Josh Gross
Friday July 24th, 2009

With everyone playing matchmaker the past two days, I figure why not chime in before the udder runs dry and Affliction's mess is resolved.

In an interview with Sherdog's Jordan Breen on Thursday, I suggested Paul Buentello was the best choice to fight Fedor Emelianenko in place of an "embarrassed" Josh Barnett.

Buentello could salvage a heavyweight main event without ruining a great clash between ranked middleweights -- Vitor Belfort and Jorge Santiago. It doesn't hurt that Buentello is training to meet Gilbert Yvel on the same card, so chances are he's in solid shape. (If you're going to throw someone in against Fedor, the hope is he's at least ready to compete.) And for giggles Buentello can brag of the potential promotional bonus that came with destroying Kirill Sidelnikov, otherwise known as "Baby Fedor," in January.

If an interesting heavyweight -- perhaps Bobby Lashley, Jeff Monson or Mo Lawal -- could step in to fight Yvel on the HDNet portion of the Aug. 1 card, things might work out for Affliction, M-1 and their partners.

Yet, Affliction Entertainment vice president Tom Atencio told Buentello he should concentrate on Yvel. While "The Headhunter" -- and almost any heavyweight with a pulse -- wanted the fight, there haven't been real discussions to make it happen.

I needed a new way of thinking, so later in the day I focused on Emelianenko's preference of Brett Rogers --who entered in the heavyweight top 10 after walloping Andrei Arlovski in June -- over the likes of Belfort, the perceived front-runner and potentially bigger pay-per-view draw, and Buentello.

One person close to Emelianenko recently told me that, contrary to popular belief, the Russian champion is in charge of his destiny and it's laughable to think his management is manipulating him. I took it to mean he and the UFC remain far apart because Emelianenko wants it that way. Until he feels differently about competing in the Octagon, there isn't a real chance it will happen.

So when he says he wants Rogers, we should listen.


Rogers makes sense because he's ranked and undefeated in 10 fights. For Emelianenko, a loss against a challenger with a perfect record isn't nearly as debilitating as falling short against a blown-up middleweight or a heavyweight with double-digit losses on his résumé.

Meanwhile, a win for Rogers immediately sets up a big-money rematch, which you'd have to think would come under the Strikeforce banner since Rogers is its man. It would guarantee at least one more high-anticipation, big-money fight outside the UFC -- one, I imagine, that would give rise to quite a lot of fan and media interest. Depending on Roger's decisiveness of victory, Strikeforce could comfortably lay claim to promoting the top heavyweight in the world. And Showtime would stand to benefit by being Rogers' premium network home.

But that's pipe-dream stuff.

On 10 day's notice, in shape now to handle a three round fight, Rogers is going to step in and beat Fedor Emelianenko? Unlikely. But Strikeforce and Showtime need not worry about it crushing his career. There's an inherent cushion that comes with taking a fight on short notice. No one would expect him to win, and if Rogers' undefeated record disappears, at least Fedor would be the one to do it. Everyone loses in MMA. My guess is a Rogers' stumble would be forgiven and forgotten before he leaves the ring.

How likely is all this?

Mid-day Thursday, even though Strikeforce executive Mike Afromowitz said there was no chance Rogers would fight Aug. 1, I was told "The Grim" remained everyone's top choice. That is, unless you happen to be an executive at Showtime, which is heavily involved in the decision making over fights for Strikeforce-signed mixed martial artists.

Weighing the odds, Rogers' manager Ken Pavia said it there was a 60-40 chance his fighter would land the gig. Later in the evening, he was less specific: "Who [bleeping] knows?!"

Rogers is one of several fighters who have either agreed in principle or said they would fight Fedor. Among others are Lawal, Eddie Sanchez, Don Frye, Buentello and Belfort.

Atencio hoped a decision would be made Friday.

If, in the end, Belfort lands the slot versus Fedor, Affliction will need to hustle to find Santiago an opponent.

Though rumors swirled that Jake Shields was in line to take a fight with Santiago, Shields told Thursday night that he "highly doubts" he would fight unless the money is "really good."

"A week isn't enough time," he said. "Everyone keeps asking me. I guess it's a big rumor."

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