by Ken Pishna – MMAWeekly.com
With Josh Barnett’s recent license denial in California due to an alleged positive pre-fight drug test result, which indicated anabolic steroids in his system, the race has been on to find a replacement to face the No. 1 heavyweight fighter in the world, Fedor Emelianenko, at Affliction “Trilogy.”

Fighters have come out of the woodwork to be considered. Fighters from Brett Rogers to Jeff Monson to Don Frye to Tom Erickson have all indicated their desire to face Fedor.

“I have everyone under the sun saying they have the next person that can beat (Fedor),” said Affliction vice president Tom Atencio.

Initial speculation centered on Vitor Belfort and Bobby Lashley as possibilities, with Belfort quickly becoming the frontrunner. Numerous sources indicate that Belfort has agreed to the fight and it is just coming down to final negotiations.

“By the end of the evening we expect to officially announce who’ll be the replacement for Barnett,” state Vadim Finkelchtein, who owns M-1 Global and manages Fedor. “Vitor Belfort agreed to come in principle.”

While Finkelchtein’s comments seem to further solidify that Belfort is the man to replace Barnett as long as the details can be worked out, but Atencio has steadfastly maintained, “Negotiations or negotiations and until I get the contract, nothing is done. Until you hear it from me, until I have a contract signed, they’re all rumors.”

Affliction Vice President Tom Atencio on Thursday told MMAWeekly.com that Fedor’s new opponent would be announced on Friday.

He obviously would like to know who he is fighting on Aug. 1 as soon as possible, but the shake-up in opponents has done little to deter Fedor.

“I feel disappointed about this situation,” he said, before adding, “But I will fight anyone who Affliction puts in front of me.”

An interesting side note that surfaced at a Thursday press conference with Russian media held by Fedor and Finkelchtein is that Fedor’s U.S. promotional rights no longer belong to Affliction following his “Trilogy” bout. He, of course, remains under a management contract with M-1 Global, but would presumably be free to fight for other U.S. promotions.

Before the rumor mill hits full tilt, however, Finkelchtein wasn’t optimistic that Fedor would step into the UFC’s Octagon any time soon.

“We are open to any offer. The issue really is with the UFC, not with us. We are ready to fight the UFC champions,” he said, but hastened to add, “Randy Couture left the UFC in order to get the opportunity of fighting Fedor. Then the UFC sidelined him and litigation ensued. We want to negotiate and cooperate with the UFC but it seems as though they are not ready.”