A heavyweight fight between Fedor Emelianenko and Brock Lesnar is the bout most mixed martial arts fans want to see, but contractual obligations and medical problems are likely to prevent a showdown between the two for another year, Emelianenko's camp said Monday.
Emelianenko survived a cut nose Saturday to retain his unofficial standing as the top MMA heavyweight in the world by defeating Brett Rogers in a second-round technical knockout. He closed the victory with a stand-up, right-handed punch, then pounced on Rogers to deliver a left-right combination on the canvas before the referee ended the fight.
Emelianenko-Rogers headlined CBS' "Saturday Night Fights" card of four bouts promoted by Strikeforce/M-1, with a near-capacity crowd of 11,500 filling the Sears Centre near Chicago.
The TV ratings are not final, but early numbers show the Strikeforce fights drew at least 3.8 million viewers, and a 267% increase in the number of males aged 18-34 who usually tune in for Saturday night programming, CBS said.
Lesnar, with a record of 4-1, is heavyweight champion of the rival, and more dominant, Ultimate Fighting Championship. A few months ago, UFC failed to reach a deal with Emelianenko for multiple fights.
Scott Coker, Strikeforce chief executive, said because Saturday's fights delivered "those 18-34 male [viewership] numbers in a big way," CBS will televise future cards. Emelianenko earned $400,000 on Saturday night. A CBS spokesman said no decision has been made on whether the network would telecast another Strikeforce card, although Saturday's bouts drew new viewers to the network.
Yet, Dana White, president of UFC, called the Strikeforce's overall ratings Saturday a disappointment.
"CBS would be out of their mind to put that rinky-dink [Strikeforce] . . . on the air again . . . and without that backing, [promoters] won't have the money to pay [Emelianenko]."
But Emelianenko (31-1-1) still owes Strikeforce at least two more fights, possibly more with options, Coker said.
The Russian heavyweight agreed to a Strikeforce deal when his promotional company, M-1 Global, failed to reach agreement with UFC. The Emelianenko negotiations collapsed, in part, because UFC rejected M-1's push to co-promote an Emelianenko event.
After those talks ended, UFC announced a Lesnar fight against UFC contender Shane Carwin scheduled for Nov. 21. But Lesnar became ill and was diagnosed with mononucleosis, causing an indefinite delay of the Carwin bout.
Emelianenko, 33, also is dealing with health issues. He suffered a fracture and tendon damage in his left thumb, and a fractured nose in the Rogers fight, Coker said. Emelianenko stopped in Los Angeles on Monday to be treated for the injuries.
"[The hand injury] could've been from that blow when he had Brett on the mat at the end," Coker said. "We're hearing he could be out for four to six months."
Coker will use Emelianenko's layoff to boost name recognition in the U.S. of Strikeforce's heavyweight champion, Alistair Overeem, 29, an MMA veteran with a 31-11 record that includes losses to former UFC light-heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell and current UFC contender Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.
England's Overeem will headline a Strikeforce card on Showtime early next year, and he is the favorite to be Emelianenko's next foe, Coker said.
Meanwhile, public clamor for an Emelianenko-Lesnar bout is being noticed by promoters.
Jerry Millen, M-1 vice president, said Emelianenko is free to fight Lesnar if UFC drops its demands regarding co-promotion. Millen said the more-experienced Emelianenko would "smash" Lesnar, a former college wrestling champion and World Wrestling Entertainment performer whose "ranking looks manufactured."
Added Millen: "Fedor's not ducking anybody. If UFC wants to prove it has the best fighters, step up and co-promote. Fedor just wants to be treated fairly. The UFC business model is to own the souls of their fighters. Fedor doesn't have to do that, and if the fans scream loudly enough, we can make that happen."
UFC's White countered that a CBS retreat could cause Emelianenko to realize the UFC is where the big money is. White said he'd be happy to extend a contract to Emelianenko to prove UFC has the world's best heavyweight.
"The guy just got his face smashed in by Brett Rogers. Do you know what Brock or [UFC heavyweights] Frank Mir and Cain Velasquez would do to Brett Rogers?" White said. "It's time to bring this guy [Fedor] in, to see Brock Lesnar smash his head."