Perhaps the best indicator that there was some lingering controversy surrounding the ending of Saturday’s Strikeforce main event was that Fedor Emelianenko actually voiced an opinion about it.
In the moments immediately following his first-round TKO loss to Dan Henderson, the normally unreadable Emelianenko broke from his typical bland platitudes about “God’s will” and love of country just long enough to say -- however tepidly -- that, yeah, he felt a little cheated here.
“I think it was early,” said Emelianenko, who actually chuckled (talk about historic!) when Showtime’s Gus Johnson asked him about the referee’s stoppage. “I don’t want to say anything bad about the referee or anything, but it seemed to me that it was early ... I was clearly hit, but I wasn’t hit flush [or] directly and it seems like I could have continued, but the referee chose to stop the fight.”
While official Herb Dean did no obvious wrong in calling a halt to the action with 50 seconds left in the opening stanza and Henderson raining blows on a prone Emelianenko, Fedor’s frustration feels justified. After all, the once-unbeatable fighter was just dealt his third straight loss by an awkwardly timed ref’s interruption that came just as he appeared to be mounting something akin to an intelligent defense. Also reasonable is the irritation of many fans who think the questionable ending left an unsatisfying stain on an otherwise great fight.
And you know what? Maybe a little argument about the ending of this bout isn’t the worst thing in the world for Strikeforce right now. Maybe it even provides the struggling organization with its best promotional opportunity in some time, if it can persuade the two fighters to stick around long enough to have a rematch.
The stoppage was certainly strange enough to call for it and it’s not like the company has a multitude of other bankable fights on tap. Heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem is reportedly gone, as is former welterweight champ Nick Diaz. Women’s 145-pound titlist Cris “Cyborg” Santos remains in contractual limbo and the promotion’s gala heavyweight GP feels largely hollow in Overeem’s absence. Is Stikeforce really going to try to headline its fall lineup with fights like Tim Kennedy versus Ronaldo Souza, Miesha Tate versus Sarah Kaufman and Tyron Woodley versus Tarec Saffiedine?
If so, the organization might as well hunker down and just wait for Zuffa to pull the plug.
Fedor vs. Henderson II is certainly the biggest drawing fight Strikeforce could make at this point, particularly if it could persuade Emelianenko to come down to 205 pounds for a nontitle bout. That way, if he were to avenge Saturday night’s loss, the company could go for a trilogy between the two with the gold on the line in a third installment. Company CEO Scott Coker certainly wouldn’t argue with a re-do and judging from his quotes, neither would Fedor. For his part, Henderson said he still wants to defend his Strikeforce title and there doesn’t appear to be anybody else ready to take him up on that offer, with Muhammed Lawal still on the comeback trail and Gegard Mousasi coming off a draw during his last appearance with the promotion.
As always, the devil will be in the financial details. Both Henderson and Emelianenko are believed to be free agents now and speculation is that Hendo could be headed back to the Octagon, if he and the UFC brass can agree on a reasonable contract this time around. Even though Fedor’s options are admittedly more slim, negotiations with his M-1 Global management group have never been easy. Will Strikeforce be able to net one, let alone both with new deals?
Maybe not, though if it still has any say in the matter, the slumping promotion would do well to try to parlay this weekend’s controversy into at least one more big fight.