Couture, Fedor Want 'Dream Match' A Reality

By Loretta Hunt Aug 13, 2008
It appears Randy Couture (Pictures) and Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures) are stepping up their games to collectively ensure they will get the opportunity to face one another in the ring. However, the top-ranked heavyweight pair still have a few hurdles to scale to make the sport’s “dream match” a reality.

On Monday, Couture, Emelianenko, and their management teams quietly met on multiple occasions in Los Angeles, the purpose of which both fighting legends confirmed to Tuesday.

“We talked a little bit about everything,” Emelianenko said at a luncheon hosted by Affliction Entertainment. “Certainly, one of the main topics was the possibility of having a fight together and the realities that we both face -- mainly that he [Couture] faces -– and whether the reality of having a fight can happen.”

The congregation of east and west was a first for the sport, one born out of necessity as the 45-year-old Couture faces an ongoing legal stalemate while the 18-month, four-fight promotional contract he signed with the UFC in early 2007 is reviewed by a Las Vegas arbitrator in the coming months.

Couture (16-8) resigned from the UFC on Oct. 11, 2007, citing conflicts with pay and treatment. Most notably, Couture lamented that the UFC’s parent company, Zuffa LLC, failed to sign the number-one ranked Emelianenko -- the one fighter Couture wished to face -- into their heavyweight stable. Couture left the organization to seek out the fight with Emelianenko (28-1, 1 NC) in a rival promotion, though the UFC insists the heavyweight champion retired from their ranks and still owes them two more fights if he decides to come back from sabbatical. Couture and his attorneys believe his promotional (or fight) agreement expired on July 19.

Monday’s meetings -- which took place over breakfast, a photo shoot session, then later at dinner –- were friendly in nature according to both parties, though they also involved a certain degree of strategic discussions.

“It was an honor to spend a little time with Fedor,” Couture told Tuesday. “We’re just trying to exhaust every option to make this fight a reality.”

An obvious option would lead both men back to the UFC, the least risk-involved promotion capable of building the bout into a million-plus pay-per-view giant.

Vadim Finkelstein, Emelianenko’s manager and confidante, said he is not against negotiating again with the world’s leading fight promotion, though it’s clear the Russian businessman, who also owns the M-1 Global promotion, would have stipulations.

“We, M-1, we’re not in any way against working with the UFC. We’ve spoken to them before about the possibility of working with them together. Anything’s possible,” said Finkelstein.

Finkelstein proposed that an agreement for Emelianenko-Couture could be reached if UFC President Dana White was willing “to meet halfway.”

What constitutes “halfway” may be the rub though.

“It’s similar to what we’re doing with Affliction,” said Finkelstein. “Our relationship we’re currently seeing with Affliction is a co-production and a co-promotion and a partnership. If things aren’t monopolized and we can work together, then it’s a possibility.”

A co-promoted event between the Russian outlet and the UFC was rejected by Zuffa in September 2007, as White pursued Emelianenko, now a free agent, following the crumbling of Pride Fighting Championships in Japan.

Instead, Finkelstein said the UFC presented the nearly unblemished Pride heavyweight champion with a stringent, binding contract –- one that pledged his exclusivity to their organization and prevented him from competing in sambo, which Emelianenko is a national spokesman for in his homeland.

“Many of the terms were oppressive and there really wasn’t any negotiation,” said Finkelstein. “It was a ‘take it or leave it.’ Basically, as Fedor just said, ‘You know what? You’re going to come back to us anyway. It’s either this or we’ll see you later when you come back.’”

Instead, Emelianenko signed a two-year, six-fight deal with M-1 Global in October 2007. White blamed the failed negotiations on his inability to deal with the "crazy Russians."

“Of course, he can’t deal with us because he can’t deal with anybody,” a still stinging Finkelstein said Tuesday. “He wants to have everything in his own control, but we can’t deal with people that want to control everything.”

Mudslinging aside, another attempt to negotiate was made. In November 2007, M-1 Global, in agreement with Couture, again presented a co-promotion opportunity to Zuffa privately, this time for the heavyweight unification bout between Couture and Emelianenko. Zuffa turned the offer down.

Emelianenko has since floated between promotions like the now-defunct Bodog Fight, Japan’s Yarennoka and most recently, Affliction.

At Affliction “Banned” on July 19, Emelianenko clobbered former UFC champion Tim Sylvia (Pictures) in a tidy 36 seconds, but chipped the bone at the base of his right thumb for his efforts.

While the injury will not require surgery, it could prevent the 32-year-old from competing at the World Sambo Championships for Russia in November, as well as cancel the Russian’s annual fight appearance on New Year’s Eve in Japan.

Also in the U.S. to negotiate his second bout with Affliction for February or March, Emelianenko and his managers say the elusive bout with Couture continues to loom on the sidelines.

If round two of negotiations with Zuffa were to take place shortly, Finkelstein said he might be open to a two-fight deal with Couture the first opponent on the ledger. However, Finkelstein seemed less than assured that the UFC would budge from the original offer they made nearly eleven months ago.

“This is unfortunately the only company right now that is attempting to monopolize and essentially do everything themselves,” said Finkelstein. "That’s not what we’re about."
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