It comes down to respect. Fedor Emelianenko is a proud man and didn’t feel he was getting any. When he was negotiating with UFC President Dana White in 2007, the voluble UFC President insulted both Fedor and his negotiating team. Finally, the Russian champion felt the need to respond.
“Numerous times have I read mister White’s statements on Internet concerning myself. In my opinion, allowing yourself to say those things is not a sign of a gentleman or a grown man at all!” Emelianenko wrote in a statement to the media. “In the future I wouldn’t want to hear those statements in my address ever again and I won’t tolerate that.”
Needless to say, he did not sign with the UFC, becoming the only major PRIDE Fighting Championship fighter not to join the company. But, with the demise of Affliction last month, the UFC once again had an opportunity to bring in the sport’s best heavyweight. This time they were negotiating with a wary opponent. An opponent sensitive to the slightest criticism. The Russian’s had already been disrespected and insulted.
“Dana represented the worst of America to them,” a source close to Emelianenko said. “He was so loud, so rude, so angry. They just weren’t comfortable working with him. But because of the money being discussed, they felt a need to hear him out.”
If there was a reasonable option available that wasn’t the UFC, that didn’t involve White, they were going to take it. And they did, signing today with Showtime and Strikeforce for undisclosed terms, said to be significantly smaller than the UFC’s best offer. How did it go wrong, again, for Zuffa? Signs once more point to perceived disrespect.
Sources close to both the UFC and Emelianenko say the negotiations were going well last week. The UFC had caved in on many of Fedor’s demands that had been stumbling points in 2007. He would be allowed to represent M-1 Global and allowed to continue competing in Sambo. The final sticking point was co-promotion. And then it happened.
Trying to get out in front of the public relations skirmish that would follow the UFC’s failure to sign Emeliananeko, a UFC insider leaked bogus contract terms to Carmichael Dave, a California-based radio host. The tactic was effective. Fans and the online media turned against the Russian and his team. The tactic also may have backfired. Emelianenko was reportedly softening and considering signing with the UFC. The leak, which M-1 Global criticized as inaccurate and inappropriate, shut down negotiations for good.
Strikeforce was always the dark horse in the Fedor Race. Scott Coker was talking with Emelianenko’s team the whole time they were holding meetings with White and UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta. Unlike the UFC team, which seemingly could not resist commenting publicly, Coker played it close to the vest. When the smoke cleared, he had his man. The best fighter in the world was coming to Showtime.
“We are extremely excited to have the opportunity to work with M-1 Global and Fedor,” said 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.”
Strikeforce and M-1 Global are expected to announce a media conference call for Thursday afternoon. They will announce his opponent then, but early signs point to rising star Brett Rogers. The other possibility is Strikeforce Heavweight Champion Alistair Overeem, but some in Strikeforce consider the champion, who has missed his last two scheduled fights, too risky for a main event position of this importance.