Yesterday, on Aug. 3, 2009, it was announced that Fedor Emelianenko, widely regarded as the No. 1 heavyweight on earth, would be signing with Strikeforce, the No. 2 promotion in North America, for a three fight deal. So much is good and so much is bad with this news. Let's examine the consequences and benefits, both long term and short term, of this deal.
Greater exposure for the best fighter in the world
Strikeforce will open Fedor up to a much larger audience than Affliction ever could have. He will debut on Showtime in Fall 2009. Let's look at the numbers that Strikeforce and EliteXC pulled in with their respective Showtime events.
Kimbo Slice vs. Tank Abbott: 511,000 viewers
Frank Shamrock vs. Phil Baroni: 365,000 viewers
EliteXC Return of the King: 350,000 viewers
Frank Shamrock vs. Cung Le: less than 300,000
Solid numbers. Not Couture vs. Lesnar type of solid, but nothing to sneeze at either; certainly much larger than anything Fedor could have obtained with Affliction Entertainment.
Opponents that are ranked in the bottom half of the top 10
Let's look at the opposition Strikeforce can provide: Brett Rogers (No. 7 according to Sherdog following his stunning win over previously No. 2 ranked Andrei Arlovski), Alistair Overeem (No. 10 at Sherdog, and would likely be higher were it not for the repeated groin attacks on Cro Cop which resulted in the bout being turned into a No Contest) and Fabricio Werdum (not top 10 by any accounts since losing to Junior Dos Santos and going inactive).
Sergei Kharitonov or Jeff Monson may also be in consideration consideration considering Strikeforce's partnership with DREAM.
All good fights that anyone should tune into, but UFC can offer more. Brock Lesnar (Sherdog's No. 3, and likely soon to be No. 2 after Josh Barnett's steroid scandal), Frank Mir (No. 4) and Randy Couture (No. 6) would all be gripping fights, and fights against Shane Carwin (No. 9) and a rematch against Mirko Cro Cop might have been on the cards too. I won't include Nogueira because there's no need to see that again.
If we don't see the latter list of fights, we will have been cheated, people.
Mind you, there will always be new stars, so who knows; last year, Arlovski, Sylvia and Barnett were considered the best competition there was at the time. Maybe in a year or two Satoshi Ishii, Blagoi Ivanov, Bobby Lashley and Roger Gracie will have stormed the heavyweight ranks.
Lack of a universal champion
Right now, at this very moment, Brock Lesnar and Fedor Emelianenko are the highest ranked champions in the world, and as Lesnar goes on to beat Carwin, Velasquez and Nogueira, and Fedor dominates Werdum, Rogers and Overeem, an endless debate of who should truly be No. 1 will continue.
If Lesnar and Fedor continue to show a level of dominance over their opponents and retire without fighting each other, it will go down as one of the greatest fights that never was, and that will be a tragedy of a missed opportunity for MMA exposure.
A critical outcome for Strikeforce, UFC, and American MMA
M-1's co-promotions have been a kiss of death to all those who have come before - although realistically, they can only be linked to the deaths of bodogFIGHT and Affliction. If Strikeforce have agreed to give M-1 50 percent of an event's profit, which is what they requested from UFC, while not sharing 50 percent of the expenses, it looks like a deal heading for red. If Strikeforce dies, UFC will be the title of American MMA, and I don't see another competitor being able to claw their way up to Strikeforce's level in the US at least.
However, should the deal be acceptable, having the world's best fighter would be a mighty bonus of legitimacy, and added to the casual fans that Strikeforce already appeals to with the likes of Gina Carano and Cung Le, it could be a push for Strikeforce to become the second major title of American MMA, maybe even international MMA.