Back in July, former heavyweight great Fedor Emelianenko announced his return to mixed martial arts after a three-year retirement. A new manager and a focus on money rather than unusual co-promotion demands had many fans of the sport excited that we might finally see The Last Emperor in the UFC Octagon, but the quiet Russian fighter ended up signing a deal to fight in Japan instead.
The deal and a New Years Eve fight against an opponent TBA were revealed during Bellator’s Dynamite broadcast on SpikeTV, along with the news that Spike would broadcast the event in North America. Former PRIDE boss Nobuyuki Sakakibara is behind the signing, which raises some eyebrows because his involvement with the Yakuza resulted in PRIDE losing its TV deal and going bust in 2007.
As usual, combat sports and pro wrestling guru Dave Meltzer has the details on how this deal came together and how close the UFC was to signing Fedor.
Via his Wrestling Observer Newsletter:
Japanese news sources have reported the show being held at the Saitama Super Arena, which makes sense. They’ve also reported that Emelianenko will earn $2.5 million guaranteed for the show, which tells you why he didn’t sign the UFC, since it’s guaranteed and most likely he’ll face a lesser opponent than he would in UFC. UFC had been negotiating with him and it did seem they were close. UFC sources said they were under the impression Emelianenko signed a two-fight deal with Sakakibara’s group. It is believed the show is being financed by an oil-rich foreign investor who already has a stake in the MMA business. Whether he’s agreed to invest for one show, or a regular promotion, is unknown.
This is kind of disappointing for a number of reasons. First, Fedor in the UFC would be another huge win for the combat sports promotion. Emelianenko has been Dana’s white whale for a decade now, and having him take a run at the UFC heavyweight title would have done huge business. Plus, almost all of the heavyweights worthy of fighting Fedor are in the UFC… it’s telling that this Japan deal was announced without an opponent for the Russian.
Having Nobuyuki Sakakibara pulling the strings on another MMA promotion in Japan doesn’t bode well for its success, either. As we mentioned before, PRIDE went down in a pretty big Yakuza scandal, and the chances of Sakakibara getting a promotion back on network TV with that kind of baggage is slim. No decent TV deal = no Japanese MMA revival.
You can’t blame Fedor for accepting a $2.5 million fight guarantee, though. Fedor might have been able to make more money with the UFC, but they usually pay a lower six-figure show/win amount and base the rest of the fighter’s salary off PPV buys. While it’s a decent bet that a UFC PPV with Emelianenko would do big numbers, why chance it when the other guy is offering you a similar amount of money up front? To fight less difficult opponents, to boot?
So, there’ll be no Fedor in the UFC… at least not until his two fights with this mysterious new Japanese MMA company are done.
(Via F4W Online)