Although negotiations with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the world's top MMA promotion, fell apart last week, Fedor Emelianenko will still face "top competition" in Strikeforce, company executive Mike Afromowitz today told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
Emelianenko, a former PRIDE champion who owns a 30-1 career record (and 24-fight win streak), was announced as Strikeforce's latest signing today. Afromowitz confirmed it's a three-fight deal.
And although the organization, arguably the UFC's biggest rival, will give him top heavyweight opponents immediately, Afromowitz said Emelianenko will not necessarily fight for the title or an interim belt in his promotional debut.
According to today's announcement, that debut will come in the fall (most likely October) at a Showtime-televised event.
Although current champion Alistair Overeem (29-11) recently pulled out of an Aug. 15 title defense with Fabricio Werdum (11-4-1) due to injury, and though there's been rumblings about the potential creation of an interim title since Overeem hasn't defended his belt since winning it 21 months ago, Emelianenko isn't guaranteed a championship fight his first time out.
"Not necessarily," Afromowitz said when asked about the possibility. "Fedor is the top heavyweight in the world, (but) I wouldn't say that's definite that he's fighting for the title."
However, he balks at talk that Emelianenko can't find quality opponents outside of the UFC.
"He will get top competition in Strikeforce as he would've in the UFC," Afromowitz said. "There are a lot of potential opponents you could put in front of him that could give him very tough fights right now.
"I think there are three, four, five fights we could put in front of him now."
One such fight would be with undefeated Brett Rogers (10-0), who quickly disposed of former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski at a June Strikeforce event. Rogers now owns nine first-round stoppages in 10 pro fights; only an April fight with Ron Humphrey went past the first round, and Rogers still ended it just 98 seconds into the second round.
Emelianenko had been slated to fight Josh Barnett at the Aug. 1 "Affliction: Trilogy" event. However, Barnett was denied a license for the pay-per-view fight when he failed a drug test due to an anabolic steroid, the California State Athletic Commission announced two weeks ago. Affliction briefly explored possible replacements before cancelling the show and its promotional arm altogether. Rogers was one of the names mentioned as a possible replacement.
"You saw a lot of interest in that fight with Rogers," Afromowitz said. "Overeem is a top-10 guy, too. Fabricio is another guy (who could fight Emelianenko). They're all tough opponents."
However, with Emelianenko now under contract, expect the organization to bolster its heavyweight division even further as its recently done with other weight classes.
That could open the door for even more possibilities.
"I think the heavyweight division is the one we're really building right now," Afromowitz said. "We've got good talent there now, and we'll keeping adding to it. ... It's a continuous process, but the heavyweight (division) will be a focal point."
In recent years, Emelianenko has come under fire for what many consider a lack of quality competition. That was no doubt the case from 2006 to 2007, when ? after a series of high-profile super-fights ? he fought and defeated Mark Coleman (a 42-year-old fighter he had already beaten once before), Mark Hunt (a kickboxer with just seven pro fights), Matt Lindland (a middleweight) and Hong Man Choi (who owned a 1-0 career record).
But even convincing recent victories over Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski (two former UFC title-holders) hasn't completely swayed public opinion. And last week, when UFC president Dana White said a deal with Emelianeko was unlikely because of the fighter's manager's demands that the UFC must co-promote with his M-1 Global brand, many said Emelianeko was simply ducking the UFC's impressive list of top-10 heavyweights.
In time, though, Afromowitz said fans will get their wishes.
"Fedor is going to fight top guys," he said. "Every Strikeforce fight will count."