Ben Fowlkes
Friday August 27th, 2010

Maybe you didn't notice, what with all this week's excitement, but something wonderful almost happened in the world of MMA a few days ago. For the briefest of moments, it seemed as if the heavyweight fight that MMA fans have been waiting to see -- a bout between Fedor Emelianenko and Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem -- might actually come together some time this year.

It started on Wednesday when Emelianenko, via the ubiquitous force of his promotional overlords, M-1 Global, released a statement declaring that he'd like to face Overeem in his next fight. Just like that, as if simply uttering the words would make it happen.

Of course it didn't take long until Overeem responded by telling Fanhouse's Ariel Helwani that he had no intention of fighting Fedor, and would focus on his kickboxing career in K-1 while he waits for Fabricio Werdum to get healthy.

It took less than 24 hours for this dream fight to flicker, and then disappear. The sad thing is, for all we know, this may be the closest we ever get to seeing the bout happen.

Maybe it's just that this is the weekend where we finally get to see whether James Toney knows what he's getting himself into with this MMA stuff, but I can't help but think of the boxing world when I see things like this play out. All the hypothetical matchmaking from each camp, one or both sides torpedoing the fight whenever they think there's an easier paycheck out there somewhere, that's standard operating procedure among boxing champs.

In MMA we've been lucky, at least so far. With almost all the top talent collected into a couple select organizations, making fights happen is less of a hassle. The promoter sits them down, tells them they have to beat each other up, and because they don't have the contractual freedom to take some other, safer fight instead, they generally do it.

But the situation with Fedor gives us MMA fans a glimpse of what it would be like if our sport took on the boxing model. There, it's more common for a fighter to get so big that he becomes a promotional entity unto himself.

Make no mistake, that's what has happened with Emelianenko. He's been a very valuable asset for M-1 Global, and his handlers tried to squeeze every dime they could out of his peerless record while keeping out of the more dangerous fights whenever possible. That backfired royally when Fedor got submitted in the first round by Werdum, so now M-1 might as well take a chance and try to get Fedor back on top with a tough, but hotly anticipated fight.

Then you've got Overeem, who had gotten so used to calling out Fedor he must have started doing it in his sleep. But then Fedor lost, and suddenly being the second straight man to beat the former Pride champ didn't seem as attractive.

So Overeem did what you always do when you get a call you don't want. He told them he was busy. He gave them a line about K-1 and waiting for Werdum to claim his rightful status as number one contender. He basically did the same little dance that Fedor and M-1 Global got so good at when they were avoiding him.

It's this exact brand of madness that has been slowly draining the life out of boxing. It frustrates fans and stifles matchmaking, ensuring that some of the best possible fights either never happen, or happen long after their expiration date. Now some MMA fighters are apparently figuring out the same scheme, and the result is vein-popping frustration for fans.

Maybe Overeem and Emelianenko will both run out of other ideas at the same time in some point in the future, but that they even got to this point is the result of that same boxing mentality that treats each top fighter like a golden goose who must stay unbeaten in order to keep churning out million-dollar eggs.

In reality, one of things that's great about MMA is that no one stays undefeated. Everybody loses sometimes, and it's the competitive fights that fighters build their careers on.

Overeem and Emelianenko, as well as the various managers and handlers surrounding them, would do well to remind themselves of that fact if they want to keep hanging around at the top. Fans have been patient with them so far, but that patience has its limits.

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