Josh Gross
Friday July 31st, 2009

With or without Fedor Emelianenko, the UFC plans to continue pushing forward, making money and breaking barriers.

Presiding over mixed martial arts' most successful organization, Dana White made it clear during a conference call with media Friday that his company would not dwell on another round of negotiations with the sport's top heavyweight or his promotional group, M-1 Global.

"We tried everything that we could possibly do to get Fedor into the UFC, we went above and beyond," said White, who drew a line in the sand over the proposal of co-promotion. "I have been able to sign the best fighters in the world over the last 10 years into the UFC."

As an example, White cited Tito Ortiz -- one of UFC's most marketable, successful and controversial fighters during the Zuffa era -- whose re-signing was among several items confirmed during the call.

Additionally, White said a proposed rematch between Dan Henderson and Rich Franklin had been scrapped following negative fan reaction to the bout. In its place, Franklin will meet Vitor Belfort, his contract having been co-opted after Affliction folded, in Dallas at UFC 103 in September. Belfort is one of several fighters under contract to Affliction that White said would enter the UFC or WEC. Henderson, meanwhile, was named the No. 1 contender to Anderson Silva's UFC middleweight title.

News of a three-year deal with ESPN UK was also made official. The network, which airs content in hi-definition and is set to kickoff Aug. 13, and the promoter begin their relationship in earnest with a free tape-delay broadcast of UFC 101.

Though White wasn't interested in answering questions about negotiations with Emelianenko, the biggest story in the sport remains the chasm between UFC and M-1 Global over how best to create fights in MMA.

On Tuesday, White and Zuffa co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta spoke by phone from Europe with Emelianenko and his representatives, who were in California during, what should have been, the final days leading up to a fight against Josh Barnett at Affliction "Trilogy." Though Emelianenko is currently under contract to M-1 -- a company in which he owns a significant equity stake -- for three fights at $2 million a bout, the UFC proposed what all sides agreed was a very generous money offer.

However, "it does not give us a chance to do what we as a company, including Fedor, are wanting to and planning to do," said the fighter's long-time manager and partner, Vadim Finkelchtein.

Rumors of a six-fight, $30 million deal from the UFC were shot down by Emelianenko's camp. Sources inside M-1 Global told that the UFC offer was for half as many fights at a rate less than what Emelianenko currently receives from his promotional company.

Emelianenko's reply to the UFC the following day didn't need translation. Addressing a small contingent of media gathered at a makeshift press conference in Anaheim, Calif., Emelianenko wore a pullover emblazoned with the EA Sports logo, a clear dismissal of White's decree that fighters wishing to compete in the UFC would refrain from signing a deal with the video game giant.

When he did say something noteworthy, his translator missed it. Asked why he should be considered any different than scores of world-class fighters who have agreed to fight in the UFC, Emelianenko said it was a matter of timing.

"When I first read the UFC contract that was offered two years ago, I clearly understood they were trying to [expletive] me," he said defiantly. "If we got an offer two years ago that we received yesterday, maybe we would agree. But not in today's situation, we could not accept that offer."

Money, video-game rights and other points of contention aren't getting in the way anymore, said White. That distinction belongs to the proposal of co-promotion. Emelianenko agreed, saying Wednesday that a deal is impossible without Zuffa and M-1 Global coming together for a co-promotion.

White doesn't see the point.

Not only does White dismiss the practice of promoters joining forces to sell a fight, he says in the UFC's case it's "impossible" because of the Fertittas' gaming ties. "People from other countries just don't walk in and jump in business with the Fertitta brothers," said the UFC president.

"Let's be honest here, these guys are going to come in and co-promote?" he asked rhetorically. "How the hell are they going to co-promote anything? We built this entire friggin' industry. How are they going to co-promote? It's basically them coming in saying they've got this guy, some people say he might be the best heavyweight in the world, so for that we want half your business. Yeah, OK."

In essence, M-1 asked the UFC to do what it can't, what Pride couldn't, what Bodog couldn't and what Affliction went out of business trying to do: build Emelianenko's North-American profile. In exchange for that, the UFC can pit its champion against the prestigious Emelianenko -- a sure moneymaker that will drive fans into a frenzy.

With a long-term vision that includes making Combat Sambo -- Emelianenko's fighting base -- a state-sponsored sport in Russia, M-1 already sees itself as a major player in MMA. Without access to a top-tier TV or pay-per-view platform in the U.S., it's an argument that seems tenuous at best. Yet, whatever circumstances they find themselves in now, Emelianenko and his team envision their venture as the key to a life post fighting.

Since March 2008, M-1 Global, which puts Emelianenko in a position similar to Oscar de la Hoya and his branded Golden Boy Promotions, has operated with the concept of joint promotions as a core principle. In Emelianenko (30-1), M-1 has a fighter who unquestionably owns his division and is arguably the best competitor in the sport. Unlike de la Hoya, one of boxing's all-time pay-per-view draws, Emelianenko doesn't appear capable of delivering audiences, which is why an arrangement with the UFC makes sense for the Russians.

"Fedor is not only a partner in this company," Finkelchtein. "The reason he is there is because he sees a future beyond his career. He's not just looking at fighting for whatever period of time he's going to fight and then not do anything with his career."

As of today, with other groups willing to enter into co-promotion for the chance to feature MMA's best heavyweight, Emelianenko's is a career that won't include the UFC.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.