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Fedor Emelianenko's Return Looms Large Over Strikeforce

Love him or hate him, Fedor Emelianenko has the MMA world in the palm of his hand. Where he's going, who he's fighting, and where he stands among the sport's best fighters are all common subjects of conversation, debate and sometimes anger among fans, reporters and fighters alike.

This is perhaps Emelianenko's greatest power right now, the power to generate attention. It comes from everywhere, and is the reason Strikeforce had no choice but to find a way to re-do his deal, as M-1 insisted. Now comes the tricky part; finding a way to turn that interest and investment into something tangible.

If it were only up to Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker, it might be a simpler challenge, but when you get into the Fedor business, for better or worse you are in business with Team Fedor, the M-1 management group that has its own interests and pursuits to balance with those of their flagship fighter.

If you listened close enough to what Coker said on Tuesday's conference call -- which coincidentally was supposed to be not about Emelianenko, but about May 15's Alistair Overeem-Brett Rogers matchup -- the clues were there that the challenges will still be around in the future. For example, when asked if the winner of the Overeem-Rogers matchup would face Fedor in the future, there was no clear-cut answer. It doesn't seem unreasonable that the scenario could have been addressed during the recent round of negotiations, but apparently that was not the case.

"As you know, M-1 Global and Strikeforce have a co-promotion agreement, and that's something we'll have to discuss after the fight," Coker said.

It was pure coincidence, but also wildly ironic that Coker stayed on the call for the first 20 minutes, just long enough to answer most of the questions pertaining to Emelianenko, before he excused himself to attend a meeting.

During those 20 minutes, Coker did not divulge many details, citing the contract's confidentiality. But he did pass along one key fact, telling the media that he is looking forward to promoting "multiple fights" with Fedor.

"The M-1 Global/Strikeforce relationship has never been just about one fight," he said. "It's been about multiple fights, and that's all I want to say about that."

That at least puts to rest any speculation of Emelianenko jumping ship to the UFC, but it also leads to new questions, mainly: With M-1 satisfied with their new deal, will they become easier to deal with?

Keep in mind that M-1 has had issues with all of the U.S. promoters with which they've done business, from the barely remembered Sibling Sports to Affliction and now Strikeforce -- and all in a three-year span. In addition, UFC President Dana White grew so flummoxed in dealing with the management team that he essentially threw up his hands at the situation, infamously referring to M-1 as "the crazy Russians."

That frustration spills over to the fighters as well. Overeem noted during the call that he's been lobbying for a shot at Emelianenko for 18 months. For one reason or another, he's been rebuffed at every turn, saying that M-1 has put "barriers" between the two fighters and made the fight impossible.

When asked by MMA Fighting why M-1 would do that, Overeem sighed before expounding.

"I think [M-1] wants to keep Fedor's status as undefeated," he said. "I think they see me as a threat to that. One of the managers of M-1 global, I know him personally. He knows the way I train, he knows what I'm capable of. He's been around my career, he had an eye on my career for a long time. So I think it's that, they want to keep his status undefeated and any potential threat, they stay away from that."

Overeem was quick to point out that he does not blame Emelianenko for the fight not happening ("He's like me, he doesn't care who he fights," he said), but said with M-1 essentially running interference, it had been an impossible and impossibly frustrating proposition.

And therein lies the rub; Emelianenko is essentially the golden goose for the promotion, and the golden carrot for Strikeforce heavyweights.

With a new deal in place, everyone -- the fans, media and fighters -- are left to hope that Emelianenko and M-1 are fully on board and ready to take on all challengers.

The man isn't even the Strikeforce champion, but he is in effect, the world champion at large, with a shadow so long that it can envelop two men at one time. Today was supposed to be a day for Overeem and Rogers to hype their title fight, but that hope was destroyed like most everything else in Emelianenko's path. The day became about one man, the heavyweight everyone wants, but who seems at times untouchable and unreachable. At 33 years old, Emelianenko is not old, but neither is the clock on his side any longer. Here's hoping that the time for negotiation and politics is over, and the time for fighting is at hand.
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