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Fedor Emelianenko Changes the Game For Strikeforce, Showtime

I've long believed that any MMA promotion wanting to compete with the UFC needed to do one of two things: Develop the best women's division in the sport, and sign Fedor Emelianenko.

Strikeforce and Showtime have now done both.

Strikeforce and M-1 Global have reached an agreement that will result in Fedor fighting live on Showtime this fall, and that -- combined with the August 15 fight between Gina Carano and Cris Cyborg -- means Strikeforce on Showtime has two big events in the coming months that the UFC can't match -- and the ability to promote many more.

Fedor is nowhere near as big a draw as UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar, but the MMA media and hardcore fans consider Fedor, not Lesnar, the heavyweight champion of the world. The heavyweight champion is always relevant, and his presence in Strikeforce makes Strikeforce relevant.

However, we don't yet know the financial terms of the deal between Strikeforce and M-1, and that means it's possible that Fedor will change the game for Strikeforce in another sense: He may have just blown up their business model. Strikeforce boss Scott Coker has always been smart about signing fighters to contracts that make sense financially, and organizations like Affliction that overpay for Fedor and other fighters quickly find out that you can't beat the UFC by out-spending the UFC. If Strikeforce and Showtime are guaranteeing Fedor seven-figure paydays for every fight, they might discover that Fedor isn't a big enough draw to recoup that money in ticket sales and Showtime subscriptions.

We also don't yet know how the UFC -- a jilted suitor in the Fedor sweepstakes -- will react to this news. UFC President Dana White has always said he likes and respects Coker, and he's never had a bad thing to say about Strikeforce. But I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the UFC put on a free fight card on Spike to go head-to-head with Fedor's debut on Showtime, just as it did last summer when Fedor made his debut with Affliction.

And we don't know what would happen if Fedor loses his Strikeforce debut. Yes, Fedor is human and he is beatable, and whether his first Strikeforce fight is against Brett Rogers, Fabricio Werdum or Alistair Overeem, he could lose that fight. Sure, whoever vanquishes Fedor would become the heavyweight champion of the world and Strikeforce would still have that champion contract, but Rogers, Werdum and Overeem don't have the same mystique as Fedor.

That's part of the reason I think the Carano-Cyborg fight is so crucial: I don't think a promotion built around one fighter can succeed, even if that one fighter is as great as Fedor. Building a strong women's division is an important component of Strikeforce's overall strategy of providing an MMA alternative to the UFC, and the biggest women's MMA fight ever is something the mainstream media can easily latch onto. Carano is good at promoting herself and promoting Strikeforce, and as the media hypes up her fight with Cyborg next week, you can bet she'll do a good job of getting Fedor's name out there.

None of this is to say Strikeforce is even close to the UFC in terms of its impact on the MMA landscape. The UFC has almost all the best fighters in MMA, attracts far more MMA fans than any other promotion and makes many times as much money as Strikeforce. But Strikeforce can clearly call itself the No. 2 MMA promotion in the world,and with Fedor in the fold, it's now looking bigger in the UFC's rear-view mirror.

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