clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Fans May Be in for Long Wait With UFC-Fedor Emelianenko Negotiations

Fedor EmelianenkoIt has been only one week since Affliction: Trilogy was canceled and the company's promotional arm closed up shop. One week. Seven days. Yet with the drama surrounding Fedor Emelianenko's will-he-or-won't-he saga, it seems like it's been an eternity.

In the time since then, huge contract offer numbers have been bandied about (the UFC never confirmed the offer's value, and Emelianenko's side denied any formal offer was made), Fedor traveled to and left the United States, and the two sides again were unable to meet in person.

In those seven days, nothing has changed. And that only serves to frustrate UFC President Dana White.

"Trust me when I tell you, we did everything to make this deal happen," he said during a conference call. "Everything. It's insanity to turn down a deal like this. To turn down a deal like this, you don't care about proving you're the best in the world, you don't want to fight the best in the world, you don't care about money. How do you deal with something like that?"

White said he went into the negotiations with Emelianenko's representatives with the feeling that he would finally be able to get the man he's been trying to corral for a few years now, and he went in as "the nicest Dana ever" after telling Zuffa co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta that he fully expected to get a deal done.

"I didn't wake up feeling good; I knew," he said. "I knew we were going to make that deal."

It all started off well. One by one, past negotiation sticking points were dealt with and put aside. The money was lucrative, Fedor could continue to participate in his beloved sambo, a title fight was offered from the get-go. The only non-negotiable point was that UFC would not – would never – agree to co-promote with M-1.

And that's when Emelianenko's team said, Thanks but no thanks.

"There's no compromise on co-promotion," White said. "Why the hell would I let anyone come in and co-promote. The Fertittas risked all their money. All the things we did in busting our ass in the 10 years we've been in this business, and these guys are going to walk in and say, 'We're going to be in business with you guys'?"

And if Emelianenko and crew dropped the co-promotion demand?

"It'd be done. We'd be announcing his fight right now, too," White said.

There is no questioning that Emelianenko is a great fighter. With a record of 30-1 with one no contest, the consistency of his excellence has been astouding, and M-1 clearly views him as its crown jewel asset. In that, even White could agree. During the course of the one-hour call, which was ostensibly to announce the re-signing of Tito Ortiz, a UK ESPN deal, and the signings of several ex-Affliction fighters including Vitor Belfort, White made it abundantly clear that he wants Emelianenko. Wants him badly, but doesn't feel like the feeling is mutual.

Just over two weeks ago, White swallowed his pride, ate his words and flew to Huntington Beach, Calif., to make peace with Ortiz and sign him to a new deal. In all his time in the sport, White has had no more publicized rivalry than that with Ortiz, but he was still able to put his personal feelings aside and bring him back into the fold. So, he says, he would have no problems doing the same with Fedor even though he's been jilted in the past.

But White also made it clear that now, the ball is in Fedor's court. The offer has not been pulled back. Each camp has dug their trenches, and it is simply floating in the space between them. It's now a high-stakes international game of chicken.

"They can call me right now. They can call me tomorrow. They can call me next month," he said. "I'm ready to roll. I'm ready to make this deal. The fans want to see this fight. It's my job to make this fight happen. It's what I do for a living, so I'm trying."

On Friday morning, Emelianenko's camp through his manager Vadim Finkelchtein put out a statement saying in part, "M-1 Global is still interested in continuing to negotiate with the UFC and while we are fielding offers from other major promotions, nothing has been decided. It is our hope that the UFC will remain in active dialogue with us as we try to find ways for us to work together."

M-1 has a somewhat checkered history. The company has been around in various incarnations for over a decade, but they have had little success in penetrating the US MMA scene. In October 2007, they first attempted to gain prominence on American soil when they signed Fedor (who is a part-owner), hired renowned MMA agent/promoter Monte Cox to be the president and CEO and installed Finkelchtein as part of the leadership team.

Within six months, however, the company was going nowhere, with rumors of discontent between Fedor's camp and M-1 management. In late March 2008, the company fragmented, with Cox leaving to start his own promotion, Adrenaline MMA, while Finkelchtein kept the M-1 name and began looking for ways to leverage Emelianenko. Eventually, he was able to negotiate a co-promotion deal with Affliction, but the brand was short-lived.

On Aug. 28, the company presents their first major live card, "Breakthrough" from Los Angeles. But clearly not them or any other promotion can offer Fedor the exposure or the money that UFC can. In the MMA galaxy, M-1 is just another satellite orbiting the UFC, but they're playing their trump card for all it's worth, and if anything, you have to admire their moxie.

White wants to make a deal, but he's already sick of the process. It's only been a week, but it's clear that things have already reached a breaking point. The offer is there, and it's unlikely to change. Both sides know what the other wants, and neither is blinking. Fedor says he has other parties interested, and White says Fedor won't find an offer better than his.

It's been seven days, and it seems like eternity, but it seems like the wait is just beginning.

"I don't even want to talk about it anymore," White said. "If he wants to call and make a deal, I'm in. I'm ready."