Fedor Emelianenko is still widely regarded as the top heavyweight fighter in the world but he is slowly slipping down the pound for pound rankings due to the dearth of credible opponents he has faced in recent years.
Until the breakdown of negotiations with the UFC, respect for Fedor was widespread. He had a habit of beating every opponent he faced with the bare minimum of fuss and the fact that the softly spoken Russian eschewed the trash talking, attention seeking antics of many of his fellow fighters only increased his allure.
Unfortunately, many fans will find it impossible to forgive him for the failure to agree terms with the UFC and, contractually unable to currently face any of the very top heavyweights in the world, Fedor is in danger of becoming a forgotten man.
There is simply no viable alternative to the UFC for a world class heavyweight fighter. A few years ago Dana White was casting covetous glances towards Pride which harboured the likes of Nogueira and Crocop as well as Fedor himself. Now that the Japanese organization has been dismantled and the UFC has taken its pick off the spare parts, Fedor is the only remaining piece in the heavyweight jigsaw to still elude it.
Were there a number of other organizations on a par with the UFC, Fedor's representatives would have been entitled to go to the negotiation tables with an open mind. But the UFC was the only credible move for Fedor and I find his failure to make that move utterly inexplicable.
Fedor is little more than monosyllabic at the best of times so it is impossible to speculate what might be going on in his head, but I suspect that the decision to walk away from the UFC will haunt him for the rest of his life. Had he signed with the UFC and, as anticipated, worked his way successfully through the heavyweight roster, he could have retired and walked away from the sport as the greatest, the Muhammad Ali of MMA. By choosing to fight lesser named opponents on smaller shows he has cemented his status as an athlete who will forever fall under the, 'what could have been' category.
Before the opportunity to sign with the UFC presented itself, critics had tended to look kindly at Fedor's recent record which includes wins over UFC disgards Andre Arlovski and Tim Sylvia and, even less impressively, a win in Russia over Matt Lindland, a man who has spent most of his career as a middleweight.
Now that Fedor has been given the option of facing the cream of the heavyweight division and has chosen, for whatever reason, not to take it, his list of recent opponents is worthy of much closer scrutiny.
Unfortunately for Fedor it does not stand up to such scrutiny, and an argument could be made that the last respectable opponent that Fedor faced was Mirko Crocop in 2005. When you have been established as the number one heavyweight in the world for as long as Fedor has been you should not have to look too far down the rankings to find your opponents. Fedor's failure to face any of the other top three or four heavyweights in the world for almost five years is unforgivable.
There are two explanations for Fedor's refusal to sign with the UFC. The most obvious interpretation is greed, Strikeforce simply offered too much money. A less kind interpretation, and one I would not personally be particularly inclined to make, is that Fedor was not motivated by money but simply wanted to avoid having to face top class opposition.
I cannot accept that the UFC's contractual terms were too stringent for the deal to get made. If you are paying someone millions of dollars then you are entitled to insert clauses into the contract which will legally protect your investment. It seems that, despite the insinuations cast by Fedor and his management, the UFC may not have been the guilty party. Dana White alluded to the problems in his own inimitable style suggesting that Fedor's terms included, 'Build an arena in Russia, the entire fuckin' Red Devil fight team (Fedor's team) gets in the UFC etc etc.'
If these demands were genuinely made then Fedor's representatives were either a) stupid or b) not serious about wanting Fedor to sign with the UFC. Dana White rightly ridiculed the idea that the UFC should make Fedor's promotional company, M-1, a partner as part of the deal to sign Fedor. The UFC are doing fine without Fedor, they would like to have him on board but they do not need him. Fedor, by contrast needs the UFC desperately. It is obvious that Fedor himself was probably not present at the negotiating table but he has to take ultimate responsibility for the actions of the people who represent him and it is his legacy which they have tarnished.
Fedor has already beaten the best available heavyweight outside of the UFC, the previously undefeated Brett Rogers, on his Strikeforce debut last year. His next fight will be against Fabricio Werdum who was released the UFC having lost two of his previous four fights.
As he reaches what is probably the twilight of his MMA career this is as good as it is going toget for Fedor; fights against fighters who were not deemed good enough to remain in the UFC. Fedor's decision to turn his back on the UFC means that instead of going down in history as 'the greatest champion that ever was' he will forever be remembered as 'the greatest UFC champion that never was'.