A lot has been said about the dream heavyweight match-up between Fedor Emelianenko and Brock Lesnar since Brock rearranged Frank Mir’s face at UFC 100. It’s obviously the fight we all want to see, but if history and Fedor’s latest thoughts on the subject are any indication, it’s probably not going to happen.
The fact of the matter is MMA and specifically anything UFC-related is big business these days, and at least in this instance that’s unfortunately coming before sport. As much as I understand it and recognize it’s necessary to keep this ship sailing in the right direction, every once in a while something so big comes along it transcends all, including the very foundation upon which this sport is built. SI.com’s Josh Gross explains.
Bottom line, assuming assumptions play out, this is a fight that has to happen. It’s bigger than organizational brands. It’s bigger than belts. It’s the kind of fight that would truly lift MMA into the mainstream. It’s bigger than UFC 100. Much. Why? Because it serves the purpose of confirming the world’s best heavyweight. It’s the essence of what MMA should represent as sport.
Otherwise, what’s the point of all this?
Just last week, Fertitta told the L.A. Times that Emelianenko was irrelevant because the public didn’t know him. He was irrelevant, then, because Fertitta doesn’t consider the Russian a moneymaker on pay-per-view, and that, say UFC executives, is their business.
It’s a sad day if selling pay-per-view trumps dominance in competition as the practical measure of a fighter’s relevancy. Something tells me the ultra-competitive Lesnar recognizes the relevancy of a victory that would instantly give the UFC king credibility as MMA’s true world champion.
But let’s say Fedor and the UFC agree to a one-fight deal, he dominates and remains free to compete where he wants. The UFC, in my mind, would have earned a tremendous amount of goodwill for taking whatever steps were necessary to make the fight a reality. For all the talk of becoming a global brand, making fights of this caliber should be the real mandate of the top promoter in MMA. And with so many quality fighters under contract, no one would be foolish enough to think UFC couldn’t keep on trucking even if Emelianenko did his thing and left.
In the end, what would be worse for the UFC’s reputation: Fedor defeating Lesnar and leaving, or being the entity that got in the way of MMA’s biggest fight?
At the end of the day, MMA truly is about the fighters and determining who’s the best. It’s what every sport is about. Why does it matter who’s umbrella a fight takes place under? Just because the UFC has the majority of the best fighters in the world signed to a one-sided contract, Fedor has to sign it too? Sorry, I’m not buying that.
Look, I love the UFC as much as the next guy, but the day I start believing the UFC is more important in the sporting sense than the fighters who fight in its Octagon (and outside it) is the day I’ll no longer call myself a fan. The UFC is great and all, and I’m thankful for all the big fights they put on each year, but their brand is not more important than the sport itself. Money is critical for both survival and growth, as is their brand at the present time, but every now and then that needs to take a back seat to the real reason why we’re fans in the first place and why most fighters compete.
So Fedor, beat Barnett, and Zuffa and M-1, sit down, both make a few concessions and make this fight happen. It’s too important for money and business models to get in the way.