Fedor Emelianenko

More Affliction Banned photos at Sherdog.com

There isn’t a bigger a story in mixed martial arts today than Randy Couture’s highly rumored return to the UFC. In fact, the UFC is holding a media teleconference today at 3PM ET to announce what many insiders believe is a new three fight deal between Couture and the UFC. While it’s believed that his first fight back since August 2007 will be at UFC 91 against Brock Lesnar, the fight everyone is talking about is Randy’s dream fight against Fedor Emelianenko.

History has suggested Fedor would never compete inside the UFC’s Octagon in today’s MMA landscape. Last year, negotiations fell apart between Fedor’s management and Zuffa primarily due to Zuffa’s exclusivity demands and their unwillingness to sign any fighter to a one fight deal. However, according to a report published today by SI.com’s Josh Gross, it appears Zuffa may be backing off a little bit on those demands.

A return to the UFC for Couture would likely include an option to fight Emelianenko, a source close to the fighter said. In fact, negotiations between UFC executives and Emelianenko’s American representatives, led by Dennis Spencer of SFX Media, are at an advanced stage, SI.com has learned.

As negotiations progressed on Couture’s new deal, the UFC apparently softened its stance on co-promoting or allowing a one-off bout with Emelianenko, two sources familiar to the negotiations told SI.com.

When I first heard these rumors, my immediate reaction was that it would never happen. My question was, what had changed? What has changed between then and now that was significant enough to force either side to budge on their demands? After all, neither party is known for being generous at the negotiating table.

To be honest, I still don’t know the answer to that question. The only thing I can think of is Zuffa believes that Randy does have a good chance of eventually winning the legal battle. If that were to happen, Randy could not only fight Fedor on a competitor’s show, but it could also damage the validity of the UFC contract. The latter could cause much bigger problems for the UFC than a mega fight taking place outside the confines of the Octagon.

Whatever the reason is, if Zuffa really is “softening its stance,” then this fight actually has a chance at becoming a reality.

What about Affliction though? How do they factor into all of this?

Emelianenko’s participation in the UFC, however, appears at odds with his current contract with Affliction, a group that promoted the Russian’s 36-second destruction of Tim Sylvia on July 19.

With his U.S. promotional rights apparently owned by Affliction, which holds two more bouts with the heavyweight and is negotiating, but has not yet sealed, an extension through 2012 [Ed. note: Tom Atencio announced late last week that Affliction did sign an extension with Fedor], the odds of a dream fight between Couture and Emelianenko inside the UFC appear slim. Yet, Emelianenko’s contract with Affliction is said to contain an out that could allow the Russian a fight against Couture inside the UFC, a source said.

Asked if he would stand in the way of a UFC-promoted bout between Couture and Emelianenko, Affliction vice president Tom Atencio said his company would not.

“If what happens helps Randy and helps Fedor, we’re more than happy to see that happen,” Atencio said Monday. “I’m a fan and I want to see that fight — even if it’s not with Affliction.”

Well, it seems that obstacle is out of the way. While I’m sure Affliction would rather have this fight take place inside their ring, it would give their biggest weapon more exposure in the US than he would get otherwise. If the fight happens, and Fedor destroys Randy, Affliction all of a sudden has a commodity that’s worth a lot more than he is now. That reason alone is why I’m surprised the UFC is actually considering signing Fedor for one fight.

While I still have my doubts, as Gross stated in his report, Fedor vs Randy in the UFC “seems closer today than at any time before.”

[UPDATE 9/2/08 8:40PM ET] – It appears Gross’ story referenced above has been replaced by MMAWeekly.com’s report on today’s announcement. No reason was given for taking down the story, although Dana White’s comments on the Fedor situation during today’s announcement did directly conflict with the details revealed in the SI.com report.

[UPDATE 9/03/08 3:06AM ET]A revised version of Gross’s original post is back up at SI.com. All the information from the previous article is still there. It still contradicts everything White said today, although White could have been lying. Time will tell, but like I’ve said before, don’t hold your breath waiting for it.