I searched the threads and didn't see this posted. (First article I've posted here so if this was already posted I apologize. Bear with me.) The Winter Empire | News .:. NOKAUT
The Winter Empire [Aug 13, 2009]
The Winter EmpireWith over 30 fights across nearly a decade of professional mixed martial arts competition, Fedor Emelianenko’s already legendary career is entering its final stages. It is with this in mind that so many fans and industry analysts watch his moves, both in and out of the ring, with such intense scrutiny. It is why so many view his move to Strikeforce with emotions as strong and polarized as admiration and disgust, eager anticipation and indignant confusion. Yet, to cast a glance back at his career is to realize that Emelianenko has always been a bit of a mystery to fans, personally and professionally; a look at his fights to come reveals that his deal with Strikeforce may not be as inexplicable as it seems.
The Unknowable Man
Fedor Emelianenko is persistently one of the most enigmatic figures in the whole of mixed martial arts. Despite being a true juggernaut of this sport’s modern era, he remains unfamiliar to the vast majority of the sport’s fans. He possesses some of the greatest finishing power and fighting instincts among his peers, yet he maintains a demeanor that is, if not aloof and dispassionate, then perfectly serene, with a smile archaic as any muscled, unfeeling Greek sculpture.
Efforts to describe Fedor Emelianenko to the world have been ill fated and largely unsuccessful. PRIDE attempted to introduce him to American audiences with a fight card in Las Vegas; the poorly attended show was followed shortly after by the breakdown and dissolution of the revered organization. Fight promotions Bodog and Affliction hoped to pick up the reins, only to collapse under the peculiar weight of having too little—too little talent to match against Fedor, and too little money to continue operation. Most recently, high-profile negotiations with the UFC appeared to be ushering in an era of heightened prominence for the currently uncrowned heavyweight champion, only to fall short, with Emelianenko electing to sign with the promising, but unspectacular organization Strikeforce.
Given these developments, the mystery most prominent in our minds now must be that mystery of Fedor Emelianenko’s career. Specifically, how its latter days will speak to his legacy.
Why Strikeforce, Why not the UFC
Fedor Emelianenko’s three-fight deal with Strikeforce took a great many fans by surprise. It seemed like the collapse of the Affliction fight organization, assurances from Dana White, and “leaked” details of the contract offered by the UFC would put enough pressure on Emelianenko to make him finally sign up to fight alongside Brock Lesnar and Randy Couture. What so many fans didn’t count on was that Emelianenko has never been so skittish a negotiator as to take a less-than-ideal offer for fear of an extended absence from the ring; he has never been so concerned with Dana White’s opinions, promises, or influence as to feel pressured into making a decision; and the details of the contract, leaked to and revealed by Carmichael Dave, were absolutely false. This last point is particularly emblematic of the problems between the UFC (Dana White specifically) and Emelianenko. For the UFC to widely, surreptitiously circulate exaggerated details concerning money and concessions offered to Emelianenko demonstrates a gross lack of honor and respect. And it is this matter of respect that has been the sharpest bone of contention between the UFC and Emelianenko almost from the beginning.
Long before the matter of co-promoting events ever took center stage, Emelianenko and his management cited a lack of respect and professionalism as the source of their reluctance to do business with the UFC. As far back as two years ago, Dana White could be quoted on SportsIllustrated.com as calling Emelianenko and his party “crazy Russians.” Last winter, on Brazilian television, White essentially insulted Emelianenko’s intelligence and judgment of character when he claimed that Emelianenko was not in “control [of] his destiny.” In poor taste, he went on to say that their moves were “stupid,” with each decision being “dumber than before.” Since Emelianenko’s free-agency following the end of PRIDE, Dana White has called Emelianenko over-rated, implied that he was a paper champion, and referred to him as a “fucking joke.” And, more recently, there were the leaked, false details of a contract: paydays so huge and concessions so generous that fans turned against Emelianenko when they heard that he wasn’t going to accept five million dollars per fight with the UFC. Without knowing the truth of the matter, fans called him greedy and delusional. Satisfied that public opinion had swung in his company’s favor, White never denied the claims, and instead seemed to fortify them when he insisted that Emelianenko was going to Strikeforce to fight “nobodies” for no money—assertions both baseless and uninformed.
Why would Emelianenko want to acquiesce to this man and his organization, which has repeatedly, doggedly badmouthed him to the press? It should come as little shock that Fedor Emelianenko and his management team decided to take a hard line with the UFC.
Dealings with Scott Coker and Strikeforce have been quite a different matter. One can imagine any amount of impassioned business negotiations behind closed doors, but Coker has been very careful not to publicly embellish his own magnanimity or damage Emelianenko’s reputation. However much he may have gnashed his teeth in the boardroom, Coker and his company have, with little to no audible resentment, consented to an apparently acceptable number of conditions. There isn’t much to say beyond that, which is, frankly, how it should be. To respectfully preserve the reputation and dignity of all parties involved, any drama at the negotiating table remained just that: at the table.
Strongest There Is
Let us respectfully acknowledge Emelianenko’s right and reason for declining employment with the UFC. Let us assume that, despite Dana White’s insistence to the contrary, the conditions Emelianenko received from Strikeforce are, financially, to his benefit. Even with all these doubts and concerns put to rest, there is still the matter of how well Strikeforce can provide for the world’s number one heavyweight in terms of talent. Are Strikeforce’s heavyweights enough of a challenge for Emelianenko? Will he be given just cause to flex? Or will he languish in his last years, putting the stamp on opponents that are, however eager, ultimately unworthy?
Will these last years characterize Emelianenko as an underachiever?
An objective comparison of the heavyweight talent pool in both Strikeforce and the UFC is the best way to come to an understanding on the matter. Sherdog’s Jake Rossen conducted a similar, truncated examination, and I agree with much of it.
Strikeforce’s heavyweight division may not benefit from the same level of hype or exposure that the UFC’s does, but this isn’t to say that it is any less rich on talent. In fact, both organizations’ crop of heavyweights could be characterized in the same way: talented, interesting, but unproven.
Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem seems to have recreated himself with the move up from 205 pounds, marked by his destruction of former Strikeforce champion Paul Buentello. More recently, Overeem looked very impressive against Mirko Filipovic before that fight ended in a no-contest, with Filipovic claiming illegal strikes to the groin. And while he hasn’t defended the title formally, Overeem hasn’t lost a fight since claiming the title, either. Overeem finally looks ready to draw from what has always been a deep well of potential. Based on MMA credentials and talent, Overeem is just as legitimate a test for Emelianenko as UFC champion Brock Lesnar.
A fight with UFC champion Brock Lesnar sounds sensational, but disproportionately so. After all, it wasn’t so long ago when a different physically imposing up-and-comer had strung together a couple of head turning wins before being labeled the next great contender for Emelianenko’s belt: on New Year’s Eve 2006, Mark Hunt submitted to Fedor Emelianenko due to kimura in the first round. Brock Lesnar is an interesting opponent, but not a necessary one. At 4-1, with his biggest wins coming over an aging Randy Couture and an overconfident, typically disinterested Frank Mir, Lesnar is hardly the be-all-end-all of contenders, however large the pectorals surrounding his penis-sword tattoo may be.
Brett Rogers knocked out former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski in the first round of Strikeforce’s last fight card. Rogers attacked the outsized Arlovski with little apparent fear, showing himself to be as dangerous and imposing a figure as anyone. UFC heavyweight Shane Carwin has had a similar rise to prominence, staking his claim for title contention with a KO of Gabriel Gonzaga. For both fighters, there is still a question of consistency—will these most recent fights end up being the peak of Rogers’ and Carwin’s careers, or is it the beginning of a lengthy tour of the upper echelons? Gabriel Gonzaga himself had to face such a reckoning following his win over Filipovic, and with losses to Couture, Fabricio Werdum, and Carwin, his future looks hazy.
The aforementioned Werdum is an interesting addition to Strikeforce. His developing muay thai and formidable jiu-jitsu make him a mounting threat to any heavyweight. Though betrayed by a lack of focus in his upset loss to Junior dos Santos—a UFC heavyweight who is, along with Cain Velazquez, compelling but unseasoned—Werdum has always been a force in the division, and would be a noteworthy name on Emelianenko’s resume.
Having only signed a three-fight contract with the organization, Strikeforce doesn’t need to provide a hyped up pantheon of heavyweights for Emelianenko. Three legitimate heavyweights are what the need, and in Overeem, Rogers, and Werdum, three legitimate heavyweights are what they have. The UFC’s counterparts—Lesnar, Carwin, dos Santos, and Velazquez—are not any better or worse. As for the UFC’s Cheick Kongo, Mir, Nogueira, Filipovic, and Heath Herring, Emelianenko has already soundly beaten these last three fighters. Meanwhile, Kongo and Mir have shown a crippling inability to succeed consistently. Beyond these men, there is Randy Couture, but a fight between he and Emelianenko may be more hype than substance. Emelianenko, for now, seems to be holding steady at peak physical condition, while Couture has looked markedly aged his last outing, with his deteriorating reflexes failing him in his title defense against Brock Lesnar. He is, simply, past his prime. Similar to a fight with Lesner, a fight between Emelianenko and Couture would be spectacular, but not for the purest of reasons.
With Stikeforce’s track record of collaboration and fighter trading, it’s very likely that matchmakers will be able to pull together just as many contenders equal to the UFC’s in talent and critical significance. A bout with hypothetical Sengoku champion Antonio Silva, Sergei Kharitonov, or Jeff Monson would be just as, or more interesting, than a fight with someone like the wrestling-prone Kongo. And while the UFC may have Couture, Strikeforce still has the option of pursuing a fight with Josh Barnett. A true heavyweight in his physical prime (however chemically enhanced that prime may be) Barnett is in fact a far dangerous opponent than Couture, and would, in the long run, prove to be much more significant contribution to Emelianenko’s legacy.
In the end, Strikeforce’s heavyweight division, both current and prospective, is just as good as the UFC’s. Should Emelianenko’s next three fights prove to be his last, then the California-based organization is just as well equipped as anyone to provide worthy opposition for MMA’s wandering king.
What is it Good For?
Fedor Emelianenko’s move to Strikeforce is a positive step for mixed martial arts. It keeps competition between top MMA organizations lively, and encourages collaboration between organizations like Strikeforce and DREAM. This, in turn, exposes American audiences to great international fighters, and vice versa. On that note, Emelianenko’s deal with Strikeforce is good for the fans, too, whether they know it yet or not. Competition between the UFC and Strikeforce will lead to more intriguing rosters, more competitive pay, and, as a result, better athletes being better trained.
Of course, the deal is also good for Fedor Emelianenko, and this is the bottom line. After years of developing a name and reputation for himself, he has the right to secure what he views as financial security as the end of his career draws nigh. Emelianenko is no dummy, and for his “fans” to presume that either they or Dana White know better than the man himself what Emelianenko wants or needs is preposterous.
Fedor Emelianenko will retire as one of the greatest mixed martial artists that ever lived, heavyweight or otherwise. That he may do so discreetly, in Strikeforce instead of under the bright lights of the UFC, is almost fitting, having been paradoxically great and obscure through so much of his time in mixed martial arts.