The UFC’s courtship of Fedor Emelianenko, which has been ongoing for nearly two years, ended again at the end of last month when the Russian heavyweight signed with Strikeforce. Ever since Zuffa, the parent company of the UFC, purchased Pride FC in March 2007, the UFC has been in hot pursuit of Fedor. Despite the years of pursuit, Fedor has yet to meet in person with UFC President Dana White or UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta.
A lot of rumors have circulated about the offer that the UFC presented to Fedor. According to Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer newsletter, both sides met on July 28th. Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta were present at the meeting, as was Fedor’s manager Vadim Finkelchtein, while Fedor listened in on a phone line and never said a word.
As reported last month, the UFC deal leaked to the internet by CBS Radio MMA host Carmichael Dave was for six fights at $30 million. According to Meltzer, that number is not accurate. The UFC presented Fedor with a three-fight deal, thinking that the fewer fights would be more enticing for Fedor as opposed to a longer term deal. The actual number was a $2 million guarantee per fight, plus a sliding percentage on PPV buys, so Fedor’s per-fight take could have reached $5 million. While there was no $30 million offer, if he won the championship and the sport continued to draw the numbers it’s doing now, he could have earned more. However, it is unclear if he could have been cut after a loss, a clause common in UFC contracts.
Most of the rest of the points are consistent with the Carmichael Dave report. Fedor was offered an immediate title shot with Brock Lesnar, with M-1 Global receiving a cut of the Lesnar – Fedor PPV (which would likely be the biggest PPV in MMA history) on top of Fedor’s salary. With the sliding percentage he was presented on top of the $2 million guarantee, if that show did 800,000 buys (which would be a huge disappointment), Fedor would come out with a $3 million payday. However, if the show did a more realistic number like 1.5 million buys (which is a little less than what UFC 100 drew), he’d pocket more than $5 million, the biggest one-night payoff in the history of the sport, in addition to M-1 Global’s take.
Fedor would also be able to don the M-1 Global logo on any of his attire and on his banners, and would be allowed to compete in combat sambo, a point of contention in their negotiations in 2007.
As reported before, the deal was turned down – like in 2007 – because M-1 Global wanted to be 50% co-promoters of and show headlined by Fedor, which means getting 50% of the profits after Fedor’s cut. The negotiations ended shortly after M-1 Global refused to budge on that point.
“We will work only on co-promotion conditions,” stated Vadim Finkelchtein, president of M-1 Global, after the meeting with White and Fertitta. “I don’t understand the policy of the UFC. The UFC won’t be able to control the whole world. The market is so big. . . The UFC proposal doesn’t give us a chance for us to do what we want to do.”
Fedor ended up signing with Strikeforce for an undisclosed salary, believed to be $1 million per fight. The deal is similar to his deal with Affliction in several ways. The deal with Strikeforce gives M-1 Global the rights to market the shows outside of North America, where the shows will be pushed as an M-1 Global event. In North America, the three shows headlined by Fedor will be billed as a joint promotion of M-1 Global and Strikeforce. This is similar to their deal with Affliction, where M-1 had the overseas rights for the Affliction shows and sold them to different sports stations as M-1 Global events, as opposed to Affliction.
“I am very happy and excited about the upcoming collaboration with Strikeforce,” Finkelchtein stated after the Strikeforce deal was announced. “We are very pleased that we found a reliable partner and I feel that Strikeforce and M-1 can support each other on many things. This will create big opportunities for both parties to test their fighters against worthy opponents.”
One interesting point, and this is likely the case for the Strikeforce deal, is that even though M-1 Global co-promoted the Affliction shows and were entitled to 50% of the profits from the shows headlined by Fedor, they did not fund 50% of the losses from those shows which eventually put Affliction out of business.
Affliction had pay-per-view revenue and still lost millions per show. Strikeforce generally does OK for their shows, with some shows losing a little while others generate a small profit. Up until Fedor’s signing, their highest salaried fighter had been Frank Shamrock, who took home $369,790 for his fight with Nick Diaz last April. Meanwhile, the entire payroll for this past Sunday’s Carano vs. Cyborg event, the biggest in company history, was only $468,500, which is less than half of what Fedor’s take would likely be.
After co-promoting two events with Showtime in 2007 and 2008 with EliteXC, Strikeforce signed a multi-year agreement with the network in March to air their events on the channel. With a deal with CBS (which is owned by Viacom – Showtime’s parent company) looming, Strikeforce may not be able to hold their major events on pay-per-view anytime soon as they would need to save their big fights for CBS. CBS isn’t willing to pay big money for the events, which is one of the reasons negotiations between CBS and the UFC fell through last year.
“We are extremely excited to have the opportunity to work with M-1 Global and Fedor,” Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker stated after signing Fedor.
Coker has managed to stay in business, where others like Bodog Fight, Affliction, and the IFL have failed. With the increased cost added to his shows, it will be interesting to see if his company can survive, or thrive, in a business where so many others have failed.