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Is MMA Popular, or Just UFC? Mark Cuban Could Find Out With Couture-Emelianenko

There is no mixed martial arts fight I would enjoy seeing more in 2008 than Randy Couture vs. Fedor Emelianenko. Couture and Emelianenko are generally recognized as the two best heavyweights in the world, and they've both basically run out of attractive opponents.

They're also the two most popular MMA fighters who aren't currently in the UFC stable, as Couture resigned from UFC last year and Emelianenko has refused to sign with UFC, saying its contracts are too restrictive. So if the two of them can survive UFC's legal threat against Couture and take each other on, would the promoter of that fight be able to launch a mixed martial arts promotion that could compete against UFC?

That's what Mark Cuban wants to find out.

Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner, has been dabbling in the world of mixed martial arts for some time, but as Dave Meltzer at Yahoo writes, he's now doing a lot more than dabbling. Cuban is involved in legal maneuverings that could free Couture from UFC for good and allow Cuban to promote his fights. And if Cuban promotes a Couture fight, his next move would be to pony up the money needed to secure Emelianenko as his opponent.

And then we'll find out if MMA is actually a popular sport in the United States, or if fans are only interested in UFC and not the rest of MMA. Right now, you'd really have to say that only UFC has proven itself to be popular to any significant degree: UFC regularly gets more than 500,000 people to buy its shows on pay-per-view and on a few occasions has topped 1 million. As Meltzer notes, there's never been a non-UFC mixed martial arts show that even had 75,000 pay-per-view buys.

But I'm betting that Cuban, Couture and Emelianenko are the three people who could build an MMA organization that can rival UFC.