One of the most famous scenes in American cinema involves Michael Corleone dispatching all his enemies in one fell swoop, choosing his moment of maximum power to settle a multitude of old scores and destroy potential threats.
After the events of this week, one would be forgiven for thinking that the people behind Zuffa — the promotional company that owns both the UFC and Strikeforce — have watched the Godfather movies more than most.
The latest headline is Dana White’s frank admission that Zuffa will not renew Fedor Emelianenko’s contract after it expired with the former Pride heavyweight champion’s loss to his onetime middleweight and welterweight counterpart Dan Henderson.
News of Emelianenko’s departure from Strikeforce came hot on the heels of Zuffa’s ruthless cutting of its ties to Holland’s Golden Glory camp. Last Friday, the MMA world was sent reeling by Zuffa parting ways Strikeforce’s heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem, and on Wednesday this was followed by his teammates Marloes Coenen, Valentijn Overeem and Jon Olav Einemo being fired from Zuffa promotions.
There should be no doubt why these moves have happened. M-1 Global, Emelianenko’s management team, and Golden Glory tried to hustle Zuffa, and are now experiencing the backlash.
Emelianenko could have accepted either of the record deals offered by White in 2007 or 2009 in attempt to unify the Pride and UFC heavyweight titles. Instead, M-1 Global demanded to be recognized as the co-promoter of all shows involving its only marketable fighter. It was a line the UFC refused to cross.
Likewise, Golden Glory demanded the promoter pay it for featuring its fighters on shows rather than paying the money directly to the fighters. It’s an idea for which White has little regard.
“It’s not the way we do business. It’s not how it works in the US,” White said. “You don’t pay the manager and the manager pays the fighter. You pay the fighter, and the fighter pays the manager.”
It’s easy to side with the fighters against Zuffa, but the reality is that somebody has the hold the line to ensure that headliner compensation doesn’t suck all the money out of the sport, as it has in boxing.
If M-1 Global had been recognized as the co-promoter of an Emelianenko fight in the Octagon, then the next day you’d have had a Georges St. Pierre Promotions or a Brock Lesnar Productions.
While the idea of headliners receiving more money sounds good, actually the consequence would be less money for the top-quality undercards that fans have grown used to, and for the UFC to invest in growing the sport by going to emerging markets.
The play by Golden Glory is even worse, reeking as it does of the type of cronyism that boxing undercards and smaller shows often feature — filled with the friends and teammates of the big stars.
It’s giving in to such demands that caused Strikeforce to lose so much money that its previous owners wanted out, and it’s why promotion president Scott Coker was unable to secure independent investment in the company.
As White has said repeatedly, for the UFC to continue with Strikeforce, the promotion needs to be run as a business so Zuffa doesn’t lose as much money on it as the previous owners were. That means not paying almost $2 million to have Emelianenko appear on television specials. Nor does it mean doing a deal with Golden Glory that overturns its successful business practices.
It’s easy to see conspiracies in what’s gone down in MMA this week. After all, White has long made clear his contempt for M-1 Global and the hype that surroundeded Emelianenko, while Golden Glory has been persona non grata in the UFC for almost the entirety of the Zuffa era.
But that would be wrong. There were sound business reasons for the actions Zuffa has taken this week; it makes no sense for Zuffa to go down the same road every other failed promotion did, a road of overpaying for talent and indulging the whims of that talent’s management.
When it comes to dealing with M-1 Global and Golden Glory, for the UFC, it’s not personal, it’s strictly business.
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