Rogers, still confident, finally sees the truth about Emelianenko
Brett Rogers faces Fedor Emelianenko on CBS at Strikeforce on Nov. 7
It will mark MMA's first appearance on primte-time CBS since Kimbo Slice
Rogers knows what he's up against, but he remains sure of his abilities
CHICAGO -- Having repeatedly declared in the months leading up to his clash against Fedor Emelianenko that the Russian was a man like any other, Brett Rogers admits now to seeing the truth.
"He's definitely a different fighter," said Rogers of the heavyweight champion, who will put his legacy and nine-year unbeaten streak on the line Saturday on CBS (9 p.m. ET/PT). "I look into his eyes and I see nothing. I don't see if he's serious. I don't see if he's trying to be funny. I can't sense anything from him. A lot of people say, 'Don't pay attention to his demeanor because it will psyche you out.' It's true. I feel that."
This kind of acknowledgement is significant for a man who, less than a year ago, made ends meet by changing tires at a Sam's Club. He's accepted that few people are giving the 6-foot-5, 265-pound slugger more than a puncher's chance. He's recognized the cold, hard task in front of him. Embracing these truths suggests Rogers' brimming pre-fight confidence isn't a con. It's one thing to say you're going to win; it's another to actually believe it. And, it seems, that's an important distinction between Rogers (10-0) and the litany of challengers Emelianenko has brushed aside throughout his storied career.
Expectations in the champion's corner are very different, which is evident by the presumption of yet another Emelianenko victory. Despite constant reminders of his dominance, the stoic heavyweight said that while he always desires to "finish the fight as fast as possible," he can't focus on making an emphatic statement during his American network television debut. Rather than be concerned by how impressive he looks, Emelianenko enters fights to show "techniques and skills."
Throughout this decade, that attitude boded well for him and bad for the opposition.
Of the Russian's 30 wins, 23 have come inside the distance. Stopping nine of his 10 opponents by knockout, Rogers, too, has been efficient, though against a lesser class of competition. For CBS and Strikeforce, which is staging the event in conjunction with Emelianenko's promoter, M-1 Global, an explosive end to the main event would likely cap a successful return of MMA to the network 13 months after Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson's exposure and the equally embarrassing demise of EliteXC.
Beyond an exciting night of fights, CBS will gauge success two ways: The first hurdle -- selling out the show to advertisers -- was cleared last week. The second -- improving the network's average rating among young men -- seems to be a lock considering the sport's track record.
"That's really what it's going to take to keep moving forward," said Kelly Kahl, senior executive vice president of CBS prime-time programming who brought live MMA to network television in 2008.
For Emelianenko's handlers, the opportunity for their man fight in front of a significant American audience is matched by news that this bout will be carried live for the first time in Russia on Channel One, the country's largest network. In August, Emelianenko's anticipated fight with Josh Barnett was set to receive the same treatment, yet, like everything else associated with that card, things fell apart when Barnett tested positive for steroids following a pre-event urinalysis.
When the network was hesitant to revisit Emelianenko and MMA, a few words from one of the fighter's longtime supporters, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, squashed that.
Channel One's broadcast is an example of M-1 Global's contribution to the international side of the co-promotion, said the company's CEO Joost Raimond. It was this kind of scenario that the UFC refused to engage in over the summer when negotiations for Emelianenko's services heated up following the fall of Affliction Entertainment.
"The formula to put this together was very unique," echoed Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker. "I've never done this with any other fighter. We get to put the best heavyweight in the world on free TV in America. It was worth it. Like any co-promotion you have hiccups getting to know each other, but we got through those and I'm very comfortable with where we're at right now."
Emelianenko, who is guaranteed two bouts in the U.S. next year under the Strikeforce/M-1 partnership, will likely endure a hit to his reputation if he struggles with Rogers. Moreover, a loss against a considerable underdog in front of several million viewers would certainly derail any recent stateside momentum, if not cause some to question his career accomplishments.
Considering the stakes, members of Emelianenko's camp say he avoided the distractions that prompted his longtime trainer, Vladimir Voronov, to be critical immediately after Fedor's last appearance, a knockout win in less than four minutes against former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski.
As the fight grew near, 28-year-old Rogers decided he wasn't interested anymore in trying to gauge a reaction or emotion from Emelianenko's eyes -- though he gets two more chances: Friday's weigh-in and Saturday evening inside what is expected to be a sold out Sears Centre.
"I understand why people think I will lose," Rogers said with a prescient smile. "He's been on a winning streak and because of his record. But, at the same time, will people be upset when they see me knock him out in the first round?"
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