The Rise and Fall of Fedor Emelianenko
Photo courtesy Esther Lin|Strikeforce
Fedor Emelianenko is a legend in the sport of mixed martial arts.
Love him or hate him, he's had one of the most storied and acclaimed careers in MMA history.
From his humble beginnings in Russia, to his heyday in Japan's Pride organization, to his hard times in the United States, to his recent victories, the story of Fedor Emelianenko's rise and fall is one that defined an era and may even define the future of MMA itself.
So how did it all begin?
Photo courtesy Realfights.com
Fedor Emelianenko was born in in 1976 in the present day Ukraine (which was then part of the Soviet Union).
When he was two, his family moved to the Russian mining town of Stary Oskol.
Who would've thought that a little kid in a backwater mining town would end up becoming one of the world's greatest fighters?
Emelianenko would end up serving in the Russian army until 1997. That same year, he got his first taste of gold when he won the European Sambo championship. Over the course of the next 15 years he would compete in over 16 different sports tournaments, most of them in Sambo.
But it wasn't until 2000 that his MMA career began.
That was how long it took Emelianenko to dispatch his opponent in the Russian's first-ever mixed martial arts bout.
It was at a RINGS event in Russia on May 21, 2000.
After two more victories, Emelianenko found himself in the RINGS King of Kings 2000 Tournament.
In the opening round of the tournament, he was matched up against the fearsome Ricardo Arona, a strong fighter and one of the world's greatest submission grapplers.
Emelianenko managed to best the Brazilian and moved on to the second round of the tournament. It was here where he would suffer his first loss.
It was on a technicality. His opponent, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, (accidentally) hit Emelianenko with an illegal elbow strike (elbows were illegal in Rings unless you were wearing an elbow pad) that cut him badly.
Under normal circumstances, the fight would be a disqualification or a no contest, but since it was a tournament there had to be a winner that night.
Since Fedor's cut wouldn't allow him to continue in the tournament, he couldn't be called the winner. He was given an "L" for the first time in his career.
He would fight in RINGS six more times in his career, winning each one of those fights and bringing his record to 10-1.
The Pride Era
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Fedor Emelianenko made his Pride debut in 2002 against the giant Dutch kickboxer Semmy Schilt.
Fedor won by decision.
After defeating Heath Herring at Pride 23, Fedor was given a title shot against then Pride heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at Pride 25.
On March 16th, 2003, in a battle that will be remembered forever, Fedor finally met Nogueria.
The Sambo master battered the Brazilian—then considered the best heavyweight in the world (certainly far better than the Wes Sims and Cabbages of the world that the UFC was trying to pawn off as world-beaters)—and earned a unanimous decision victory.
An unheralded 27 year old from a Russian mining town was the world heavyweight champion. This was arguably Fedor's finest hour.
Fedor then fought lower-level competitors like Gary Goodridge and Kazuyuki Fujita until 2004, when he entered the Pride 2004 Heavyweight Grand Prix.
The Pride Era Part II
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The Pride 2004 Heavyweight Grand Prix was one of the finest heavyweight tournaments in MMA history.
In the first two rounds of the tournament, Fedor dispatched two former UFC champions in Mark Coleman (via armbar) and Kevin Randleman (via kimura after receiving a brutal slam).
Fedor would fight Nogueira in a rematch in the finale of the tournament.
Unfortunately, their second match wasn't as epic as their first. It ended on a no contest due to an accidental headbutt a little more than three minutes into the fight.
However, any disappointment from their second meeting would be erased because of the gravity of their third and final meeting.
In an epic fight that mirrored their first, Fedor and Nogueira poured their hearts and souls out in the ring. For a second time, Fedor proved too much for Nogueira to handle.
In 2005, Emelianenko was engaged in what is arguably the greatest heavyweight fight of all time with Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic.
They met at Pride Final Conflict 2005. It was one of the few times in the world where the indisputable No.1 and No.2 heavyweights in the world fought one another and put on a fight that burned brightly in the memories of all who witnessed it.
After an exhausting affair, Emelianenko's hand was raised again. He was still Pride heavyweight champ and was now 23-1 (1 NC).
Little did people know then, but the fight with "Cro Cop" would be the last time Emelianenko was truly on top of the world.
He would only fight in Pride three more times after that, with the only real competitor being Mark Coleman.
Pride collapsed in 2007 and Fedor was reduced to fighting a blown up Matt Linland (a middleweight fighting at heavyweight) and a Korean freakshow fighter named Hong-man Choi (whose best MMA victories are over a Nigerian comedian and Jose Canseco).
However, an overly-ambitious T-shirt company founded an MMA promotion in 2008.
Affliction was born, and it signed Fedor Emelianenko and other men who were then considered top heavyweights such as Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski.
Fedor proved that he still had it by demolishing Tim Sylvia at Affliction: Banned in 2008.
In 2009, at Affliction's last show, Fedor appeared to be getting cut to the quick by Andrei Arlovski, but an ill-fated flying knee changed all that. Fedor his the Belorussian with a right hand that had him out cold before he even hit the canvas.
Emelianenko proved that he was still able to win. For his troubles, he had the heavyweight belt endorsed by the World Association of Mixed Martial Arts or WAMMA for short.
After Affliction ended their stint in the promotion business, Fedor was again left without a home.
The Tap Heard 'Round the World
Photo courtesy Esther Lin|Strikeforce.
Fedor Emelianenko wasn't without a promotional home for long.
He was picked up by the San Jose-based Strikeforce organization, the perennial Luigi to the UFC's Mario.
His first fight for Strikeforce would be against Cinderella man Brett Rogers (this was before he was accused of domestic abuse).
Rogers Stymied Emelianenko in the first round and even managed to bloody him up a bit. But in the second, Fedor hit Rogers with a deadly right hand that put Rogers flat on the mat, completely unconscious and without movement.
Fedor wouldn't taste victory until two years later.
In his next fight, he was matched up with dangerous submission grappler Fabricio Werdum. Werdum was no slouch but Fedor was expected to streamroll over him and face a resurgent Alistair Overeem for the Strikeforce heavyweight title.
Needless to say, this didn't happen.
In a shocking upset, Werdum tapped Fedor out in one minute and nine seconds.
"The Last Emperor" had truly been defeated for the first time.
Photo courtesy Ed Mulholland|ESPN.com
After what many thought was a fluke against Werdum, Fedor lost again.
This time against the mammoth Brazilian Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva in the first round of the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix.
Silva dominated Emelianenko like no other had before. Fedor was slower, less fit and just wasn't the killer that he used to be.
The fight was stopped after the second round and Fedor didn't protest.
Emelianenko was then paired up against a fellow Pride legend in Dan Henderson.
In a short but memorable affair, the Russian was again bested, this time by a true TKO. Fedor was struck with Henderson's patented "H-bomb" and was continuously pummeled until the referee had enough.
After the fight, it was announced that Strikeforce—now owned by Zuffa—was letting go of Fedor Emelianenko.
Modern Day, Future and Legacy
Some called for Fedor to retire after three-straight losses, but he didn't. He persevered.
Since the loss to Henderson, Fedor has won two straight. He defeated grappling ace Jeff Monson and Judo gold medalist Satoshi Ishii in late 2011.
His record now stands at 33-4 (1 NC). He will be 36 years old in September.
Despite what some may think about him, he was one of the greatest fighters of all time and was definitely the greatest heavyweight of all time.
What he did at heavyweight no other fighter at that weight class has been able to achieve. The only fighters who have come close to doing similar things in their weight classes are Anderson Silva and Georges St.Pierre.
Nevertheless, there is a lot of debate around Fedor Emelianenko and his legacy. For some reason, people can't just accept the fact that he was one of the greats.
Unfortunately, however, his name will eventually fade into obscurity through no fault of his own.
Fedor made a powerful enemy in UFC president Dana White, who has erased men from history before and can do it again. Men like Frank Shamrock and Pat Miletich were erased as if they were never part of the UFC.
If men who were UFC champions can be forgotten (or never known about in the first place) by the majority of fans, what will happen to a person who never even fought in the UFC?
If it's not UFC, the casual fan doesn't know about it and doesn't want to know about it.
What this means is that, despite his amazing abilities and accomplishments, Fedor will end up being naught but a footnote in the history of the sport.
Thus, it is up to loyal fans and MMA historians to keep the legend of a man named Fedor Emelianenko alive, despite what misgivings UFC loyalists and others may have. If nothing else, Fedor has at least earned to be remembered.