It’s natural to think that Fedor Emelianenko‘s loss to Fabricio Werdum on Saturday night was an absolute disaster, both for his career and for Strikeforce, who had their pay-per-view hopes riding on a heavyweight title clash between Emelianenko and Alistair Overeem. The shocking upset left fans scratching their heads and wondering what could be next for the Last Emperor. An immediate rematch with Werdum, as Werdum himself suggested after the fight? A tune-up match against someone further down the ladder like Antonio Silva? Retirement?
One name that doesn’t seem to be getting any consideration in the fight’s aftermath is, to me, the most obvious one — Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal, Strikeforce’s reigning light-heavyweight champion. And if Strikeforce wants to pull anything positive out of their current situation, they’ll book Fedor vs. King Mo as quickly as possible. Here’s why:
1) It gives Fedor something important to do. Emelianenko is reportedly the highest-paid fighter in all of MMA right now, and he only has one fight left on his contract. Forget tune-up matches; Strikeforce needs to make the most of their investment, which means giving Fedor another big fight. But they’d be fools to re-do Fedor vs. Werdum right away — especially now that Alistair Overeem is back and ready to fight — and there’s no guarantee that fans would even be interested to see what happens in the sequel. Besides, a rematch would prove very little, no matter who wins it. Either Fedor evens the score 1-1 and steals Fabricio’s title shot somewhat illegitimately, or he loses again, thereby wasting everybody’s time. Let Werdum have his moment and fight Overeem. Fedor may be temporarily out of the heavyweight title picture, but that doesn’t mean he’s out of options. It just means Strikeforce has to tweak their strategy for him.
2) It gives King Mo something important to do. This is just as crucial. Remember how Renato Sobral earned a light-heavyweight title shot by beating Robbie Lawler, despite the fact that he was intending on transitioning to middleweight? Well, Babalu and King Mo won’t fight each other, so it’s time to move on to Plan B. Opponents for Lawal at light-heavyweight are scarce. You could either give Rafael Cavalcante a crack at the belt, or have Dan Henderson go back up to 205 to challenge, despite the fact that he was just dominated by Jake Shields at middleweight. Meanwhile, King Mo has been asking to fight Fedor since last year; he even knows some women who could beat Fedor. Why not put his belt on the line and give him his wish? Even if Fedor wins that belt then leaves Strikeforce, what does Scott Coker really stand to lose? King Mo and Cavalcante would just fight for the vacant light-heavyweight title, and Strikeforce would never have to deal with M-1 Global ever again. Not a bad deal, if you ask me.
3) Fedor can make the weight, and should probably try it for the sake of his career. The weigh-ins on Friday provided us with two seemingly contradictory pieces of information: Fedor looked doughy, maybe even more so than usual, yet he only came in at 229 pounds, his lightest weight in years. He could certainly make 205 pounds if he chose to, with the help of a nutritionist and some basic instruction on water-cutting. (It should be mentioned that the UFC’s largest light-heavyweights, like Forrest Griffin, Ryan Bader, and Jon Jones, all dwarf Emelianenko.) To this point, there’s been no reason for Fedor to leave heavyweight — he’s been perfectly happy beating up bigger opponents — but moving down to LHW would give his career a much-needed second act; think of what it did for Randy Couture in 2003. We now know that Emelianenko isn’t invincible at heavyweight. But could anybody his own size beat him? I think a lot of fans would pay big money to find out.
4) Why the hell not? Come on, we’re talking about King Mo and Strikeforce — the fighter and MMA organization who defined "moneyweight." Shallowness of roster has always been one of Strikeforce’s biggest challenges, but it’s given them the freedom to make interesting fights with whatever fighters they have on hand: Nick Diaz and Frank Shamrock battling at a catchweight of 179. Jake Shields beefing up to take the middleweight belt. Hell, King Mo himself earned a light-heavyweight title shot against Gegard Mousasi directly after beating Mike Whitehead at heavyweight in his Strikeforce debut. Fedor Emelianenko isn’t a heavyweight — he’s simply been competing as one for the last ten years, and his career accomplishments make him immediately qualified to fight for Strikeforce’s light-heavyweight belt. Fedor has exactly one opportunity to become a champion in his next fight, which might be his last. If Strikeforce can’t sell that fight, then God help them.