One man to blame in UFC-Fedor breakdown
It’s easy to paint Vadim Finkelchtein as the villain in this mess between heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko and the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Emelianenko is the free agent heavyweight with the gaudy 30-1 record and small but passionate fan base. The UFC is the world’s finest mixed martial arts promotional company and has roughly 90 percent of the top 100 fighters in the world under contract.
Emelianenko was looking for a place to fight and the UFC wanted to put on what it believed could have become a massive pay-per-view show with a big push by pitting Emelianenko against Brock Lesnar, its silo-sized heavyweight champion.
But no deal was reached despite a lucrative offer from the UFC. Though UFC president Dana White wouldn’t rule it out, chances of it happening in the future are remote.
Finkelchtein is the Russian heavyweight’s manager and, more significantly, the president and co-owner of what purports to be a major MMA promotional company, M-1 Global. Finkelchtein clearly used Emelianenko as a pawn in an attempt to force the UFC to accept M-1 as a partner. All M-1 Global brought to the table was one fighter, even if he is a very good one, which would have made White a moron had he acquiesced to that demand.
If the UFC was in the business of giving 50 percent of its company away every time it tried to sign an elite fighter, it would have been in worse shape a lot sooner than Chrysler.
The reason the deal didn’t get done is simple: Fedor Emelianenko.
Emelianenko’s supporters are going to point the finger at White as the reason a deal did not get done. White, though, agreed to essentially every demand Emelianenko made. He offered to pay him more than he’s ever made. He agreed to allow Emelianenko to fight in combat sambo. He agreed to allow Emelianenko to advertise M-1 on his fight shorts, on the apparel he wore and on banners his cornermen brought with them to the cage.
What White wouldn’t do, though, is give half of his company to Finkelchtein in return for the, ahem, privilege, of promoting Emelianenko’s next few fights.
The demand was kind of like an owner in the Continental Basketball Association demanding 50 percent ownership in an NBA team before allowing his player to sign.
Emelianenko can fight wherever he wants, of course. His legacy, though, took a serious shellacking when he refused to order Finkelchtein to get a deal done.
That would have allowed Emelianenko, who was ranked No. 2 in the most recent Yahoo! Sports pound-for-pound Top 10 poll, to end any doubts whether he is as great as his most ardent supporters say or whether he is overrated, as White insists. Rather, Emelianenko acts as if he’s under some sort of spell cast by Finkelchtein. He’s never met White and when Finkelchtein, White and UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta negotiated via conference call, Emelianenko was on the line but said nothing.
All Emelianenko needed to do to know what he should have done was to look to Tito Ortiz, the UFC’s former light heavyweight champion. Ortiz and White have long engaged in a nasty public feud and they split, seemingly for good, after Ortiz’ contract ran out after he lost to Lyoto Machida at UFC 84 in May 2008.
There Ortiz was, however, on a conference call on Friday all chummy chummy with White. White revealed he had flown to Huntington Beach, Calif., recently and met personally with Ortiz, where they finalized resolved their differences.
Ortiz had dalliances with Elite XC and Affliction and said he was close to a deal to fight for Strikeforce. He referred to Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker as “an awesome guy.”
Ortiz said the reason he opted to fight in the UFC is simple: Competition. “Who was I going to fight there?” Ortiz said. “I want to fight the best.”
It’s too bad Emelianenko doesn’t have the same attitude. Had he been outraged by Finkelchtein’s negotiating tactics and insisted Finkelchtein work out the best possible deal, White would have been announcing an Emelianenko-Lesnar bout at his ballyhooed news conference on Friday rather than again railing at Finkelchtein’s bizarre stance.
Finkelchtein released a statement on Friday before the UFC news conference in which he said, in part, “All we are asking is that there is give-and-take in the negotiations and that they are not one-sided.”
But the UFC gave on the money. The UFC gave on the Fedor’s desire to compete in the Russian combat sport of sambo. The UFC gave on allowing Fedor to wear M-1’s logos. Finkelchtein wouldn’t budge on his ridiculous demand that the UFC make him a full promotional partner.
So now, Emelianenko will be a free agent, traveling the world in search of a fight. He could fight Josh Barnett, whom he was supposed to fight on Saturday on an Affliction card until Barnett tested positive for an anabolic steroid and was denied a license by the California State Athletic Commission.
Emelianenko remains highly popular in Japan, where they don’t test for steroids and don’t honor U.S. suspensions. Barnett, who has been caught cheating more than once, could be licensed there and conceivably could fight Emelianenko.
But there are precious few quality opponents for him outside of the UFC. And none of the fights would captivate the world’s interest the way UFC 100 did on July 11.
Emelianenko is largely unknown in the U.S. despite his 30-1 record and long winning streak. The three pay-per-view shows he headlined in this country – PRIDE 32 in 2006, Affliction 1 in 2008 and Affliction 2 in January – sold a combined total of fewer than 300,000 units.
UFC 100 alone sold well over 1.5 million.
Finkelchtein clearly botched the negotiations, but he’s not to blame.
If Emelianenko really wanted to be in the UFC and fight the best competition in the world, he would have made certain Finkelchtein got it done.
If you want to blame someone in this fiasco, blame Emelianenko.
It’s 100 percent his fault.