ricco Rodriguez (Pictures), Jeff Monson (Pictures) -- are novelties at best, wastes
of time and money at worst.
(I'll cop to endorsing one perverse bout: seeing Fedor square off
with K-1's Melvin
Manhoef (Pictures), just for the sheer hell of
Though fans throw tantrums at the UFC's seemingly obstinate
demands, they're not without merit. To play Dana's advocate:
imagine rewarding an athlete with one of the richest contracts in
the promotion's history, scheduling a historic bout with the
champion, and then watching it fall apart as Fedor limps off a
Worse, Finkelstein seems concrete in his demand to pair with the
UFC to promote events in Russia. Perhaps that's simply not in their
plans right now, or perhaps they'd prefer to do business without
being coerced into a partnership. That kind of fine print smacks of
At 26-1, with a mythology surrounding him that may even exceed his
actual ability, the Russian has incredible bargaining power, and he
appears to be exercising it with a sense of infallibility.
Here's hoping he doesn't bargain himself right into obscurity.
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