But at the time, it was a risk that was "necessary to take."
Former Strikeforce Director of Communications Mike Afromowitz, one of the key figures in the rise of Strikeforce from little engine that could to number two mixed martial arts promotion in the world, recently talked to Sherdog.com about signing Fedor Emelianenko when "The Last Emperor" became a free agent following the collapse of Affliction MMA.
The former PRIDE heavyweight champion was expected to elevate the San Jose-based organization in a co-promotion deal with M-1 Global. And when the Russian gladiator won his debut fight against Brett Rogers in late 2009, things were moving according to plan.
But financially speaking, there were obstacles from the start.
"I think it was a deal that made it very difficult to be profitable from," Afromowitz told Jack Encarnacao. "So getting Fedor from a branding perspective was huge, and that was a risk that was, at the time, necessary to take. That was the biggest acquisition we had made as a company. Right away, signing Fedor put our company, put Strikeforce, in that many more households. Just the name Strikeforce -- it got out there. The same [thing happened] with Herschel Walker, signing Herschel Walker. Those are ... there are certain names that when you attach yourself to, it just elevates your brand and it takes things to new level. And, so, it’s an investment that, at the time, seemed like an investment that was necessary."
Then, the unthinkable happened: Fedor lost.
A June 2010 defeat to jiu-jitsu wizard Fabricio Werdum turned the heavyweight landscape on its head -- but it was hardly the promotion's death knell. Following his quick tap to "Vai Cavalo," both mixed martial arts fans and pundits called it a rookie mistake from a comfortable veteran who was so used to winning (and being dominant) that he simply got careless.
Antonio Silva soon proved otherwise.
Emelianenko was beaten to a pulp by the hulking Brazilian earlier this year, effectively ending the debate over his place among the world's best combat sports athletes and prompting a premature retirement speech from the wounded warrior.
It was the beginning of the end. Both for Emelianenko and Strikeforce.
"You know, what’s funny is somebody said to me not too long ago, ‘You are never going to make money with Fedor,' remarked Afromowitz. "[He] said that straight out to me. There’s a lot of different thoughts out there, and I think maybe it wasn’t the right move, but everybody wanted it at the time. And when we did it, it sure felt good. But it could have been part of the undoing. [When he lost] I think there was a bittersweet feeling amongst certain people in certain circles. He had a great career, but it was a tough deal to swallow -- the whole Fedor deal. Him losing two in a row ... maybe it was for the best, from a business standpoint of course. Co-promoting is tough; there’s a lot of different interests at hand. It’s tough enough to promote a fight on your own. Then, when you have a partner, it’s a tougher business."
Following Emelianenko's loss to "Bigfoot," Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) purchased Strikeforce in a blockbuster acquisition. One that gave Afromowitz -- and the rest of the promotion's ancillary staff -- their walking papers.
As for Fedor, he went on to get knocked out by Dan Henderson, a former middleweight.
Any fight fans out there think Strikeforce would still be operating under its own power if it had passed on the Emelianenko deal? Or is there simply no room for healthy competition while Zuffa rules the MMA roost?