Strikeforce was welcomed to the promotional battlefield Thursday when UFC President Dana White publicly attacked the rival promotion for the first time following a pre-fight news conference for UFC 101 in Philadelphia.
White, who has praised the San Jose-based organization’s efforts on numerous occasions, criticized Strikeforce for its decision to sign No. 1-ranked heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko after White’s previous negotiations fizzled with the Russian and his management and promotional team M-1 Global.
Emelianenko will debut under the Strikeforce banner on premium-pay subscription channel Showtime this fall. He is contracted for three fights.
“He’ll put them out of business,” White said. “They have no money. These guys have no money and they have no distribution. Four f---king people watch Showtime.”
White also referred to Strikeforce as “Strikefarce.”
“Of course he’s going to say that. He’s a promoter,” said Coker during a teleconference call Thursday discussing the major signing. “He’s going to go on and say what he’s going to say, but we’ve been in business a long time and I think we know how to operate a business and forged a relationship with Ken (Hershman) and Showtime and M-1. I feel confident that we’re going to have some great big shows with Fedor.”
Coker, who recently praised White and the UFC for “saving” MMA in North America, had told Sherdog.com on Tuesday that he believed his company’s acquisition of Emelianenko wouldn’t spark hostility between the two outlets.
White’s comments on Thursday suggested otherwise, though Coker seemed ready for what many believed to be inevitable.
“Under the current circumstances, is anybody surprised?” asked Coker. “I don’t think so.”
M-1 Global was also targeted by White for its management practices with Gegard Mousasi, who had been scheduled to face Renato “Babalu” Sobral at Affliction’s Aug. 1 event.
“He was lied to. It’s a fact,” White said, suggesting M-1 had misled Mousasi.
It is unclear what moves, if any, were made by the UFC to secure the 23-year-old fighter after Affliction signed over its contracts to the UFC.
White said he was unsure if his company had issued a cease and desist letter to Strikeforce and M-1 to try and stop the bout now scheduled for their co-promoted Aug. 15 event.
“Maybe we did,” said White. “I honestly don’t know. I’d tell you if I knew.”
White added that the UFC would be interested in the former Dream champion if he wasn’t under contract elsewhere.
However, Coker announced last week that he’d signed Mousasi to a three-fight contract “a while ago.” Coker told Sherdog.com Tuesday that Affliction had only a bout agreement in place with the Armenian-born fighter for the Sobral bout.
“There has never been any side negotiations about (Mousasi’s) contract,” said M-1 rep Apy Echteld, who had been designated to speak on the controversy during the call. “I spoke to (UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva about it last night for the first time, and they said the only thing they should try to do or should do is match the contract that Affliction had with Mousasi.”
Echteld said there had been “some contact in the past” with the UFC and stated that the UFC had “tried to stop” the bout in Strikeforce, but that Mousasi had already signed into a contract that he is “happy with.”
Echteld said he was not sure on what grounds the UFC was making its claim to stop the bout from happening on Aug. 15.
“I really don’t know,” said Echteld. “Perhaps they wanted Mousasi in a cheap and easy way.”
White’s accusation cast doubt on M-1’s dealings with Mousasi, but also raised questions regarding how much control Emelianenko actually has over his own career. The usually stoic fighter defended his and M-1’s stance during the call Thursday.
“I have the full control of the contracts and my career as well, and I get all the time financial reports and all contracts and all important issues are being discussed with me, and everything that I don’t like Vadim (Finkelstein) tries to stand for,” said Emelianenko through a translator. “I need to tell you I have complete control of everything that’s going on.”
Emelianenko was also skeptical of the UFC’s practices.
“From my viewpoint, the UFC does not have the proper attitude towards fighters,” said Emelianenko. “They don’t consider fighters to be normal people, human beings. What I think (is) that the UFC’s attitude towards the fighters is not the correct one and I don’t like their policy, which appears to be (a) really forced one, because the offer which we got was one kind, then on the Internet they published (an) absolutely different offer. The offer that we got from them was really miserable.”
Vadim Finkelstein, M-1 Global’s president, also had some stern words for the White and the UFC.
“I wonder whom does Dana White considers to be the best fighters? The fighters that have 4-1 records?” asked Finkelstein, referring to UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar. “Maybe this is the fighter which became the product of the great PR
machine of the UFC. Brett Rogers is a much better opponent for Fedor and also should be very interesting for fans as well, because he has 10 fights and not one loss.”
Finkelstein said the UFC had just as much to gain from the elusive signing as Emelianenko and M-1 did.
“Fedor’s name outside of the U.S. is much bigger than the name of the UFC,” he said. If Fedor comes to the UFC, he’ll make the UFC famous outside of the U.S.”
• Coker said the promotion’s first pay-per-view event is “probably six to nine months away.”
• Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem is expected to defend his title this fall.
• On an event in Japan: “The deal with Dream is really an independent deal than this deal (with M-1), but we’ll definitely have some conversations with everyone involved to see if it makes sense,” said Coker.
• On Showtime’s involvement with the acquisition of Emelianenko: “We were involved enough to lend support and make sure that everyone understood how important we felt this was and how valuable we felt that Fedor and M-1 was. Beyond that, I’m not going to get into how involved we were,” said Ken Hershman, Showtime Sports Senior Vice President.
• Coker and Showtime have discussed holding a multi-night grand prix tournament format, but no immediate plans have been made. (Coker had previously announced 135- and 145-pound women’s tournaments will begin in November.)