Canadian club on rise

JOSE RODRIGUEZ

, Last Updated: 8:26 AM ET

The formula couldn't be any simpler.

Bring in top-ranked fighters, convince a television network to commit airtime and let the fans do the rest.

It's a plan that's seen the Ultimate Fighting Championship grow into a multi-million-dollar monster.

Hardcore Championship Fighting CEO Keith Crawford hopes to do the same in the Great White North.

The Canadian fight club has been on a big-name signing binge.

Pride's Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, former UFC veterans Renato "Babalu" Sobral and Joe Riggs have signed on. Negotiations are ongoing with former UFC heavyweight champ Vitor Belfort, Pride vet Ricardo Arona and Canadian John Alessio.

"We are the only Canadian promotion that is bringing in huge international names," says Crawford. "We remain committed to promoting local talent, but I believe Canadians are educated in the sport and want to see the world's best."

Crawford says his organization's "go big or go home" philosophy has netted him top fighters.

But the ultimate lure for scrappers to sign with the HCF is the guaranteed television exposure through the company's deal with The Score.

"Free TV made the UFC," says Crawford, sounding a bit like UFC president Dana White, minus the vulgarities. "Without The Score we are just another promoter. With our exclusive deal we are No. 1."

Top billing among Canadian fight clubs has allowed Crawford's crew to sign Top 10 heavyweight Aleksander Emelianenko to headline the Oct. 19 card in Calgary, where he will take on Dan Bobish.

Unlike the UFC, Crawford says his organization cordially co-exists with other Canadian fight clubs.

"We have a very healthy working relationship with TKO (Quebec's largest mixed-martial arts league) and King of the Cage."

Crawford, a former kickboxer and Muay Thai fighter, says the sport's explosion is a boon for the growing number of Canadian fighters looking to break into the game. "The future of MMA is very bright," he says. "It's destined to become a prime sport very quickly."

COUTURE, UFC FALLOUT

There is no masking the bad blood between UFC heavyweight champ Randy Couture and White. Following the surprise resignation of the champ Thursday, there has been no shortage of venom spit back-and-forth.

Couture says he tendered his resignation after learning the UFC failed to sign Fedor Emelianenko (Aleksander's brother) -- the Pride heavyweight champion and Couture's next obvious opponent.

In an interview with sherdog.com, Couture says: "I'm tired of being taken advantage of, played as the nice guy and basically swimming against the current with the management of the UFC. I don't feel like I get the respect I deserve from the organization."

He also says UFC brass lied to him, saying he was the second-best paid fighter in the UFC behind Chuck Liddell. Couture claims he polled other fighters and maintains that isn't true.

Should Couture come out of retirement to, say, fight Emeianenko, White says the UFC still owns his rights. White adds that Couture's new Hollywood "parasite" agent, who has him signing movie deals instead of fight contracts, is leading the fighter down the wrong path.

FIGHT NOTES

- The most sought-after heavyweight has turned his nose up at the UFC. Reports say Fedor Emelianenko, undefeated in his last 24 fights, has agreed to a deal with Russian-based M-1 Mix-Fight Championship.

- Former UFC and Pride welterweight Nick Diaz has signed a long-term deal with EliteXC. Diaz, who still had two fights left in his contract, received a two-year extension well into 2009.


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