This weekend Strikeforce’s biggest acquisition in company history will make his promotional debut in Chicago. Considering his lofty price tag it is unnecessary to say that they are hoping he turns into a Lesnaresque star. Any knowledgeable MMA fan knows Fedor Emelianenko is the best heavyweight in the sport’s short history, but, as always, the problem is that most fans are not the knowledgeable kind. So, the question is, does Fedor’s ability as a fighter make him a big draw and thus worth his ample salary? After this Saturday night this question will be answered.
CBS’ first MMA crony, Elite XC, made their mark on the entire sport’s world with Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson. The former street fighter’s destruction of James Thompson’s bloated ear is one of the most watched moments in MMA history. At the time real MMA fans knew Mr. Slice was not a top heavyweight, but it did not matter. Now CBS’s new crony is trying to entice fans with the top heavyweight, and hopefully, for their case, it will matter.
Promotion in MMA is a weird thing. In a perfect world the best fighters would fight each other, and the winners of these altruistic match ups would receive the most money. However, anyone who has watched combat sports in the last 100 years knows this is not the case. All promoters make their money through viewership, whether it come by way of the in-building crowd or by television or pay per view. Sadly the best fighters are not always the best draws. As amazing as Fedor is he does not carry serious weight with fans.
The two most powerful draws in MMA history have been the aforementioned Mr. Slice and Brock Lesnar. These fighters brought something extra to the cage besides MMA skill that took them to the next level. Lesnar came from an extensive professional wrestling background, and on top of that he has the kind of physique that can sell beef jerky. Mr. Slice beat up bums for years and became a star virally through Youtube. Fedor Emelianenko has accomplished more in MMA than both of these put together, but there really is no way he has the same pull with the fans.
Fedor’s accomplishments may not have boosted his drawing power to Slice or Lesnar levels, but his career has raised one thing: his price tag. Fedor and M-1 have always demanded a lot of cash for the fighter’s services and who can blame them? If there is a promotion willing to satisfy their demands then more power to them. However, why should a promoter pay Fedor top draw money when he just a top fighter? Therein lays the problem.
There is no reason to question Fedor’s ability, but his drawing power is the equivalent to a weak chin. American Pride FC pay per views were weak and Affliction only made it through two shows. Oh yeah, there was that BodogFight show too… Strikeforce needed to make a splash in order to compete with the UFC, but did they go to far by hitching their wagon to M-1’s star? They are clearly paying for a fighter’s ability and not his drawing power. In a perfect world this is the right thing to do, but in the real world it could be costly. Why pay a fighter like Kimbo Slice or Brock Lesnar if they are not going to bring in fans and cash like Kimbo Slice or Brock Lesnar?
Of course then again, CBS’ commercials with the soft-looking Russian going after a tire with a sledge hammer might be enough to offset his lack of mainstream drawing power…