Tag Archives: Fedor Emelianenko

Living With The Fedor Backlash

Few men have caused so much trouble by doing so little. In the past year Fedor Emelianenko has sparked controversy and debate, provided the impetus for the creation of one new company and strained relationships within another, and all while barely maintaining an active career as a pro fighter.

We of the MMA media are more than a little complicit in all this. We’ve hailed Fedor as the greatest, then lambasted him when he dared to chase a paycheck instead of carrying the mantle we had thrust upon him. Now that he’s seemingly come to his senses and is leaving M-1 for greener pastures, we have to find something else to get upset about.

Don’t worry. If it’s one thing MMA writers and fans alike are good at, it’s manufacturing discontent.

A recent article by Sherdog ace Jake Rossen got the ball rolling. In it, Rossen takes aim at, among other things, Fedor’s position atop the rankings. The support for this criticism comes primarily from Fedor’s inactivity, which is fair. In the last fifteen months Fedor has fought a circus freak, a middleweight, and a K-1 kickboxer with a limited ground game. Then again, he beat them all in the first round. If the sharpest complaint you can level at him is that it took him a few minutes longer than expected to finish opponents who he far outclassed, you have to wonder how much you really have to gripe about.

But let’s be honest, most of the Fedor-hate these days doesn’t have anything to do with his fighting ability. It’s about his business decisions. To be more specific, it’s about his decision not to fight in America, for American audiences. Spurning an offer from the UFC was the first step. Dana White claimed publicly that Fedor was overrated, which doesn’t explain why he offered him millions to fight for the UFC or why he’s now trying to hype two-time Fedor victim Mark Coleman, but still.

The point is that complaints about Fedor’s recent opponents are legitimate, but not as a criticism of his abilities as a fighter. All Fedor has ever done is beat whoever was put in front of him. Granted, he may not have made the best choices about who to trust as a manager or promoter or matchmaker — and he wouldn’t be the first fighter to be taken advantage of in that regard — but it doesn’t mean he isn’t the best heavyweight in the world.

What this is really about is sour grapes and hurt feelings. That goes for those on the production and promotion side, such as the UFC, as well as for fans and the media. Because Fedor is unbeaten, it’s easy for us to say he is untested. And if we say he’s untested, well, we demand to see him tested. Fedor’s admittedly poor business decisions of late have denied us that opportunity, and so we lash out at him. We try and take back the title that we gave him — world’s best fighter — as if it might somehow convince him to come to America just to placate us.

Odds are Fedor doesn’t care what we say about him. Maybe he doesn’t even know. There’s a good chance that all he cares about are the zeros on his paycheck, and if you don’t think that’s an honorable enough motivation you should bring it up with Randy Couture and see what he tells you. All the talk about who’s the best in the world doesn’t mean much at the end of the day, so it’s hard to criticize a guy for not placing as much importance on it as we do.

Whatever we may say about him when our feelings get hurt, the truth is that Fedor has been nothing short of dominant in his career as a fighter. He’s beaten everyone he’s faced, even if his list of opponents of late isn’t what we’d like it to be. He’s still Fedor. His abilities — once the match is finally set and the opening bell rings — are still unassailable. We know this. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t spend so much time arguing about him. And then what would we do? Nothing that’s this much fun, that’s for sure.

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Filed under Fedor Emelianenko, MMA, Sports, UFC

Fedor to M-1: I Just Need My Space Right Now

It was a whirlwind romance, but it seems the flame has burned out.  Fedor and M-1 are breaking up.  At least, that’s what one of Fedor’s agents, Apy Echteld, told ESPN’s Ryan Hockensmith.   Echteld claimed that an announcement was forthcoming in the next few days, and that Fedor would officially be a free agent.

It’s not hard to see what prompted this split.  Fedor wants to see other people.  And considering that M-1 has had him for about five months without even coming close to putting on an event of their own, who can blame him?  There he sits, surrounded by big promises and not much else from M-1 Global — which has shown itself to be little more than a Rent-a-Fedor operation thus far — while outside the MMA world turns without him, and the big fights pass him by.

One man who was very happy to hear this news was UFC president Dana White.  His inability to sign Fedor the first time he was a free agent precipitated the Randy Couture debacle.  Though that matter soon got ugly in other areas, Fedor joining the UFC could be the impetus that Couture and the UFC both need to put their differences aside and make this highly anticipated bout happen.

But, would White be willing to take another go at signing Fedor, whose abilities he has publicly disparaged many times, even once calling his management team “crazy Russians”?

“Absolutely, 100 percent, in a heartbeat,” White told ESPN. “People think he’s the best—I don’t, not even close. But if it’s somehow possible, I would make it happen.”

Granted, none of this is going to happen easily.  At the moment, no announcement about Fedor leaving M-1 has been made, and some in the MMA world have cast doubt upon the possibility.  One notable shift in the dialogue is the fact that it’s now Echteld doing the talking for Fedor, and not Vadim Finklestein, Fedor’s longtime manager.  But then, we also have to remember that Finklestein also has a stake in M-1.  If Fedor’s on the outs with the organization, he may also be looking to split from Finklestein, who guided him in that direction to begin with.

It’s still too early to know exactly what’s going to happen, but the wheels seem to be in motion.  Now we just have to wait and see how M-1 is going to take the breakup.  Something tells me she’s the kind that doesn’t let go easily, especially since Fedor is all she’s got.  Attention-grabbing fake suicide attempt, anyone?  Maybe an “accidental” pregnancy?

Okay, this metaphor has officially gone too far.  I’ll stop now.

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Fedor Armbars Choi, Finds It A Hollow Acheivement

In case you haven’t heard, Fedor Emelianenko won his circus fight with Korean giant Hong Man Choi in the Yarennoka New Year’s Eve show. The outcome was never really in doubt, especially when you consider that Yarennoka changed the rules for this bout to ban knee strikes, one of Choi’s best and only weapons.

The fight took less than two minutes and resulted in this fairly comedic but utterly meaningless armbar. Now that it’s over, I can’t help but wonder what’s going through Fedor’s mind. Is he sitting around some Japanese hotel room right now, watching senseless game shows and trying to avoid looking at himself in the mirror? Does he periodically feel sad for no explainable reason, and does this sadness linger until he checks his bank account balance? What does he tell himself about what he’s become?

It’s not that I don’t understand why a Russian fighter who grew up so poor he had to share a coat with his brother Aleks (a hilarious mental image) would sell out the first chance he got, which is what Fedor has done, let’s just admit it. As The Million Dollar Man used to say, everybody has a price (yes, most of my life philosophy comes from late 80’s-early 90’s pro wrestling). But the difference between Fedor and the rest of humanity is that Fedor didn’t have to sell out to get rich. Fedor had a choice, and now he has to live with making the wrong one.

Whatever rumor you believe about how much the UFC was offering Fedor to sign on and fight Randy Couture, you have to think it was a lot of money. We’re talking somewhere in the millions, after contracts and bonuses and sponsorships are factored in. But Fedor turned that down, or rather, his management team did. They turned it down so he could fight in M-1, which currently only exists in the form of a Fedor rental operation.

In other words, Fedor is being used.  That’s not so bad, I suppose.  Every fighter gets used to some extent.  But Fedor is doing it at the expense of his legacy, his reputation, and maybe his dignity.  Honestly, does anyone consider a victory over Hong Man Choi — a man with only one previous MMA bout — to be a serious accomplishment for someone who is supposed to be the world’s best heavyweight?  In the post-fight press conference Fedor again mentioned how much he’d like to fight Randy Couture, but by walking away from a UFC contract he’s already essentially turned that fight down.

At some point, Fedor has to stop and ask himself how much money is enough.  How much is it worth to squander great potential in matchups that amount to little more than practical jokes?  How much is it worth to be remembered as the guy who might have been great?  I hate to say it, but right now it looks as though greed — either on the part of Fedor, his management team, or both — is destroying what could have been a legendary career.

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Couture Remains Adamant About Fighting Fedor

Say this for Randy Couture: once he gets an idea in his head, he doesn’t let go of it very easily. Couture showed up at HDNet Fights this past Saturday and made it very clear that he hasn’t given up on fighting the world’s top heavyweight, Fedor Emelianenko. To hear Couture tell it, right now it’s just a waiting game.

“Unless the UFC wants to do a co-promotion with M-1 and make the Fedor fight happen, I’m going to have to wait ’til my contract expires.

I have no intention of breaching that contract; that expires in July. My employment contract expires with them in October. So I would assume the soonest you’d see me fight Emelianenko would be in October.”

I can’t decide if I should be reassured by the fact that Couture is insisting this fight will happen, or if I’m just getting my hopes up for no reason. Maybe the better question is, who is Couture really hoping to put the pressure on by making these announcements?

Note the carefully placed remark about the UFC doing some kind of cross-promotional deal with M-1, the company that hopes to make a profit somehow by renting Fedor out again and again. By not ruling out the possibility that the UFC might step up and make this fight happen, Couture might be indicating to the UFC brass that they can either arrange the fight while he’s still under contract or wait until October and then lose him altogether. No doubt the UFC has some kind of legal contingency plan to keep Couture from taking a fight in October, but all that might do is delay the fight a few months. Couture’s not getting any younger, but it doesn’t seem to bother him much.

The truth is that the UFC isn’t eager to engage in any type of cross-promotional events, and why would they? They know they’re the biggest show in town. Other organizations need them, not the other way around. Still, the fact that their heavyweight champion and the greatest ambassador the sport has ever had (Couture gave a pre-game speech to the Green Bay Packers, while Tito Ortiz goes on Celebrity Apprentice…just saying) is making public appearances so he can look into the camera and say ‘I want Fedor’ over and over, it might be enough to make the UFC swallow their pride.

There’s no question that a Couture-Fedor fight would be a huge success in terms of revenue, and the UFC is already going to run into some problems trying to scrape up main events this spring with their light heavyweight title held hostage on a reality show. The best part is, it probably wouldn’t be difficult to make the fight happen as part of a UFC event if they move fast. M-1 isn’t even close to putting on an event of their own, nor are they close to having enough fighters to fight on it. They’re basically a Fedor rental operation at this point. The UFC should move to make this fight happen in the spring, before they lose Couture and before M-1 has a chance to dig in and match Fedor against a juggling bear or a boxing kangaroo.

If the UFC is afraid of setting a precedent that will allow fighters to “resign” from their contracts, as Couture did, that’s understandable. What’s less so is if they let the fight of the decade slip through their hands just to make a point. I think it’s safe to say that whatever happens, Couture isn’t going to let this go anytime soon.

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Fedor-Choi To Revive Japanese MMA Tradition of Freak Show Bouts

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.

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In A Posh Manhattan Loft, Fedor Meets the U.S. Media

A strange thing happened last night. Through some twist of fate, I found myself sitting in fashion designer Marc Ecko’s posh 23rd Street loft, surrounded by other members of the MMA media, sitting just a few feet from Fedor Emelianenko.

Now that I think about it, strange doesn’t quite explain the situation. Bizarre is a little better, or even surreal. Look to your right and there’s Jerry Millen with Frank Trigg. On the left, there’s Elite XC’s Gary Shaw and the IFL’s Gareb Shamus. And right in front, of course, Fedor sits smiling in his stylish suit and blue tie, calmly enjoying a warm reception from the adoring media.

I wasn’t expecting to end my Monday evening this way. But that morning I’d heard about a press conference to announce Fedor’s future with the M-1 Global organization, and I quickly scrambled to secure myself an invite.

The theme of the press conference, it turned out, was that M-1 would be an “open company” that would allow Fedor to fight champions from other organizations, and make it profitable for those champions to fight Fedor, whether it happened in M-1 or not. In case anyone missed this, M-1 executives rephrased and repeated it several times.

M-1, which has had a storm of rumors surrounding its recent purchase, turns out now to be owned by entertainment group Sibling Sports, LLC. If you’ve never heard of Sibling Sports, you aren’t alone. They’re a newly formed subsidiary of Sibling Entertainment, a company that produces Broadway shows. So why were we having this press conference in Marc Ecko’s office?

“He’s a friend,” said Sibling president and CEO Mitchell Maxwell.

Maxwell is something of an entertainment mogul, one of the guys who seems like he was born in a Brooks Brothers suit and who off-handedly mentions meetings he had in Sardinia, where he and someone else agreed to meet later in Amsterdam to talk further. He also admits to knowing next to nothing about MMA except that his company has signed the best fighter in the world, and he only knows that because enough people have told him.

One of those people is Monte Cox, the well-known agent to MMA stars like Tim Sylvia and Sean Sherk and Ben Rothwell and dozens of others, particularly those from the Miletich camp. Cox is now the CEO of M-1 Global, which was previously owned and operated by Fedor’s manager Vadim Finkelchtein (who was also present at the event).

Cox has put, by his own estimation, sixty or more fighters in the UFC as an agent. But now that he’s the head of a competing organization, he’ll naturally step down as a fighter representative, right? Wrong. If his fighters are dealing with M-1, Cox said, he’d step aside. But he plans to continue to represent fighters in other organizations.

“I haven’t really thought about it too much,” he said, when asked if this was a conflict of interest. “I guess we’ll see how it goes.”

Because I like to assume the best about people, I interpreted this as a deft dodge by Cox. He couldn’t possibly expect me to believe he hadn’t thought about the potential conflict his new position would create. It’s practically a text book definition of the term “conflict of interest”.

The star of this show was obviously Fedor, who spoke sparingly through an interpreter. He spoke of his respect for Randy Couture, as a person and a fighter, and said what an honor it would be to fight him. When asked about accusations that he had dodged a fight with then-UFC champion Tim Sylvia back when Pride and the UFC were trying to work out fighter exchanges, Fedor smiled and said simply, “I have never avoided any fighter.”

I was surprised how charismatic Fedor was while saying so little. He often deferred to his manager or gave very simple, short answers. When asked why he didn’t sign with the UFC he initially avoided a direct answer before finally saying, “I think the contract wasn’t that great, to tell you softly.”

Despite the repeated references to him as the “number one fighter in the world” by Cox and Maxwell, Emelianenko commented near the end of the press conference that he didn’t consider himself number one because he hadn’t faced enough competition.

M-1’s hook, aside from having Fedor, seems to be their pledge to be open and “global”. When asked if there were any restrictions in Fedor’s contract about where he could fight and under what circumstances, Maxwell said, “No. That’s the short answer.”

Matt Kaplan from Five Ounces of Pain, who was sitting next to me, whispered in my ear, “Yeah, but what’s the long answer?”

That’s what I’m wondering. M-1 seems to have a lot of great ideas about how the MMA world should work, but I have to question how they’ll be implemented. Do they really expect the UFC to share their open attitude? When I asked both Cox and Maxwell about this, as well as about where they were licensed to hold events, who else might fight in them, and how MMA fans would be able to watch them, they claimed they didn’t know yet because their company was still so new.

And yet, they said several times that they expected to have Fedor fight in February. That’s going to require some quick moving on their part to get everything in place. Maxwell said he wasn’t worried, because although he’d only seen his first MMA match on DVD about ten weeks earlier, he knew that everybody wanted to be alligned with the best, and that’s Fedor.

I politely pointed out that in fighting, having the best only means something if you have a credible opponent for him to face. Here Maxwell floated some names that he said “have been tossed around” as potential opponents for Fedor, including Josh Barnett and Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou.

“We’re not going to have him fight tomato cans,” Maxwell added.

That’s reassuring. But plenty of companies begin with big announcements and swanky media receptions only to have the open bar dry up a few months down the road. I’ll be anxious to see what M-1 does to make MMA more of an open and global venture. Their first acquisition is a good one, but one man won’t make an organization. Even if it’s Fedor.

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