Fedor’s Free Agency Fallout

By Josh Gross Mar 7, 2008
Confirmation Thursday of a rumor that circulated for weeks has made Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures) the most sought-after free agent in mixed martial arts … again.

The move by Emelianenko, first reported by ESPN, immediately rekindled talk of the Russian heavyweight fighting in the UFC, perhaps even against Randy Couture (Pictures).

Apy Echteld, who was hired as part of the European branch of M-1 Global and is a longtime manager of the 31-year-old Russian, told ESPN's Ryan Hockensmith that Emelianenko would be willing to restart contract negotiations with the UFC once the "divorce" is finalized.

M-1 CEO Monte Cox declined to comment on Thursday's news report, however he told Sherdog.com that M-1 and Emelianenko continue to share a "working relationship."

The question, then, is for how long?

According to one source that asked not to be identified, M-1 will likely expect Emelianenko to return a $1.5 million signing bonus he was paid last September. Negotiations should be finalized by Tuesday of next week, the same source said.

A free-agent Emelianenko could benefit from a deeper, more competitive bidding pool.

Newly minted with a historic TV deal from CBS, EliteXC would be "absolutely interested in Fedor if he was a free agent," Jeremy Lappen, the company's head of fighter operations, told Sherdog.com. "Of course, we're very friendly with Monte and have a close relationship with M-1 and would never step on their toes."

Mark Cuban, who has quickly turned HDNet into a desired premium-television destination for MMA fans, tempered expectations, telling Sherdog.com he doesn't plan on simply outspending competitors in an effort to sign the heavyweight.

"We always want to work with the best in the world," Cuban responded via e-mail. "That said, we aren't in the business of bidding wars. We are in the business of developing, promoting and supporting fighters and their careers and partnering with any and all who can help us accomplish that."

World Victory Road and Dream -- Japanese promoters attempting to establish themselves in Pride's wake -- could be Emelianenko suitors, though the MMA industry in that part of the world is not as strong as it was during the Russian's heyday.

Wildcard groups, such as the one apparently comprised of Oscar de la Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions and clothing apparel company Affliction, which sponsors Emelianenko and Couture, could enter the fray. An Affliction photo shoot featuring the heavyweight pair created quite a stir when shots and video of the fighters standing nose to nose hit the Internet.

Last October the newly formed M-1 Global, led by investor Mitchell Maxwell and Cox, announced at a New York news conference that they had won the war for the wandering Pride heavyweight king.

Emelianenko was expected to fight six times for $12 million over a two-year period for M-1. He fought just once since October, a co-promoted bout on New Year's Eve in Japan against an unranked opponent. Meanwhile M-1 has yet to produce its first event.

The Russian explained the decision against signing with the UFC came down largely to his opinion of the company's president.

"You cannot start a relationship with someone using those phrases," he said in New York, alluding to White's repeated description of Emelianenko's management as "crazy Russians."

Asked if he remained interested in signing Emelianenko (27-1-0, 1 NC) following a year of failed negotiations and a war of words that resulted in the promoter calling the No. 1-ranked heavyweight a "farce," White told ESPN: "Absolutely, 100 percent, in a heartbeat. People think he's the best -- I don't, not even close. But if it's somehow possible, I would make it happen."

"We're open to a discussion," Echteld responded to ESPN after learning of the UFC's potentially malleable position. "If everybody is willing to put a little wine in the water, then we have something to work with. There is space for this to happen."

Though Emelianenko's management, led by Vadim Finkelchtein and Echteld, expressed in late July that the UFC offer was extremely lucrative, it was also the most restrictive in terms of likeness rights, exclusivity and other points they did not want their fighter to concede.

The UFC chose not to budge either, leading to the creation of M-1 Global and what was thought to be the new home for Emelianenko.

A renegotiation for White would focus on getting Emelianenko in the Octagon across from Couture. While the UFC boss heavily favors "The Natural" in that matchup, the possibility of it taking place -- in the UFC or anywhere else -- is unknown while both sides battle in court over the status of Couture's contract.

After announcing his ill-fated deal with M-1 last fall, Emelianenko called Couture's challenge of the UFC "positive" and said he was "very proud that Couture made such a great decision."

It would be ironic if in the end the Russian signed with the UFC as a courtroom-tested Couture somehow freed himself from the most successful organization in MMA.

Wherever Fedor settles, fans will demand he fights the best challengers, starting with the 44-year-old former UFC champ.

Sherdog.com's Greg Savage contributed to this report
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