Today's signing of Fedor Emelianenko by Strikeforce is the biggest story in MMA and for good reason. Not only does Fedor's signing have significant ramifications inside the ring but quite possibly it could be even more impactful outside the ring. Strikeforce signing Fedor leads them down a slippery slope where no one, not Fedor, not the promotion, and especially not the fans, wins.
Fedor Emelianenko is the best heavyweight fighter in the world bar none. The man is virtually undefeated and has held the heavyweight title in any organization he has fought at least two fights for. When he was released from his contract by the folding Affliction Entertainment Group this man had every organization in the world begging for his services.
So this begs the question as to why Fedor would choose Strikeforce and why Strikeforce would bother to sign him. Here is why: because Strikeforce believes that signing the greatest heavyweight in the world will finally allow them to compete head to head with the UFC.
There are only three legitimate fights for Fedor in the promotion: heavyweight champion (and former Pride star) Alistair Overeem, (former UFC product) Fabricio Werdum, and up and comer Brett Rogers. None of these men, with the exception of possibly Overeem, would threaten the top five heavyweights in the UFC, let alone the greatest heavyweight in the world.
Fedor's presence ultimately makes no sense for Strikeforce. They will pay him insane amounts of money and split promotional rights to any card he is on so he can walk over their lack luster heavyweight competition therefore discrediting the promotion’s entire heavyweight division for when he leaves.
Ultimately the short term effects will be positive for Strikeforce. This signing has created quite a buzz especially among the more knowledgeable fans who knew Fedor long before he signed with Affliction. People will want to see him fight the three guys listed above. But after that, what’s next?
That is where the long term problems set in. If Fedor fought in the UFC you would have a line of fighters at least six deep who people would love to see him fight. Three fights will barely get Strikeforce two years of service. You can't manufacture opponents for him like Pride did. People in America won't tune into that. It's already tough enough being on a pay cable network and not being the UFC. So what is the long term goal for Strikeforce?
In order for Strikeforce to get the most out of Fedor they only have one shot over the next year and a half. Strikeforce needs to pit their three biggest heavyweight stars against Fedor and build mind blowing competitive main cards. Use catch weights, put on all title fights, let Fedor fight a bear; do something, anything to capture people's imaginations while you have their attention. If they're lucky maybe they'll have an Ultimate Fighter moment that changes the entire course of their organization. This is a one in a million shot but it's the only shot Strikeforce has. They decided they wanted to step up into the big leagues and they have to prove that the fighter doesn't make the promotion.
If anyone knows about that mantra it is the UFC. That is why this will only have an impact on the UFC in the very short term. Some fans will be angry that Dana White didn't do more to land the Last Emperor but UFC fans, casual and hardcore, will go on watching the cards and getting to see the best heavyweights in the world not named Fedor clash for an empty title. Why? Because we've never had Fedor so we don't know any better.
If Fedor came to the UFC and then left maybe people would care more. But because he hasn't, the mainstream fan simply won't complain enough to stir up any real reaction to the UFC heavyweight belt being a fake until Fedor comes to claim it.
The UFC has the best MMA product in the world. In the long run they won’t feel the effects of not signing Fedor in any significant way. They were doing fine without Fedor. So while it has to be frustrating not to land him the UFC will carry on with business as usual, growing exponentially, and making money hand over fist.
Strikeforce sold their soul to try and compete with the UFC by banking that Fedor can give them a leg to stand on over the UFC’s product. Unfortunately this tactic may be too short sighted and may destroy their entire long term strategy. Fedor had a chance to be a part of the most popular MMA organization in the world where he could make a lot of money proving himself against the best fighters. Now he’s stuck with three fighters most Americans have barely ever heard of. And for the fans, we all lose because Fedor will never be able to prove that he is the best heavyweight by beating the UFC champion, that is, at least until he becomes a free agent again.