Fedor's popularity soars, but CBS has sights on much more
Last week, I posed
On Tuesday, the Russian spent most of his day in Los Angeles. Among other things, he met for lunch with CBS executive
Wherever he went, Emelianenko said, he was recognized more than ever before.
The doctor's receptionist, the guy who shot Emelianenko's new passport photo -- nearly everyone at the consulate knew of him. (Emelianenko headed to Seoul on Wednesday, where he will film a candy bar commercial.) They all at least took a double-take -- probably, at first, because he's still bruised up from the fight, but judging by the subsequent reaction, more likely his appearance on network TV.
"It also seemed that they weren't all MMA fans, just people that happened to recognize me when I got a cup of coffee or something," he said. "A lot more people than usual."
Increased visibility shouldn't come as much of a surprise since 5.35 million American viewers tuned in to his win over Rogers. Emelianenko was previously maligned as a promoter's nightmare. His success in the sport commanded a high price, yet never did result in significant pay-per-view buys or media coverage outside of niche MMA circles. It's too soon to know if he can draw on pay-per-view, but even Emelianenko's harshest critics won't be able to argue last Saturday was a bad night for his future marketability.
What about CBS, Strikeforce and M-1 Global? Last week I wrote that a peak rating less than 5.5 million would be a "major disappointment." The final number came in
Still, for CBS, which garnered near triple-digit increases in male viewers aged 18 to 34 on Saturday (dropping its median viewer age to 41), and its advertisers, the results proved once again that young men will change the dial to watch MMA. The feeling at the network, especially now that people know the Russian's name and face, is that a second prime-time bout featuring Emelianenko -- something that could happen by the spring or summer of 2010 -- would produce noticeably better numbers.
"The thing I've concluded after four of these is that we still clearly need a story, personality and draw to make a successful network show," said Kahl. "The sport itself -- even with a quality card -- isn't enough. Even a relatively unknown person -- Kimbo or Fedor -- works if there's a great angle.
Not surprisingly, UFC president
At 33, Emelianenko has hit the apex of his athletic prime. He doesn't feel he's lost a step, and, hand injuries aside, said he's better now than ever before.
"The key is to get the proper rest in between the fights," said Emelianenko, who plans to sit out a couple weeks to let his hand heal. The injury isn't bad enough, though, to be bothered with taking prescribed pain medication. "As long as I'm fighting in the right intervals and doing what I need to do to prepare for the fights I'll keep going fine."
That is music to executives' ears at M-1 Global. Without Emelianenko, the company wouldn't have a presence in the U.S. or abroad to push its brand or fighters. Viewership for the card in Russia, Korea and other countries, which was engineered by M-1 and is responsible for much of its take of the co-promotion, is expected to easily trump the 4.04 million overall number CBS pulled in the U.S., they said. M-1 and Strikeforce negotiated a 50-50 split of the profits, according to Emelianenko's camp. While Strikeforce CEO
Following the win over Rogers, Emelianenko mentioned his challenger's size. Standing barely 6-foot and weighing almost 230 pounds, Fedor is small compared to many heavyweights, and he has rarely been asked to defeat a large wrestler with a relative understanding of submissions.
UFC heavyweight champion
"I think I can fight with anybody regardless of size and regardless of style," Emelianenko said Wednesday. "How the fights turn out, that's something we need to see."
Odds of the bout actually taking place are long since the UFC refuses co-promote with M-1 Global. And Emelianenko, an equity stakeholder in the company, is unlikely to do anything in MMA without M-1 being attached.
For now, he's occupied fighting the likes of