Fedor is perfect antidote to Lesnar

When last seen on a broadcast for which consumers paid up to $54.95 per household, America’s most famous heavyweight fighter was celebrating the championship he unified in only his fifth professional fight. He did this by ranting against a beer company sponsor, announcing his intention to get conjugal with his wife (a former pro wrestling valet) and giving fans the finger.

So, no, I wouldn’t mind seeing Brock Lesnar fight Fedor Emelianenko, as I think the Russian would have his way with the former WWE superstar. Emelianenko, a professional fighter since 2000, has a single loss on his record, that one due to an odd rule about cuts invoked 17 seconds into a bout with a Japanese fighter on Dec. 22, 2000 in Osaka. Fedor might not be the most famous of the big men, at least not in this country; but he is the best.

What’s more, he’s a welcome contrast to Lesnar’s tired act. He arrived for his press conference Wednesday afternoon in a plain white T-shirt — no slogans or logos to denote his toughness or coolness — black sneakers and jeans. There is something completely unassuming in his expression, a stillness in the way he carries himself. He has ice-blue eyes and an occasional grin. He does not raise his voice. At 230 pounds, he doesn’t take up much space, or generate much heat.

It’s not the American way. He doesn’t need to generate awe. There’s nothing identifying him as a fighter: no bulging, striated muscles acquired in the weight room or via Mexican pharmacy, no tats, no tough talk and not much of an entourage except for a Russian Orthodox priest who travels with him. “The guy’s got this beard,” it was explained to me. “Looks like he plays for Anthrax.”

But the priest did not attend the press conference, so I was left to ask Fedor if he had seen Lesnar’s fight with Frank Mir at UFC 100.

“I did not have an opportunity to see the last fight,” he said through an interpreter. “but I saw previous fights.”

And your impressions?

“He’s very strong,” Emelianenko deadpanned. “A very serious fighter, a very good fighter.”

Now that’s how you disrespect an opponent, how you get in a guy’s head. It was the biggest moment in Brock Lesnar’s life and the Russian hadn’t bothered to watch.

By then, Emelianenko had changed outfits at the suggestion of his handlers, coming to the podium with a shirt announcing his new affiliation as a “headliner” in EA Sports’ upcoming MMA video game. For all the talk of how much “respect” Fedor’s people had for Lesnar’s boss, Dana White, this was a provocative message in itself. Earlier this month White had declared the UFC, which has its own video game, to be “at war” with EA Sports. Fighters who cut a deal with EA Sports, he vowed, “won’t be in the UFC.”

Then again, White had spent a good part of the week negotiating with Emelianenko and his longtime manager, Vadim Finkelstein. The negotiations were described as very civil.

Finkelstein and Emelianenko want their company, M-1 Global (of which Fedor has a piece), to be a co-promoter. White doesn’t like partners. More than that, he can’t like the precedent co-promotion would set.

“The UFC sometimes calls us crazy Russians,” said Finkelstein. “But we are not that crazy.”

While Finkelstein says M-1 will make certain concessions — “obstacles we are willing to overcome in terms of percentages” — the company considers a partnership non-negotiable. “We’re going to work only on co-promotion conditions,” said Finkelstein.

White’s counter-offer was rejected. “The offer that was made by the UFC is not interesting for us,” said Fedor.

All this became an issue this week because this Saturday’s fight between Emelianenko and Josh Barnett was canceled when Barnett was busted for steroids. This should tell you something about Barnett’s fear of Fedor, and his need for an edge. It should also tell you that the heavyweight division is almost as weak in MMA as it is in boxing. The T-shirt company responsible for the fight, Affliction, quickly folded as a promoter. M-1 is now contemplating a lawsuit. Again, sounds like boxing.

Truth is, M-1 has the best fighter. UFC is way better equipped for pay-per-view. If only the parties would observe the First Postulate of Promotion: You gotta give ass to get ass. I’m almost positive I heard Don King say that. (If it wasn’t, I’m sorry, Don. But it should’ve been you.)

In other words, something has to give for this to have a happy ending. This one won’t end WWE-style. Rather, I envision the bearded priest absolving a tattooed lug who just woke up.