The biggest free agent in MMA, Fedor Emelianenko, and the top MMA organization in the world, the UFC, appear to be still be in talks although the situation could easily be described as tense as the two sides lock horns over philosophical differences which are often the hardest to overcome in sports contract negotiations.
In a recent interview with Sherdog.com Fedor’s manager, Vadim Finkelstein, discussed the current status of the Russian fighter as well as the contract negotiations they have held with the UFC and other MMA organizations:
At the moment we are in negotiations with a number of organizations who have put offers on the table. I’ll be blunt in saying that the UFC offer is the most financially attractive one. However they are very harsh in their terms and are not very flexible in actually negotiating them.
Fedor has now been the PRIDE heavyweight champion for four years and I think we have earned the right to negotiate a contract that suits both parties. Instead we are faced with a blunt “you are either in or you’re out.” This does not really suit us. If the negotiations continue in a similar manner, we’ll prefer to fight for less money but with an organization which is more flexible.
The problem is that Fedor is the face of Combat Sambo in Russia. His popularity is at a level where he is acquainted with president Putin himself, in part because he is so successful and well known for Combat Sambo here.
Combat Sambo is a Russian sport that’s not at a level of difficulty of MMA, but is hugely popular with our public. Fedor must represent Russia in Combat Sambo and at world championships, specifically the ones coming up in September. All we want him to do is compete something like once a year in Combat Sambo. But the UFC is not happy with that.
Their proposal has all kinds of clauses, all kinds of fines etc. that do not suit us. The UFC is not really that eager to communicate and negotiate. The negotiations are still continuing, and we will try very hard to get our demands met, if not Fedor will simply not compete in the UFC, even though that will be unfortunate as they currently have one of the, if not the, strongest, heavyweight divisions in the world.
Emelianenko has been the Pride heavyweight champion since March of 2003 and holds notable career wins over Mark Coleman, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko “Cro Cop” FilipoviÄ‡, and Mark Hunt. In his last fight Emelianenko defeated Matt Lindland in the main event of a BodogFight PPV in April.
While I fully expect a deal with Fedor to eventually be finalized it might take some time and concessions for the deal to happen. In the end I think the UFC will offer Fedor a limited exclusivity contract allowing him to fight in specific events in Russia and outside of the UFC. The major advantage the UFC has in negotiations, beyond being the world’s top MMA organization, is that Fedor is only known to serious MMA fans and not casual ones who make up the majority of the UFC’s audience which means if a deal with Fedor doesn’t happen the vast amount of UFC fans won’t even notice.
This situation could get very interesting over the next several months especially if the negotiations remain in the public eye and some of the UFC’s policies become openly criticized and critiqued.