Fedor Emelianenko of Russia puts down Matt Lindland of the U.S. during a mixed-martial-arts match in St. Petersburg
Vladimir Rodionov / EPA / Corbis (Photo Source: Time)
You wouldn't expect there to be a lot of people standing in line to fight someone who, as described in American news magazine Time "possesses an assassin's glare and a face-denting right jab." As of Friday, that queue got even shorter when it was announced that a scheduled August 1 fight between American Josh Barnett and Russian Fedor Emelianenko is canceled because of Barnett's positive steroid test early last week.
Fight organizers (M-1 Global and Affliction Entertainment) said there wasn't enough time to find someone else to fight the former Russian army soldier who holds a 30-1 mixed martial arts (MMA) record.
Affliction Entertainment on Friday canceled its Aug. 1 mixed martial arts card in Anaheim because it could not find a suitable replacement opponent to fight Russian heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko.
MMA, which began formally in the 1990s, has become a billion dollar global business, with the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) owning the promotion space. According to the Los Angeles Times, it "has 275 fighters under contract, its own reality television series and impressive revenue from events such as this month's UFC 100 in Las Vegas, which generated a live gate of $5.1 million and more than 1 million pay-per-view buys." As Time reported earlier this month, Dana White, UFC's president and "foul-mouthed ex-aerobics instructor" has said UFC will be "the biggest sport in the world in 10 years." White may end up being correct, but he might have to do it without the top fighter in the world.
While story lines about a Washington-Moscow strategic "reset" have dominated the major political markets this summer, the cancellation of the Emelianenko-Barnett fight highlights an altogether different element of bilateral relations -- the business of fighting.
Fedor Emelianenko is, by most accounts, the best MMA fighter in the world, but the top league (U.S.-based UFC) -- with its nearly 300 contracted fighters, lucrative television deals and live events -- hasn't been able to convince the 230-pound Russian to join its roster. As reported in Time, it's like "Tiger Woods [the world's top golfer] shunning the PGA and all the major championships to star in the second-string Nationwide Tour." Fedor, according to the same report, said White and the UFC are simply too "rigid" with their expectations.
Fedor says White demanded that he fight exclusively with the UFC. Given his stake in his own promotion company, M-1 Global, that would have been a significant sacrifice. Fedor also insists the UFC would have virtually owned him if he won and would have been able to dump him if he lost. "If I was the UFC champion, I would never be able to leave the UFC," Fedor says. "The contract would just keep extending and extending. But if I lost, they could just kick me out of the UFC."
Further complicating matters, Fedor also specializes in another form of martial arts called sambo. This judo-like sport was developed for the Red Army after World War I and is now a Russian pastime. Under White's dictates, says Fedor, he'd have to stay away from sambo. "That's something I do for the pride of my country and is very important to me," says Fedor.
The cancellation of the August 1 Emelianenko-Barnett fight also signaled the end to Affliction's foray into the UFC-dominated fight promotion business, which it entered last year. Affliction Entertainment was backed by Donald Trump, but will now return to its roots as a clothing company.
One of the great things about athletic competition is the purity found in its simplicity. Two teams (or in the case of MMA, two individuals) face off to pit their skill, grit and determination against that of another. There is a start, a finish, a winner and loser. It might be assumed that combative sports such as MMA, boxing and martial arts can often be even more straightforward; except in draws and sometimes in disputed judging results, it's pretty clear who is the victor. But if combative arts are straight-forward in their application, in the board room and executive shed they're just as complex as any major multi-national business -- something that Dana White knows well and Fedor Emelianenko, who sometimes trains "in a small Russian mining town 385 miles south of Moscow" according to Time, is finding out.