Fedor’s Latest Victory A Hollow Acheivement

In case you haven’t heard, Fedor Emelianenko won his circus fight with Korean giant Hong Man Choi in the Yarennoka New Year’s Eve show. The outcome was never really in doubt, especially when you consider that Yarennoka changed the rules for this bout to ban knee strikes, one of Choi’s best and only weapons.The fight took less than two minutes and resulted in a fairly comedic but utterly meaningless armbar.

Now that it’s over, I can’t help but wonder what’s going through Fedor’s mind. Is he sitting around some Japanese hotel room right now, watching senseless game shows and trying to avoid looking at himself in the mirror? Does he periodically feel sad for no explainable reason, and does this sadness linger until he checks his bank account balance? What does he tell himself about what he’s become?

It’s not that I don’t understand why a Russian fighter who grew up so poor he had to share a coat with his brother would sell out the first chance he got, which is what Fedor has done, let’s just admit it. As The Million Dollar Man used to say, “Everybody has a price” (yes, most of my life philosophy comes from late 80’s-early 90’s pro wrestling).

But the difference between Fedor and the rest of us is that Fedor didn’t have to sell out to get rich. Fedor had a choice, and now he has to live with the one he’s made.

Whatever rumor you believe about how much the UFC was offering Fedor to sign on and fight Randy Couture, you have to think it was a lot of money. We’re talking somewhere in the millions, after contracts and bonuses and sponsorships are factored in. But Fedor turned that down, or rather, his management team did. They turned it down so he could fight in M-1, which was probably a better deal for his management team, and which currently only exists in the form of a Fedor rental operation.

In other words, Fedor is being used. That’s not so bad, I suppose. Every fighter gets used to some extent. It’s been that way from Jack Dempsey to Mike Tyson. But Fedor is doing it at the expense of his legacy, his reputation, and maybe his dignity.

Honestly, does anyone consider a victory over Hong Man Choi — a man with only one previous MMA bout — to be a serious accomplishment for someone who is supposed to be the world’s best heavyweight? In the post-fight press conference Fedor again mentioned how much he’d like to fight Randy Couture, but by walking away from a UFC contract he’s already essentially turned that fight down.

At some point, Fedor has to stop and ask himself how much money is enough. How much is it worth to squander great potential in matchups that amount to little more than practical jokes? How much is it worth to be remembered as the guy who might have been great? I hate to say it, but right now it looks as though greed — either on the part of Fedor, his management team, or both — is destroying what could have been a legendary career, and that’s the worst part.

If Fedor wasn’t so talented, it wouldn’t matter. He could take part in any number of matches that blur the line between pro wrestling and pro fighting, and I wouldn’t say a word. He could fight a circus bear and it would be just good clean fun.

But this is Fedor. This is “The Russian Last Emperor”.  This is the one-word name that has come to mean something in the world of MMA. If things don’t change very soon, how much longer will we be able to say that?

Ben Fowlkes is the publisher of The Fighting Life, an MMA blog, as well as the editor of the International Fight League’s official website, IFL.tv. He is also a contributor to CBS Sportsline.

29 COMMENTS
  • garth says:

    If I’d had to share a jacket with my brother, I’d grab for the cash too. Fedor’s stated from day one he has to look out for his family. I’m sure the only legacy he’s looking after is in the eyes of his kids and grandkids.

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  • Huckaby says:

    When are you people going to realize that reading the same article over and over again for eternity is unbelievably annoying?

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  • Evan says:

    what do you mean exactly Huckaby? That could be taken a few different ways…

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  • Ian says:

    Look, if it was just about the money, doesn’t it stand to reason that Fedor would have signed with the UFC? All he had to do was sell out the people that have been with him during his entire rise, sell all of his rights outside of UFC away, and cash those fat paychecks. Please have a bit of vision here, and lacking that, try common sense. What does Fedor have to prove to you? He’s already beaten a list of who’s who in MMA. He’s destroyed – read that again, destroyed the UFC’s best heavyweight, assuming you think that’s Nog.

    Randy Couture? Need I remind you that he’s lost as many fights as he’s won in the past 3 years? Losing to a light heavyweight no less. And who exactly did he have to beat to win and retain the UFC title. Tim Sylvia and Gonzaga? Oh boy stop the presses. Does Fedor occasionally fight a freak show like Zulu or Hong? Sure, but guess what? That’s what his Japanese fans like to see. Believe it or not the center of the universe doesn’t revolve around us Americans.

    I also find it laughable when somebody refers to anyone who is 7 foot 2 and 360 lbs. with even a modicum of fighting experience a joke.

    The amount of ignorance surrounding this entire situation absolutely baffles me.

    Dana White has gone on record as saying Fedor is overrated and that Randy would destroy him. Ok – let Randy “destroy” fedor in a co-promoted event, thus killing a future competitor in the womb since you would be destroying M-1′s only marketable fighters reputation.

    That will never happen because he doesn’t have the courage of his convictions. I’m pretty sure it’s Dana that needs to look in the mirror.

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  • sebastian says:

    What M-1 will do with Fedor still remains to be seen. This NYE isn’t the mark of anything. Nothing has changed. On other NYE events, Fedor has fought Zulu and Nagata. That’s how they do it over there.

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  • Mike Wolfe says:

    I completely agree. Taking paydays for sideshow fights will cost Fedor money in the long run. Sooner or later, right or wrong, fans will think of him as a performer rather than a serious fighter. Meanwhile, other fighters will become increasingly popular, and he won’t command the same price.

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  • Matt says:

    Well written article. I’m a wait and see person who is waiting to see what M-1 can do to capitalize on Fedor and if the USA is even in their plans. They can probably profitably run their promotion by catering to the Japanese market with the “freak show” attractions and the occasional “name” heavyweight (Barnett, Monson, etc.) for Fedor to clobber. Even if Randy was let out of his contract today, that would still only provide them with one fight that would matter to the US mma fans. Not a recipe for long term financial success.

    Matt

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  • Steve says:

    I think everyone is way too quick to come to judgement on this. Why not just have a little patience, try and give the guy the benefit of the doubt, and see what he does this year. I think Fedor has at least earned that.

    M-1 hasn’t even held their first event yet. They made a huge investment in him and for all intensive purposes, Fedor is M-1 right now. If they had him fight Barnett or another serious threat right out the gate and he lost, M-1 would be done before they started. If everything Fedor said about the UFC contract is true, hell I don’t blame him for not signing with them. I wouldn’t either. Perhaps, they believe they can build something bigger and better than the UFC, but like everything else, it doesn’t happen overnight. The one thing M-1 has done though that no other promotion outside of the UFC has so far is make money.

    I think its reasonable to give Fedor ’08 to see what he does before people start denouncing him. If he’s still fighting Hong Man Choi’s at the end of the year, then I’ll change my tune. Until then, I’ll give Fedor the benefit of the doubt that he made the right decision.

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  • Atom says:

    Matt – Im liking the last sentence of your comment.
    Thats the perfect business point of view – if they negotiate a ‘randy v fedor’ soonish and Fedor wins then the Randy and UFC stands to lose alot of face. If fedor loses, M-1 probably wont make as much money in the states with any other match up for a long time!! And will have the UFC in their pocket as they own the Fedor (which after beating Randy) everyone will know is the real heavyweight MMA Champ.

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  • Evan says:

    Steve this has been going on for awhile. Or were you ok with him fighting MW’s or washed up late 40 somethings? Was Zulu ok? Hunt…debatable.

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  • Gong says:

    Ben’s great. I love his posts on his blog.

    @ Huckaby

    Show me an article that does better. There’s a bit of a problem with having 20 journalists covering one event, things are going to be the same.

    But they’re not going to write it the same way, and that’s what makes these writers who they are.

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  • woooburn says:

    “As The Million Dollar Man used to say, “Everybody has a price”

    nice! maybe fedor will fight virgil next.

    and just to play devil’s advocate… weren’t there a ton of articles before the fight with choi, saying how the new year’s shows are traditionally more for “show” and less an attempt at putting on a legitimate competition? at least in the case of fedor’s bout anyway. americans arent the only ones who follow mma. different cultures have different tastes. yeah, the matchup was absurd, but i think at least part of that was intentional.

    not to say that he isnt tarnishing his image, but i think it’s a bit of a rush to judgement.

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  • This article still does not touch on the contract terms as being a reason why he didn’t move to the UFC. To be honest, those contract terms that he mentioned in a few interviews were absurd. The UFC basically controls your every move, and now Couture is feeling the pain from that same type of contract. He’s been kept as champion to extend his contract, probably due to a champion’s clause, forcing him to either seek legal action or fight the remaining bouts on his contract. Signing your career over to one promotion is a bad move, and Fedor and his management weren’t in the wrong just because some fans are disappointed.

    Another problem is that people are too busy whining about this purely entertainment bout. It was a fight to get ratings in Japan, that’s all it was. It wasn’t a fight to determine if Fedor should maintain his #1 ranking in the world, or a fight to show everyone his dominance, it was to get ratings. Get over it. Stop making it look like this fight has some bearing into how people should view Fedor. He got paid, and that’s that. Let’s move on.

    Fedor has the ability to destroy top competition inside 2-3 minutes against nearly any opponent. If he does that to someone like Josh Barnett or Randy Couture, it wouldn’t matter how many crappy circus fights he battled. Let him make his money now, and when a legitimate fight comes along and he loses, I’m sure criticism will run rampant. Fact is, he’s still the slickest transition fighter in the game, and has a chance to beat nearly anyone at any point in any fight.

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  • Sarah says:

    i’m really torn on this issue.

    i think it’s pretty crappy that since the UFC is the biggest organization out there that they have the power to offer absurd deals and contracts that hurt the fighters, knowing that the fighters either have to accept or be forced to fight weird giants in japan.

    i also think it’s pretty awesome that fighters like Couture and Fedor are standing up for themselves and saying no. even if it means my not getting to see them fight in the near future.

    however, i also think that ben has a good point – how do you want to be remembered and who do you really want to fight? maybe taking a bad deal with the UFC is worth it in the long run – in many ways, the UFC IS MMA right now, whether we like the way they run their company or not.

    in the end, the best we can hope for is that M-1 turns into more than a company that rents Fedor out for bar mitzvahs.

    it will be interesting to see how the fight promotion facet of the sport evolves in the next decade or so, that’s for sure.

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  • Ben Fowlkes says:

    Leland, the reason these “entertainment bouts” upset me is precisely for the reasons you pointed out. Fedor is a great fighter and he does have the ability to make top fighters look bad. So why don’t we get to see him against Barnett or Couture? If the argument is that it’s all for ratings, then what happens to the integrity of the sport? Fedor fighting a live tiger would probably get ratings, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

    The fact is Fedor may be the best in the world, but we haven’t seen him against a credible opponent in his own weight class in at least a year, maybe more depending on where you rate guys like Hunt and Coleman these days. It’s a shame, is what I’m saying, and it’s really a shame because he could still make tons of money in the UFC, where the real competition is.

    I also don’t think it helps to chalk it all up to cultural differences. Just because other cultures might like a freak show fight more than Americans, it doesn’t make it any more right or wrong. That argument has a weird sort of MMA relativism to it. Is a bout with no meaningful ramifications okay only in Japan, and only around NYE?

    My point is that if Fedor wants to be the best he needs to fight the best. If he doesn’t, if he just wants to get paid without being tested, fine. But at that point he stops being a serious fighter and starts being a pro wrestling circus act. He’s not at that point yet, but he’s edging closer, and that’s troublesome.

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  • ttt says:

    there are definitely cultural differences. Firstly, Fedor would rather be a hero for Russia than American MMA fans and i think M-1 with its Russian roots helps and will provide him for the chance to fight in Russia. Secondly, Japanese people have different tastes in entertainment, so it shouldn’t matter AS long as he fights top competition that he hope he will.

    i think it takes guts for Fedor to put his reputation on the line for a freak show, most fighters would be too scared to lose even though the chances of winning are high

    of course everyone wants to see Fedor fight, even Fedor says he wants to fight some heavyweight talent. people always say he dodged top notch competition from the UFC. having nogueira and sylvia fighting for an “interim” belt should say it all. and i agree with Leland, if the UFC’s so great, why is one of its biggest stars having so many issues? yes it has to do with Fedor but to Randy he makes it out to be more than that

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  • Ian says:

    Ben, I understand where you’re coming from. I want to see Fedor fight the best as well, but I really dislike the idea that if you don’t fight in the UFC, you’re somehow ducking the top competition. That’s exactly what Dana White would have you believe, and if everyone actually did, the UFC monopoly would be complete, as they would have complete and total leverage in regards to how they treat their fighters. Which as is is pretty reprehensible.

    Dana simply doesn’t know how to treat his guys. In most corners of martial arts, respect is paramount to pretty much anything else, and when Dana comes out and says “So and So is a joke, he’d get destroyed by so and so”, these flippant comments really don’t sit well with anyone not sitting in a trailer with a purposely torn Affliction shirt.

    You take someone like Fedor, who is all class and respect, and try to treat him like so much property, it’s not surprising that he would shy away from someone like Dana and his ilk.

    I believe fully that because the UFC wants to completely monopolize the market, that it is they, and not the Fedor or Randy’s of the world, that are the problem. If they would simply be willing to co-promote a little more, and yes, spread the wealth around a bit, this entire situation could be resolved very easily.

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  • Johnny Rev says:

    There are alot of people chiming in on this subject but to me there is always one way to look at it, as a huge waste of talent . Fedor says one thing and does another . His fan say one thing then point out a completetly opposite point .

    Fedor is suppose to be the best, but fights no one . When is the last time he fought a true quality fighter ? Not hunt, coleman , a 185 Lindland ? Big Nog ? please he almost lost to Herring. He signed with a unknown M-1 why, cause of crazy clauses that will let him fight sambo ? sambo ? are you kidding me ? This is the reason why we cant see the greatest fight in mma history ? sambo ?

    The UFC is the only place that a fighter has the ability to cross promote himself. How many other mma fighter show up on network shows ? espn? sports illustrated ? hbo ? Hollywood movies , please wake up ? Sure there are other markets outside the U.S. but what do they broadcast ? American television. Maybe Maybe some quirky game shows but the bottom line Hollywood is unmatched in terms of money and popularity anywhere in the world.

    Bottom line Fedor might be the best but is afraid to find out. Say what you want about Randy but he runs from no one. To the point that he went as far as resigning to get a match with Fedor. Fedor can fight all the freak shows he wants and people can back him up as much as they want but in order to be the man you gotta beat the man . He hasnt. he been fighting boys and grandpa far to long to be considered the best anymore. END OF STORY, PERIOD !

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  • Ben, I completely understand your point.

    My problem is that I’ve heard this same point over and over for the last few months, and it always leads me to the same conclusion that was somewhat cleared up recently. I’ve always argued that we as the fans did not know what was written in those contracts that Finkelstein and company turned down. It was recently cleared up by Fedor himself, and many fans simply said that his management didn’t give him the clear facts and he should have signed with the UFC.

    Here’s my point in a nutshell. In order to be the best, he needs to fight the top talent. The UFC harbors the top heavyweight talent in the world with the exception of Josh Barnett. What exactly are you willing to give up in order to call yourself the absolute best fighter in the world, if not ever in mixed martial arts? That’s what it came down to with Fedor. Instead of being a negotiation of what should the UFC give up, it became a negotiation of how restrictive can we make what Fedor wants to do. Then the UFC can simply tell him what to do and make money off of him in every way imaginable. There’s a fine line between the two sides that should please everyone, and it seems that the UFC is starting to show signs that they want to get rid of that line and just swallow the other side.

    So, according to the quotes from Fedor, the contract was ridiculously restrictive of what he could do. He had to sign his rights over. He had to basically get permission to do anything. The contract also locked him in the UFC if he was champion for an indefinite amount of time. I’m also sure that some of those lesser demands such as Sambo and signing Red Devil fighters were ignored as well, but they seem to have less bearing when you consider the restrictiveness of the UFC contract.

    Should we seriously criticize him for signing with M-1 and taking one NYE circus bout? I don’t think so. I think we should just sit back and see what unfolds. If the contract was truly that restrictive, there is absolutely no way a fighter of his stature should sign it just to prove he’s the best.

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  • Matt says:

    I hesitate to write this but…….my pet peeve is people attributing characteristics to athletes like classy and respectful when they actually know very little about their personal lives outside of when they are in front of the camera. Those times are usually carefully crafted to show an image that they want to be seen by the public. Do you know for a fact that the celebrity/athlete does or does not go home and beat his wife, dog, meat, etc.? No, you assume.

    I’m not saying that my perspective is perfect, but these guys are all adults and they are entering into contracts with eyes wide open on both sides. The nature of a contract is that both sides are gaining something in exchange for something they have of value. Leave the emotion inside the cage or ring where it belongs.

    Just my opinion.
    Matt

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  • Ian says:

    How you conduct yourself on the field, in the ring, in the cage, and in interviews is very revealing about your character. My guess is you won’t see Fedor doing many crotch grabs, biting off many ears, or holding a choke after a tap.

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  • Mike Wolfe says:

    I’m intrigued by the hostility towards the UFC. Maybe it’s because they’re head and shoulders above their competition, and everybody roots for the underdog/little guy. Whatever the reason, it’s safe to say that MMA as we know and love it wouldn’t exist without the UFC. The only reason the fighters get paid the kind of money they now receive is because White and UFC spent a lot of time and a lot of money building the sport and their brand. Now that they’ve done both, they can negotiate good fights with top tier talent. They are successful, which benefits them, the fighters and the fans. You gotta love competition, whether it’s in the octagon or outside of it. If the UFC does over reach in their contracts, other organizations will grab their fighters and their market share.

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  • Brad says:

    Since Ben said that Fedor basically turned down the fight with Randy when he turned down the UFC contract, let’s not forget the $3million Randy turned down from Bodog to fight Fedor.

    Couture is a class act and a sentimental American favorite, but enough is enough. He beats Tim Sylvia (a heavyweight who EVERYONE knows was completely overrated) and Gabriel Gonzaga (a man with 1 win against top competition), and all of a sudden he is the #1 Heavyweight in the world? Fedor would destroy him, especially if Randy takes him down and attempts to maintain top position. He would get submitted, no doubt about it.

    Fedor is, hands down, the best fighter in the world. Stop the nonsense.

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  • Zack says:

    To summarize Aristotle via Thomas Aquinas, Fedor is the best fighter in the world in “potentia”, but not “actus”. Fedor hasn’t fought a legitimate opponent in his weight class since 8/28/2005. Who cares what the reason is? Whether we blame Fedor, his management, or the UFC, that simple fact is pretty much inarguable.

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  • Ben Fowlkes says:

    “Fedor is, hands down, the best fighter in the world. Stop the nonsense.”

    Brad, that’s all the more reason why it’s such a shame to see him fighting a dude who’s 1-0 when there’s so much better competition for him out there.

    I’m not one to advocate for a UFC monopoly. I think that greater competition only benefits the fighters and the fans. But there are other matchups they could have made if they wanted to give Fedor a serious fight. Josh Barnett is a good example. But instead they chose Hong Man Choi simply to make a quick buck.

    I just hate to see the man who may be the world’s best fighter misused in that way.

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  • smoogy says:

    As if just calling Josh Barnett up and getting him to fight is that simple. He is supposedly asking for a ton of money to fight now, and besides that he was working. If it makes you feel better, Monte Cox did contact Inoki about possibly using Barnett, hopefully that is their plan for Fedor’s spring fight in the USA. And as far as “choosing” Choi, Cox himself said that was K-1′s stipulation because “it had to be a K-1 fighter” to be put on TV.

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  • Smoogy, you fell asleep before the event started, you are exiled from discussion! LOL.

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  • ahha says:

    as per “organizer’s” website yarennoka.com the only knee strikes that were banned – were 4-point stand knees, which means “ground knee strikes”. Pretty standart rule for opponents with big weight difference. Standing knees were allowed. Hong just didnt get chance to use them.

    source: http://www.yarennoka.com/news/detail.php?id=1198590481

    translate via google.

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  • Yoshi says:

    Dana white is a guy trying to control the whole world in MMA today. If you want to talk about greed you can point the finger directly at him.

    Fedor has proved his name time and time again, for anyone who ever doubts his skill, talent, power, well just watch his fights and I garuantee you shall see a completely different level of Mixed martial artist. Yes, this fight was a joke and its sure he got a good payout for it. But are we going to condemn him for making a living? Theres only one fight that everyone wants to see fedor fight today and thats the couture fight.
    And if you want to point a finger at who’s in the way for that one, point it at moneybags Dana White.

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