We all miss the great shows Pride used to put on — the unbelievable production value, the Grand Prix tournaments, the giggling ring girls who all seemed to be about fourteen years old. What we don’t miss (or at least I don’t) are the circus fights they organized for no discernible reason.
Well, now that big time MMA is no more in Japan, FEG and Yarrenoka! have teamed up to put on a New Year’s Eve show in Tokyo, and their first order of business seems to be to bring back the freak show fight. As they announced yesterday, Fedor Emelianenko will take on Korean giant Hong Man Choi as part of this event. I’d ask why, except I already know.
For those of you not familiar with Choi, he’s a 7’2″ monster who is formerly of K-1 kickboxing fame. He’s only had one MMA bout thus far — a sixteen-second win over Bobby Ologun — and now he’ll be taking on one of the world’s best heavyweights. Choi was surprisingly successful as a kickboxer, owing mainly to the fact that his knees were at about the same level as his opponents’ heads when they faced. But can he grapple at all? Is he ready to go against a guy like Fedor in a sport he’s hardly competed in?
The answer, of course, is no. But Fedor sells in Japan and so does Choi, who is known as “The Techno Goliath” to Japanese and Korean fans. Sadly, this fight will probably sell a few tickets in the Saitama Super Arena, and thus will have served its purpose no matter how much of a farce the actual fight turns out to be.
What I’m wondering is, what’s Fedor thinking about all this? I mean, put yourself in his shoes. A few months back you were everyone’s consensus pick for number one heavyweight, maybe even number one overall. Then Pride fell apart, you somehow failed to come to terms with the UFC, and now you’re fighting in what is essentially a pro wrestling match without the story line or theatrics. Is this the point where you realize you’ve made some very poor choices, or do you just keep checking the balance of your bank account every time you feel sad?
It’s getting (gotten?) to the point where it’s hard to call Fedor the best in the world anymore, simply because the best has to keep proving himself, or at least keep fighting credible opponents. Fedor isn’t doing that, I’m sad to say. The worst part is it only lends credence to Dana White’s claims that it was Fedor’s management team of “crazy Russians” that made it impossible for them to agree on a contract.
While I still think calling them names in the press was not a smart negotiating tactic on White’s part, I can kind of understand his frustration at trying to deal with the same people who thought it was a good idea to deny Fedor a blockbuster fight with Randy Couture in the interest of getting him this sideshow affair with Choi. How is this doing anything except padding the bank accounts of Fedor and his management team, all at the expense of his reputation? I’m not suggesting that he shouldn’t get paid — the UFC would have likely made him their highest paid fighter ever, by all accounts — but he should realize that he’s hurting his name value with fights like this, and hurting your name value means hurting your own bottom line in the end.
The more time passes, the more it starts to seem like walking away from the UFC contract will end up being the greatest folly in what could have been a legendary career. Fedor accomplished so much in Pride, but he won’t be remembered for that if he ends his career as a spectacle fighter.
Let’s just hope this fight serves as a kind of rock bottom for Fedor the way waking up in a pool of vomit and broken glass with somebody else’s pants on does for alcoholics. Fedor can still have his moment of clarity and turn things around, but the window of opportunity is shrinking fast.