Fedor Upset, Ready for Replacement


MOSCOW -- The RIA News building is located on Moscow's Garden Ring, a short walk from Gorky Park (of the Scorpions’ “Winds of Change” fame). Its conference hall was almost standing-room only Thursday as Vadim Finkelshtein, head of M-1 Global and Fedor Emelianenko's long-time manager and friend, somberly filled in the assembled Russian media on the latest news from the U.S.

Flanked by Igor Vovchanchyn, Mikhail Zayats (2008 Combat Sambo World Champion who is facing Lucio Linhares at the Affliction “Trilogy” event) and of course Fedor, Finkelshtein attempted to explain the CSAC ruling and the Affliction/M-1 Global options in Josh Barnett's absence.

It's fair to say that the atmosphere didn't have much further to fall, the disappointment so thick you could cut it with an elbow.

The news that Barnett, Fedor’s scheduled opponent, tested positive for a banned substance and would not be licensed to fight had circulated in the Russian state and commercial media Wednesday. Instead of final questions prior to Fedor’s departure for the U.S., the previously planned news conference turned into people wishing Fedor well, whomever he ends up facing.

The most noteworthy of these wishes was from a Moscow sports magazine that had brought along a 150-kg strongman competition athlete who, in the glare of flashbulbs, quickly rolled up, into a tube, a standard kitchen frying pan and handed it to the amused Fedor as a symbol of Russian strength and a somewhat unusual good-luck charm.

While the opponent for Fedor has not yet been confirmed, there appears to be two frontrunners. As previously reported, Vitor Belfort has in principle agreed to the fight, pending final negotiations. There is also, however, the possibility that Fedor could face an undefeated Brett Rogers, the man who most recently (and much more quickly than Fedor) knocked out Andrei Arlovski.

“We personally entertain the idea of having Brett Rogers step in since he knocked Andrei Arlovski out,” Finkelshtein told M-1Global.com. “But if there is any problem with Rogers, then it’s pretty safe to say it’s going to be Belfort. However, we are well aware of the fact that fans don’t consider Vitor Belfort to be a suitable replacement, according to a recent Sherdog poll.”

Rogers is signed with Strikeforce. Concerning the heavyweight, Finkelshtein told Sherdog.com after the news conference that he is in “urgent negotiations with Strikeforce at the moment, and if we can agree, and if they [Strikeforce] release him, that's a fight we'd like to see.”

After waiting for the multiple television and live radio interviews to be concluded, I sat down with Fedor and discussed the situation for some time. He was tanned, as always during Russia's sunbaked summer, and sported a healing cut on the bridge of his nose that he had received a week ago while sparring with his brother Aleksander.

“It's not broken or anything like that, just a scratch really," Fedor said.

He was tired of answering questions. This notwithstanding -- Fedor is the consummate professional when it comes to dealing with the press -- and even though he was very diplomatic in his answers, he came across as deeply disappointed.

“Josh is a great, strong fighter. I've always followed his fights and liked him as a competitor and as a person. I was very prepared, totally ready for a good, hard fight. But,” he said, pausing for a few seconds, “what can you do? I am disappointed, though I'm glad that after all I don't have to fight a friend.”

This was followed by genuine laughter, which is not something that I've seen a lot of from the camp in the last day. Fedor was optimistic about speaking to Barnett.

"We haven't had a chance to speak to him yet, though I really want to,” he said. “And once we do speak, most probably we will not discuss what has happened in the last day."

He said this with a concern that seemed directed at the well being of Barnett, almost out of worry for him, rather than out of any animosity, though nobody would have faulted Fedor for being angry with Barnett.

“For this fight, there was nothing external that was getting in the way of training, except for small but uncomfortable injuries,” Fedor said. “I had boils come up one after another, things like that. The nose and etc. … In regard to Rogers, I think he is a very serious opponent. I think he is very physically strong, and possesses significant knockout power. And I think that taking this into account, Andrei [Arlovski] was too quick to decide to stand and trade with him, and missed a punch. And also I think, and this is my personal opinion, that he was too quick to train and fight again. No matter how good a sportsman he is, he sometimes misses head punches and that means a concussion yet again, and I think he took the fight too early. He should have had more time off to recuperate.”

Fedor was diplomatic when talking about whom he prefers to face out of the two possibilities of Rogers or Belfort.

"I'm not in a situation where I can pick who I am fighting. I will fight whoever they put in front of me," he said.

I thought that was too diplomatic; I wanted to know who was the more interesting opponent for him.

“You know, I'm being really honest here,” he said. “I am equally interested in a fight with either Belfort or Rogers. I've never fought with either one. I used to watch Belfort fight, even before I started competing. So there is a history there for me with him. It is very interesting to me; he was a fighter who faced and beat a lot of the greatest fighters in MMA at the time. Rogers is a fighter who is tearing through the heavyweight division with 10 fights and 10 wins. And, I have to add, he beat Arlovski."

I also had to ask about the weight difference between him and Belfort, who recently has been fighting at 185 pounds.

"To be honest, in terms of his speed at that weight, I honestly don't know if being heavier is an advantage with a fighter who is as fast as him at his current weight,” Fedor said. “I have always found it harder to fight the lighter, faster guys, rather than the really big, plodding heavy and super heavyweights. And Belfort has always stood out in terms of his speed."

Long after the news conference was over, Fedor was still giving interviews and taking photos with fans. He flies to the U.S. on Friday to acclimate to local conditions.

As disappointed as he really is at the change of circumstances for the Aug. 1 Affliction and M-1 Global event, he is taking things more or less in stride. He also alluded to God, making an unusual reference to the Russian Orthodox religion he has recently strengthened his connection with.

"It's God's will,” he said, “and because of that, I know what has happened is for the best.”

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