UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. -- Welcome to rainy Southern California, otherwise known as the mixed-martial-arts capital of the world.
Culminating Oct. 23 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, when giants Brock Lesnar and Cain Velasquez are expected to wage war for the UFC heavyweight championship in front of one of the largest pay-per-view audiences of 2010, the sport, in its myriad forms, takes center stage this week.
An overcast and drizzly Sunday didn't dampen the UFC's effort to put Velasquez in front of a boisterous and supportive Mexican crowd on historic Olvera Street in Downtown L.A. Yet on Tuesday, when EA Sports officially launched its first MMA title -- EA Sports MMA -- with a tented event at Universal CityWalk, scattered showers clearly didn't help the turnout for Randy Couture and Fedor Emelianenko, not so long ago the pair everyone wanted to see.
Tuesday's appearance together -- a first since it was announced Emelianenko and Couture would grace the inaugural cover of EA Sports' take on MMA -- was noteworthy for several reasons, particularly against the backdrop of this weekend's heavyweight clash that fight politics didn't step in the way of.
"It's going to be an interesting fight," acknowledged Emelianenko, the division's chief for seven years until he tapped to Fabricio Werdum in June. "Two very superior fighters. The only bad thing, it's unfortunate I cannot meet them at this time."
Whom and when Emelianenko and Couture might fight again was among the topics of conversation after the pair let their digital likenesses dance a dance denied in real life. By the way, the Russian, 34, was "brought to joy" after out-buttoning Couture, 47, to a first-round ground-and-pound victory.
Couture, who took an uncompetitive win over boxer James Toney in August, sounds resigned to no longer fighting for championships -- "I don't know how many of those wars I have in me," he said -- leaving his athletic future in doubt as he focuses on movies and opportunities like the EA game.
Because he maintained control of his ancillary rights during the early days of Zuffa's reign over the UFC, Couture was able to participate in a project that could give shape to the discussion about whether or not non-UFC MMA can make an impression among American consumers. Smart enough to recognize his worth, Couture is one of the few mixed martial artists willing to clash in public and private with his promoter over what are essentially fighter right's issues. His last spat with Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta came after a resignation from the UFC in 2007. One benefit of the yearlong ordeal, which ended when Couture returned to the company and agreed to fulfill the terms of his original deal: an exclusive arrangement with EA.
Among the game's most well-done features, according to people who review such things, "career mode" plays out like Couture's articulated vision, allowing players to tour the world working on specific skills in different gyms, such as his Las Vegas-based Xtreme Couture.
While the two-division UFC champion begins to close out his career mode, Emelianenko's fate is thick with multi-party contract talks between Strikeforce, Showtime and his representatives, M-1 Global, whose reputation has taken a beating for all its sausage making. M-1, it seems, is the king of MMA sausage makers. Sadly, that's not in the game.
With one fight remaining on a contract that puts Emelianenko's American bouts in Strikeforce, the former Pride heavyweight champion's future is being leveraged in an attempt to place M-1 events on Showtime, which currently carries only Strikeforce cards.
"We have our own interests that we need to discuss with the network," said M-1 boss Vadim Finkelstein. "Principally we feel we're very close. It all depends on Showtime."
Showtime would not discuss ongoing negotiations, though sources on all sides suggest the process has for weeks resembled a roller coaster ride. One day a deal seems done. The next day, not so much.
Emelianenko's major fights have decreased over the past five years, and the loss to Werdum, a triangle choke in 69 seconds, put an end to his stint atop the rankings. Yet he remains intriguing, and it's that sense that keeps him relevant. For the moment. He hopes to fight by the end of January, and would be willing to participate in a rumored grand prix-style heavyweight tournament Strikeforce is said to be lining up for 2011 -- so long as the contract is right. For the time being, it's back to Russia, training with the same people, in the same camp, in the same manner. Fighting only virtually thanks for the folks at EA.
"At this time we cannot face in a real fight," Emelianenko said of Couture, though he could have been speaking about anyone, really. "Only for now in a video game."
When asked if he felt disappointment not participating in the kind of heavyweight showdown Lesnar-Velasquez appears to be, Emelianenko shrugged.
"It doesn't bother me at all," he said. "I'm happy that there are new and very superior fighters."