Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Half-Guarded Truth: CroCop goes home, Fedor travels abroad

“The Half-Guarded Truth”
By: Mike Coughlin
For the week of 03/25/07

“CroCop goes home, Fedor travels abroad.”

With a UFC Fight Night and PPV both upcoming, I wasn’t planning on writing a column this week. Then, Zuffa had to up and make the biggest move in insider MMA history, so that changed a bit. First of all, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Zuffa purchasing PRIDE is the biggest news of all time to folks who have been longtime followers of both promotions. Those people, a cabal of which I’m a part, are a small minority of the North American MMA fan base. Whatever the paltry number is that PRIDE draws on PPV, that’s the number of people that care about this news. The other one million plus that paid to see Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz do battle for a second time not only don’t care about this, they likely don’t know about it.

Lucky me, ya’ll reading this are much closer to the former than the latter, so I can proceed.

(I do also note the funny twist of events where WWE announces plans to expand worldwide and then the UFC beats them to the punch. Dana White’s the new Vince McMahon, yada yada yada.)

Now then, everyone and their mother will be screaming from the hilltops what Dana White and the brothers Fertitta should do with their new toy. I suppose the chorus can use one more member.

Someday, perhaps, I’ll do one of those, “in depth, laid all out from head to toe, this is what needs to be done and it’ll make the company bigger than the NFL and The Premiership combined” write-ups. Today, though, I’m going to give one suggestion in hopes that a single falling star will draw more attention than a million constellations. And I write the following with the assumption that PRIDE has all it’s major players under contract. If that pesky BodogFIGHT group makes a muck of my plans, blame them, not me.

Presuming the plan is to keep the two top heavyweights on earth in separate organizations, I say: Swap Fedor Emelianenko and Mirko “CroCop” Filipovic.

That’s it. That’s my big idea.

As of today, CroCop has had one fight in the UFC. He did well in dispatching Eddie Sanchez, and you’d have to look far and wide to find anyone that doesn’t think CroCop is the favorite to be the eventual UFC heavyweight champion, but he’s still a new kid on the block and it’s not like he’s a proven drawing card, ala Chuck Liddell. The selling point of CroCop to UFC fans has been pretty simple: this dude is an unstoppable killing machine, who honed his skills around the world, and has now come to the UFC to become champion. He’s a deadly killer from Eastern Europe, who doesn’t talk much, but who will treat opponents’ heads like a kickball.

If the UFC brings in Fedor, how do they market him? As a stoic, Eastern European murdering machine (a term that has been used by darn near everyone to describe the PRIDE heavyweight champion), that honed his skills around the world and has now come to … well, you get the idea.

In short, to the average UFC fan, Fedor and CroCop are essentially the same fighter. CroCop’s highlight reel may be a bit flashier, but Fedor’s got that all-important claim: greatest fighter walking the planet, now and maybe ever. Either way, it’s six of one, half dozen of the other.

The big difference is that in Japan, Mirko is a true star. Don’t get me wrong, Fedor’s a star in Japan, and the Japanese fans know him and respect him, but CroCop is one of a select few non-Japanese stars to ever really crossover into the mainstream. And the mainstream is where the difference between popular and legendary finds a home. For whatever reason, maybe it’s the non-exposure in K1, or the lack of truly high profile wins, but Fedor has not made that transition. (While Fedor’s list of victories is obviously more impressive to hardcore fans, CroCop’s wins over people like Sakuraba and Bob Sapp, when both were at their peak, along with the storyline of his being the “pro-wrestling killer” have gotten him a great deal more Japanese exposure.)

This isn’t to say that Fedor isn’t a star in Japan, but he isn’t a star on the CroCop level. And since both are equal in North America, but one is clearly superior in Japan, why not swap? Sure, the UFC will have spent resources promoting CroCop, and you never want to waste precious TV and PPV time, but just think of it as a long-term investment. It’s not like Gabriel Gonzaga and Eddie Sanchez were going to be major players for the company and when the unification match happens in the future, the UFC fans will have already seen CroCop in action, making the fight an easier sell.

Plus, from the UFC’s perspective, Fedor’s a safer bet than CroCop. For all this talent, Filipovic can still be flaky. When people envision him fighting men like Randy Couture, they can picture a lazy CroCop being mentally beaten. It may not be likely, but if it happens it wouldn’t a complete shock. The only precedent Fedor has ever set is that he’s unbeatable. When choosing an unstoppable monster to focus upon, always go for the guy who hasn’t shown a weakness. Why use Achilles when Zeus is available?

The UFC gains an incredible heavyweight to build the division around, PRIDE gains a legit drawing card (which, with Yoshida looking the way he has lately, it desperately needs at this moment), and they can both still be built up for the giant rematch later down the road.

Make sure to listen to Mike Coughlin as he hosts Five Star Radio, found exclusively at
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