Emelianenko Ready to Seize Marquee

By Josh Gross Oct 23, 2007
NEW YORK, Oct. 22 -- During his 34 years working in the entertainment industry, Mitchell Maxwell has seen many contracts. So Vadim Finkelchtein, the Russian manager of Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures), listened to the Broadway show producer when it came time to discuss a deal that was designed to deliver the heavyweight star to the UFC.

"I said, as an entertainment guy, you can't have anybody sign this," Maxwell told Sherdog.com following Monday's press conference to officially announce the M-1 Global mixed martial arts organization, for which he now sits as chairman. "It's too one-sided. You can't exploit somebody like this."

Maxwell and Finkelchtein -- introduced through a mutual friend and speaking in the middle of August on the Italian island of Sardinia -- began to discuss options.

"I said give me two weeks," recounted Maxwell, who'd never heard of mixed martial arts let alone the 31-year-old Emelianenko. "Let me put together an A-List team, let's meet together again in Amsterdam in two weeks and see if we wanna go ahead."

The money came together quickly. Maxwell returned to Holland on Sept. 25 and signed Emelianenko, the undisputed top heavyweight in MMA, to a letter of intent before handing him a $1.5 million signing bonus.

"All of a sudden I'm in the MMA business," Maxwell said. "Part of life is when opportunity knocks you have to know when to open the door, and I think this was a door worth opening."

In terms Maxwell can understand, he's not opening off Broadway.

Signing the most sought-after free agent in MMA history has immediately made him, and the newly formed M-1 Global, a name fight fans will know. The key to the deal, of course, is Emelianenko, whom many hoped would resurface in the Octagon.

But to hear the Russian describe it, that deal was doomed from the word "crazy."

"It was not a pleasant thing to hear," said Emelianenko (26-1-0, 1 NC), responding to UFC president Dana White's drumbeat against the fighter's "crazy Russian" management.

"You cannot start a relationship with someone using those phrases."

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

But in the end the decision not to sign with mixed martial arts most successful promoter, said Emelianenko, was his alone.

In choosing to partner with M-1 Global, Emelianenko hopes to "create an organization that would be on the international level with the strongest fighters of all styles. … And to make this type of sport popular all over the world."

Key to the group's success will be its ability to sell a Russian-only-speaking fighter to a North American audience. To that end, Washington D.C.-based SFX Media, which in 2006 splintered away from mega media company Clear Channel, signed on.

"He's not going to market himself but we plan to build a platform with him," SFX executive vice president Dennis Spencer said of Emelianenko. "Television is obviously a challenge because of the language, but I think we're going to get some good companies behind us to really bring him out in a commercial way. I hope I don't hear anymore references to Ivan Drago."

With names like Reggie Bush, Andy Roddick and Joakim Noah in its stable, SFX sees Emelianenko as another budding sports star whose talent, more than an outside-the-ring appeal, will win over MMA and mainstream audiences alike.

"We understand the challenges," said Spencer, whose company will also be on the forefront of negotiating television and sponsorship deals for M-1 Global. "It's not easy. I want to say Fedor is a gentle giant, but that's maybe wrong. Quiet giant. Very nonplussed. He's got a smile that lights up the room."

People won't pay to see him grin … unless of course it comes after yet another dominating performance.

Emelianenko is expected to make his debut for the new group -- the first of six fights over two years that will pay him $2 million per contest; if he remains with the company for five years, even in an ambassador role, the Russian would also be in line to cash in on a significant chunk of equity -- in February, likely in Chicago.

Though M-1 Global representatives wouldn't comment, it's believed veteran Jeff Monson (Pictures) is a candidate to be Emelianenko's first opponent.

Following their initial effort in Chicago it's off to Asia, where Macao is just as possible a destination as Tokyo. A return to the U.S. precedes a stop in Russia. And finally back to the U.S.

"I'm very glad that at the end of the day we split the world in several parts: USA, Asia, Europe and Russia," Echteld said. "We have to move on and really have a global competition, because there are so many unknown fighters who don't get a shot in the UFC who are very good."

There are also quite a few well known fighters who have had shots in the UFC, chief among them Randy Couture (Pictures). Awash in his own controversy after vacating the UFC heavyweight belt on Oct. 11 and thusly walking away from the powerful Las Vegas-based MMA organization, Couture's name came up several times Monday.

Emelianenko called news of Couture's UFC departure "positive" and said he was "very proud that Couture made such a great decision."

"To tell you the truth, he's such a great person," said Emelianenko, who owned the PRIDE heavyweight belt from 2003 until the company went out of business in March of this year. "I really admire him and bow in front of him. I'd rather get to know him more as a friend than a competitor. But I understand that we're in the position that fans want to see the fight happen. I'm always ready."

Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures) versus "The Natural" -- now that's a showstopper.
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