When fledgling promotion Affliction ceased MMA operations a few weeks ago following the collapse of it's third fight card, the destination of heavyweight centerpiece Fedor Emelianenko was easily the hottest topic in the wake of the fallout.
Would the Russian superstar, widely considered the best overall fighter in the world, return to Japan? Would he stick with his management team's promotion M-1 Global and fight strictly on their fight cards? Or would MMA fans finally get what they have been anticipating for several years now—an Emelianenko foray into the top MMA spotlight in the world, the UFC Octagon.
The latter seemed almost inevitable, as it stands to reason that the top heavyweight fighter, arguably of all time, would have to finally land in the UFC, who's roster includes most of the top challengers in the world at Emelianenko's weight.
Most fans likely didn't even realize Strikeforce was an official player in the Fedor sweepstakes until it was announced that he indeed signed with the upstart promotion, an almost shocking announcement considering the rampant rumors of the past week that claimed a Fedor-UFC union was all set.
It's a major coup on the part of Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker, one that boosts the stock of not only his company but the rest of the fighters on his roster, who are now positioned to fight on undercards of events headlined by Emelianenko on the airwaves of either CBS or Showtime and, chances are, pay-per-view as well.
It may also signal the end of the mutual respect between Coker and UFC President Dana White, who in the past has expressed his approval of the way Strikeforce conducts business. With Emelianenko signed to their roster, Strikeforce is now a legitimate contender to the UFC's promotional dominance.
But while the signing of the most sought-after free agent in the sport raises Strikeforce's stock, it's a major disappointment to legions of fans who will have to keep waiting to see Fedor in the super-fights that can only be provided by the UFC's stable of fighters.
Legitimate challengers to Emelianenko are few and far between in Strikeforce, with Brett Rogers appearing to be the most realistic threat. Other potential opponents include UFC reject Fabricio Werdum and former Pride gate-keeper Alistair Overeem, the current Strikeforce heavyweight champ that is sidelined for the foreseeable future.
Even if Josh Barnett's career somehow hasn't been ruined by his most recent positive steroid test, it's highly unlikely he'll be licensed by the California State Athletic Commission any time soon, making a fight between Fedor and Barnett in the San Jose, Calif. based Strikeforce virtually impossible.
While Strikeforce is relatively thin on heavyweight talent, the UFC has bolstered it's once-weak heavyweight division over the last year with the only kind of talent that can reasonably challenge Emelianenko, thus leaving fans where they were when Pride disbanded: Without the best possible heavyweight fights.
The probable emergence of Strikeforce as a major promotion in the wake of the Emelianenko signing is a positive step for MMA in the long run; a rival promotion stifles the UFC's attempts at creating an MMA monopoly and gives more fighters the opportunity to compete on a high stage, thus providing fans with more top-level fights.
But in the short-run, it prevents matchups that could have been the most anticipated fights of all-time.
Emelianenko-Lesnar for the unified heavyweight title would be a blockbuster.
Emelianenko-Couture could have been the defining fight of the legendary former UFC champion's career, and considering the size and skill-sets of the two combatants, it's not irrational to think it would be a tremendous—and even—match.
Even if Emelianenko chose to take a few tuneup bouts in the UFC to build up to a mega-fight for the title, fights against the likes of Shane Carwin, Cain Velasquez, or even light-heavyweight challengers such as Tito Ortiz would serve as stiffer challenges than the the former Pride heavyweight champion is likely to find in Strikeforce.
Which begs the question: Does Fedor want to define his legacy by seeking out the best possible opponents, or does he want to ease into retirement by padding his record against lesser foes?
Most reports say the UFC couldn't come to terms with Emelianenko's management team, which wanted their M-1 Global promotion to co-promote any fight he was involved in.
As much as Dana White wants to control MMA with an iron fist, demanding to ride the UFC's coattails and benefit from their marketing machine by co-promoting cards that they put together is bold, if not ridiculous.
As White put it, “It’s like Brett Favre negotiating with one of the football teams and saying, yeah, 'I’m gonna be your 50-percent partner.' " (source: MMA Weekly)
In other words, if Emelianenko himself didn't negotiate his own way out of the best possible challenges to his reign of supremacy, he allowed his management to do so for the sake of trying to benefit a promotion no one in North America cares about.
And at 33 years of age, his decision to sign with Strikeforce casts doubt on the chances that he'll ever face any of the men most capable of dethroning him.
It also casts doubt on whether he truly wants to fight them.