Just a few days after the mixed martial arts world was abuzz with rumors that Fedor Emelianenko would sign with the UFC, a blockbuster deal has been announced.
Fedor has signed a multi-fight deal with Strikeforce. Fedor, widely considered the No. 1 heavyweight fighter in the world, and at the top of many pound-for-pound rankings, has signed a multi-fight deal with the promotion.
A press release from Strikeforce said that Fedor (30-1) will headline events that will be co-promoted by M-1 Global, a Russia-based promotion that is run by Fedor's manager, Vadim Finkelchtein. Co-promotion was the sticking point to a potential deal between Fedor and the UFC. Fedor's Strikeforce debut is expected to be this fall on Showtime, which has a partnership with Strikeforce. It will be Fedor's first live fight on American television; his previous fights in the U.S. have all been on pay-per-view, most recently two fights in the now-defunct Affliction promotion. Affliction's collapse as a fight promotion led to Fedor's availability and led to a renewed round of negotiations between him and the UFC, the largest and most successful MMA promotion in the world.
When the UFC and Fedor's team couldn't get a deal done, Strikeforce was thought to be a longshot to sign arguably the biggest name in the sport.
"I am looking forward to going back to work and fighting at the highest level," Fedor, 33, said in the official announcement. "Strikeforce is a top fight promotion that houses some of the greatest fighters in the world. I am prepared to fight any of them."
Scott Coker, Strikeforce's CEO, was not surprisingly excited about the signing.
"We are extremely excited to have the opportunity to work with M-1 Global and Fedor," Coker said. "Fedor has been the reigning king of MMA's heavyweight division for quite some time now, so being able to work with M-1 and Fedor will substantially increase the level of competition amongst the athletes in this weight class."
Finkelchtein, Fedor's manager, said he was glad to get a deal done for his client. It is believed that Finkelchtein's insistence upon any fights with Fedor being co-promoted by M-1 Global is the reason a deal couldn't get done with the UFC.
"I am very happy and excited about the upcoming collaboration with Strikeforce," Finkelchtein said. "We are very pleased that we found a reliable partner and I feel that Strikeforce and M-1 can support each other on many things. This will create big opportunities for both parties to test their fighters against worthy opponents."
On a media call Friday, UFC president Dana White said Fedor had an open offer that he simply had to accept, but that he was prepared to move on.
"I'm over it. I'm over the deal," White said. "To be honest with you, I don't even wanna talk about him anymore. I literally did everything. I've put my money where my mouth is, laid everything out to try to make this thing happen, and they're coming up with unrealistic (crap). The guy doesn't wanna fight the best in the world -- I don't even wanna talk about him. I wanna talk about the guys who do wanna fight the best in the world."
Critics will likely now say that Fedor will still not be fighting the best in the world. The UFC's heavyweight roster has signifiantly more fighters, and significantly more highly ranked fighters, than Strikeforce's heavyweight class.
Fedor hasn't lost since Dec. 22, 2000, when Tsuyoshi Kohsaka cut him with an elbow in a Rings: King of Kings tournament in Osaka, Japan. The elbow was accidental in that Kohsaka missed Fedor with a punch and Fedor ducked under and into the elbow. The cut was severe enough that Fedor was not allowed to continue. But because the elbow strike -- illegal under the organization's rules -- was accidental, the bout was not ruled a no contest. And because it was a tournament, a winner had to advance, giving Fedor the loss in just his fifth professional fight.
In his career, Fedor has beaten some legends of the sport, including Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mark Coleman, Mirko Filipovic, Kevin Randleman, Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski.
Critics of Fedor have said his reluctance to fight in the UFC is because he doesn't want to fight inside a cage -- all of Fedor's previous fights have been in a ring. But Strikeforce fights inside a cage, marking his debut outside of a ring.