Josh Gross
Wednesday July 15th, 2009

It's always fun basing columns off assumptions.

How's this sound? Fedor Emelianenko wakes up Aug. 2, as he has every morning since March 2003, the best heavyweight in mixed martial arts. Months later Brock Lesnar rolls through Shane Carwin or Cain Velasquez. Fans and media reach a fever pitch. Fedor versus Lesnar is all anyone can talk about.

Great champions need perfect foils, and Lesnar -- fresh off wins over Randy Couture, Frank Mir and whomever earns the next challenge following UFC 104 -- appears to be Clubber Lang to Emelianenko's Rocky.

Bottom line, assuming assumptions play out, this is a fight that has to happen. It's bigger than organizational brands. It's bigger than belts. It's the kind of fight that would truly lift MMA into the mainstream. It's bigger than UFC 100. Much. Why? Because it serves the purpose of confirming the world's best heavyweight. It's the essence of what MMA should represent as sport.

Otherwise, what's the point of all this?

However, at the moment, the way things continue to shake out, it doesn't appear likely to get done. After losing out on a fight between Emelianenko and Couture, I haven't picked up on much that suggests negotiations between the UFC and Emelianenko's management would yield anything different than the animosity brought about by earlier talks.

The Russian is an equity stakeholder in M-1, meaning where he goes, so does the St. Petersburg-based promotional company. That's as big an issue in keeping Fedor outside the the Octagon as anything else.

With one fight remaining on a deal that gives Affliction Entertainment rights to partner with M-1 and promote Emelianenko throughout North America, the UFC is expected to throw buckets of cash Fedor's way if he handles Josh Barnett Aug. 1 on Affliction's third pay-per-view card. Though money has never been a driving factor in Emelianenko's career decisions, perhaps the pile will be high enough for him to agree to sign over certain freedoms he currently enjoys -- ancillary rights and the flexibility that comes with non-exclusive contracts to name a couple. Perhaps not.

The hope is, of course, that magic happens. That the money is right. That terms work for both sides. That Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta recognize, should it come to this, that the practice of co-promotion won't damage their brand -- it will only enhance it if it leads to mega-fights. By doing what's necessary to make this bout -- or others like it should they arise -- Zuffa would deserve and receive credit for producing the biggest fight in MMA history. Otherwise, it risks the exact opposite.

Yet here's the disconnect: while mixed martial arts needs this fight, the UFC seems to believe it doesn't.

How's that?

Yeah, the UFC doesn't. Just last week, Fertitta told the L.A. Times that Emelianenko was irrelevant because the public didn't know him. He was irrelevant, then, because Fertitta doesn't consider the Russian a moneymaker on pay-per-view, and that, say UFC executives, is their business.

It's a sad day if selling pay-per-view trumps dominance in competition as the practical measure of a fighter's relevancy. Something tells me the ultra-competitive Lesnar recognizes the relevancy of a victory that would instantly give the UFC king credibility as MMA's true world champion.

In Emelianenko, MMA has a big man who may very well be the best fighter ever to participate in his sport. Which boxers fit that bill? Marciano? Ali? It's a short list, for sure. Great -- and I mean really great -- heavyweights are rare and we're lucky to see one still in his prime. In Lesnar, MMA has a larger than life figure, someone who can sell a fight and has the ability to back up his words. The kind of intimidating presence boxing has lacked since Mike Tyson was at his best.

So where's the negative for UFC in a one-off fight?

The concern stems from potential damage to the UFC brand should Fedor whoop on the company's champion, and then depart as soon as he arrived. (Of course, that's worse-case scenario. Lesnar could actually beat him.) For gamblers like Fertitta and White, it would be another roll of the dice -- though not as high stakes as one might think considering the kind of revenue Emelianenko-Lesnar would generate at the gate and off TV.

But let's say Fedor and the UFC agree to a one-fight deal, he dominates and remains free to compete where he wants. The UFC, in my mind, would have earned a tremendous amount of goodwill for taking whatever steps were necessary to make the fight a reality. For all the talk of becoming a global brand, making fights of this caliber should be the real mandate of the top promoter in MMA. And with so many quality fighters under contract, no one would be foolish enough to think UFC couldn't keep on trucking even if Emelianenko did his thing and left.

In the end, what would be worse for the UFC's reputation: Fedor defeating Lesnar and leaving, or being the entity that got in the way of MMA's biggest fight?

As assumptions go, I'd pick the latter.

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