Tuesday, August 4, 2009

MMA Manifesto: Big Fedor, Small Pond

It is with a heavy heart that I report the demise of the Fedor Emelianenko in the UFC dream. And as hard as it is to say due to the fact I'm not a fan of the man's persona or way he carries himself, Dana White did the right thing.

I wanted Fedor in the UFC as much as the next guy (but probably not as much as my brother, who has developed a serious crush on The Last Emperor), but I completely agree with White and the UFC's decision to hold their ground and not cave in to Fedor and M1's demands of a co-promotion deal. The UFC has taken years to build their brand to the position it is at now and there is no way they can compromise that position by letting a fighter's management company piggyback on their brand name. As much as Fedor would have brought to the UFC, it would not have been enough to justify giving M1 a co-promotion deal. If the UFC crossed that bridge, negotiations with every other big name fighter in the future would have gotten infinitely harder.

White might be a blowhard, but there is no denying that he is a brilliant business man. Being a MMA fighter is a precarious occupation - one day you can be on top of the world, the next moment you are considered washed up. That is why White has wisely made his mug - and not that of a fighter - as the face of the UFC. White isn't going anywhere - no one is going to knock him out (even though many dream of that) and tarnish his image. He is the one getting all the media attention. He is the one on the cover of the inaugural edition of the UFC magazine. Dana White is the most famous person in the MMA world, not Fedor or anyone else. While it would have been great to see Fedor in the UFC, the truth was that Fedor and M1 needed the UFC more than the UFC needed them. As long as the UFC have Dana White, they are going to be fine.

Besides, it is not like Fedor is much of a draw in North America anyway. Us hardcore MMA fans know and love him, but the casual fans - the ones that every sport depends on to make a profit and prosper - probably only know about him due to all the publicity his recent contract negotiations with the UFC garnered. He is a chubby, shy Russian who comes off as rather unassuming. Before the bell rings he certainly doesn't appear to be a bad ass, like his heavily tattooed brother does.

The intangibles Fedor does possess - his mystique and seemingly invulnerability - would have been destroyed pretty quick in the UFC. Once the UFC's marketing muscle was put behind him, his mystique would have vanished almost immediately. He'd no longer be this mysterious Drago-like character from Russia - he'd be exposed as the normal, down-to-earth person that he is. As for the invincibility, that disappears for all fighters eventually. All fighters - no matter how dominant - eventually lose in the MMA world. Fedor has only lost once - that was nine years ago and it was due to a cut - but the fact of the matter is he is 33-years-old, and as much as we hoped, there was no guarantee he wasn't going to get his face smashed in during his very first UFC match versus Brock Lesnar. So, with the mystique and the invincibility gone, what would the UFC have been left with? Just another talented - but aging - fighter. Not someone worthy of having his own management help run the organization.

So as tough as Fedor is, it looks like he finally ran into an opponent who he couldn't make tap out - Dana White.

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