Prior to 2007, hardly anyone following mixed martial arts knew much about Vadim Finkelchtein
, but by that time, he had already been managing Fedor Emelianenko
for almost four years. Today, Finkelchtein finds himself in the center of the biggest free agency story in MMA history, with major news outlets like The Los Angeles Times
tracking its progress.
So why all the drama surrounding the saga? Perhaps central to the problem the UFC is facing is that Finkelchtein acts as both Emelianenko's manager and promoter. That Finkelchtein has a financial interest in Emelianenko is no secret, but the fact that his roles essentially amount to a conflict of interest is something that is scarcely mentioned.
Finkelchtein is one of the owners of M-1 Global, an MMA organization that has done shows in multiple countries but is not well known in the United States. In theory, Emelianenko is the biggest fighter who competes under the M-1 banner, even though he's never fought exclusively under it. But to Finkelchtein and M-1, that association means something. Overseas, where Emelianenko is a bigger star than he is here, Finkelchtein and M-1 can use the name and likeness of the heavyweight star to continue building their brand. Tying him to a UFC contract would make growth a lot more difficult. After all, almost no one would identify the M-1 brand ahead of the UFC's.
So as Emelianenko's manager, every offer that Finkelchtein receives must be weighed against the future health of M-1. Simply put, that is a conflict of interest; an unbiased manager would be thinking only in terms of his client. Legally speaking, he is doing nothing wrong, as MMA does not have the same rules in place as boxing, which saw the Muhammad Ali Act do away with manager/promoters years ago. Finkelchtein is simply operating within the framework of a flawed system.
And to be fair, Finkelchtein is far from the only manager who also doubles as a fight promoter. Monte Cox
, Joe Cavallaro, Mark Pavelich and others are also multi-taskers, but Finkelchtein has simply taken the stakes higher than anyone else. The success of those men show that manager/promoters can have satisfied clients, and perhaps Emelianenko is perfectly content with Finkelchtein and his representation. But Finkelchtein's continued insistence on co-promotion as an essential element of a deal has to make one wonder just how much of the deal is about Fedor and how much is about the business interests of M-1.
While it should be noted that Emelianenko also has a piece of the M-1 pie, and that he too would also be weighing his options against M-1's existence, he deserves the counsel of an impartial opinion in regards to his own financial future. This is not to say that Emelianenko is unable to make his own decisions, only that he deserves a sounding board who is truly working for him rather than for multiple causes. It's worth noting, after all, that in Fedor conversations, Finkelchtein refers to "we" rather than "he." The UFC is trying to sign one man, not a team.
To flip the coin, many believe the UFC also has its own conflicts of interest, acting as promoter, matchmaker, making its own rankings, etc. And of course, many people think their contracts are restrictive (Randy Couture
for a time was ready to challenge it legally). Still, if Fedor doesn't end up signing with the UFC, many will be left to wonder if different representation would have ended with a different result. He certainly doesn't owe the world anything, and if he decides to finish out his career fighting in a 200-seat gym in his hometown of Stary Oskol rather than under the bright lights of Dana White
's octagon, that's his right. And hopefully whatever he decides for his future is truly on his own terms.
We know UFC's first priority is the organization itself, ahead of its relationship with any one fighter. At least that is transparent. But what about Finkelchtein? Is he a manager first and a promoter second? Is he putting his client's concerns ahead of his own? We don't know the answer, and that's exactly the problem.