LOS ANGELES -- World-renowned fighter and W.A.M.M.A heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko sits center stage in an Italian chain restaurant on trendy Melrose Blvd., only blocks away from a mob scene at the new Affliction store, where he signed autographs for fans. He looks longingly at a plate of salad as a gathering of MMA journalists pepper him with questions.
It's only been 24 days since his 36-second domination of Tim Sylvia at Affliction "Banned," and his future is somewhat a mystery. "The Last Emperor" sustained a chip fracture of his right hand during the fight, and was suspended by the California State Athletic Commission for 180 days, effectively canceling a return to action on Affliction's Oct. 11 card, "Day of Reckoning." He anticipates returning to the gym soon, but the pain in his hand is keeping him away for now.
"It's a unique situation," he tells MMAWeekly.com. "I don't think it's going to persist and I'm going to have hand problems in the future, I just think it was a one off situation."
Emelianenko and his managers arrived in Los Angeles on Sunday for another whirlwind tour of interviews and photo shoots. On Monday, he also met with Randy Couture, a man who's future is also in mystery, to talk about mutual interests.
"We talked a little bit about everything," Emelianenko says. "But certainly one of the main topics was the possibility of having a fight together, and the realities that we both face, mainly that he faces, and whether the reality of having a fight can happen in the near future."
Though Couture says he would return to the Octagon to face Emelianenko, his current legal dispute may prevent the two from a future fight. The five-time UFC champ is currently in arbitration proceedings with his former employer over the terms of his fight contract, a battle that could theoretically stretch out for years. Without the approval of Las Vegas arbitrators, their budding friendship could remain just that.
Emelianenko's manager, Vadim Finkelstein, says the UFC turned down an offer to pair his client with then-UFC champ Couture for a single fight when Emelienanko was a free agent. Now, Emelianenko is tied to a three-fight deal for Affliction. However, it is exclusive only to the United States. Finkelstein says Emelianenko would be open to a two-fight deal with the UFC -- Zuffa extends fight contracts as protection against talent vacating the promotion after winning a title -- but remains unwavering in his demand that an Emelianenko fight in the UFC be used as a platform to co-promote his company, M-1 Global.
"That's not what they're offering," he says. They're not even close to that."
Affliction, on the other hand, has embraced the idea of working with Finkelstein's company, including M-1 Global in the promotion of their MMA shows. Affliction Vice President Tom Atencio is now considering a New Year's Eve co-promotion with M-1 Global in Japan. Emelianenko's first priority is a fight with Couture, but he also wants to satisfy the demands of his Japanese fans.
"If I had my choice, it would be a great desire of mine to fight on New Year's Eve," he says. "It's become a tradition. It's become something the Japanese have been waiting for, and it's something I'd like to fulfill to my Japanese fans. That's part of the reason why we're here, if it could be possible."