In the long, imposing shadow of the UFC’s impending debut on FOX, M-1 Global has turned its attention to the home country of its biggest star, Fedor Emelianenko.
Emelianenko (31-4, 1 NC), once crowned the world’s No. 1 heavyweight for staying (technically) undefeated for a decade, will face Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Jeff Monson on Nov. 20 at the Olympic Arena in Moscow.
It will be the first time the 35-year-old Emelianenko has fought in his nation’s capital and his first appearance in the Motherland since he submitted Olympic wrestler Matt Lindland in 2007.
According to M-1 Global’s majority owner and Emelianenko’s longtime manager, Vadim Finklelstein, Russian fans haven’t cooled on their national treasure, despite three consecutives losses since June 2010. When Finkelstein had to choose between the 22,000-seat (scaled down) Olympic Arena and the 12,000-seat Ice Palace in St. Petersburg, the Russian businessman rolled the dice.
“Right now, ticket sales have been so strong that I think I made the right choice,” Finkelstein told me Tuesday through his public relations representative and translator Igor Golubchik. “For the first time, we’ve sold 50 percent and I’m 100 percent sure we’ll sell out once our major advertising rolls out this week.”
Finkelstein boasted that Emelianenko is even outselling a Beatle (Paul McCartney hits Moscow in December), and M-1 Global’s roster of remaining 2011 events in Russia have also seen boosted sales.
Fedor vs. Monson has been scheduled for a Sunday afternoon, said Finkelstein, to allow fans the opportunity to either drive or travel by train into the city. Tickets range from $15 to $5,000 and fans can also purchase the pay-per-view on most major cable and satellite platforms, as well as U-Stream for $29.95.
Finkelstein denied claims that the promotion couldn’t secure a deal with Showtime, M-1 Global’s U.S. broadcast partners, to air the show.
“The truth is from the beginning the decision was made to make this show a pay-per-view,” said Finkelstein. “There are negotiations coming in the future regarding a rebroadcast (with Showtime).”
On the elusive Emelianenko’s status, the former Pride Fighting Championships champion has spent the last six weeks in Holland training primarily with kickboxer Peter Teijsse, a product of the well-known Vos gym.
Emelianenko’s younger brother, Aleksander, has also joined the camp, as he will headline M-1 Challenge 28 on Nov. 12 in Astrakhan, Russia.
Dream light heavyweight champion and former Strikeforce titleholder Gegard Mousasi, K-1 veterans Ernesto Hoost and Jerrel Venetiaan, female boxer Lucia Rijker and M-1 confidante Apy Echteld have all committed time to the camp as well, said an M-1 representative.
Finkelstein said that, contrary to previous reports, this is truly the first time in a while that Emelianenko has dramatically altered his training by moving his camp away from his hometown of Stary Oskol. (Finkelstein said previous reports that Emelianenko had also done this for the Dan Henderson fight weren’t accurate.)
“He came to this realization himself, that he had to change some of the ways of the past,” said Finkelstein. “It’s been sort of the same thing for Fedor all of these years and it got a little redundant. Fedor needed some sort of a change in his life and fighting. He’s training a little bit differently, with different people and I think it’s doing him good.”
Notably quiet and reserved, it’s rare that Emelianenko really elaborates about his fights, whether he wins or loses.
“Fedor’s mentioned to me after his last three fights that he could have won, but that he felt something went wrong at a certain moment in the fight,” said Finkelstein, “but he felt like he could’ve totally won the fights.”
Another subject Emelianenko won’t broach is his family life. I’ve asked him about it in the past and he’s always politely declined my questions. Emelianenko’s also the type of fighter who doesn’t make excuses for his losses, but Finkelstein filled me in on the drama that followed the Russian fighter to America last July.
“Prior to his last fight (against Henderson), Fedor’s wife was giving birth right as he was flying over,” said Finkelstein. “He actually found out about the birth of his (third) daughter as he made a connecting flight in Germany on his way to Chicago. There were some medical complications with the birth and he was extremely worried. It was a difficult time and there was a lot of psychological pressure, so maybe he wasn’t all there in his mind.”
As promoter and manager, Finkelstein was able to select Emelianenko’s next opponent. He said former UFC contender Monson, whose name has swirled around Emelianenko since his days in Pride, was the most decorated candidate of the fighters available. With Emelianenko in a three-fight rut, he doesn’t consider Monson a sure thing by any stretch either.
“All I can do is hope is Fedor’s luck will return to him again,” said Finkelstein, who’s worked with the fighter since 2003. “I’m always worried, though. I’m worried before this fight in November.”
– Loretta Hunt