Fedor Emelianenko, the dominant heavyweight who once crushed the best fighters in the world in Japan's Pride promotion, is in real danger. Not just from former UFC contender Pedro Rizzo's famously powerful right hand, but of slipping completely into obscurity.
Emelianenko and Rizzo collide next week in St. Petersburg, Russia. I'll bet many of you didn't know that. Unless you keep a very keen eye on the MMA press, it probably evaded your notice. At one point, a Fedor fight was an event. Millions tuned in when he fought in Japan; whether he was vanquishing Japanese heroes like Naoya Ogawa or battering legends like Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, a nation watched in rapture. Now he fights in a media void, perhaps destined to be forgotten with time.
And that's a shame.
Fedor was a fighter to be awed. No one mixed the martial arts quite the way he did, taking a high-level Judo background and adding thunderous punches and submissions from Sambo. Fedor combined startling speed with high level technique, following a right-hand lead into the clinch and depositing even the great ones right on the rear ends. (See Jack Slack's great new ebook, Advanced Striking: Tactics of Boxing, Kickboxing and MMA Masters, for more on just how Emelianenko achieved his success in the ring.)
In recent years, the sport has turned cold for the Russian star. He eschewed the UFC for Affliction and then again for Strikeforce, turning down the biggest contract offer in UFC history for the pipe dream of co-promotion. Emelianenko and his team didn't want to be just a fighter. Like boxer Oscar De La Hoya, he wanted in on the promotional side, where the real money is. The UFC laughed him out of the room.
Fans, in large numbers, turned on him, blaming Fedor and his management for costing the world dream bouts with Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar. From beloved to despised seemingly overnight—are any fans more fickle than MMA's?
Worse, age and injury caught up with him—in his glory days, he simply walked through danger like a man blessed. When Kevin Randleman dumped him on his head with a nasty suplex, he never even blinked. If he recognized the danger in Mirko Cro Cop's powerful kicks, he never showed it. Unflappable. Unbeatable. Or so it seemed.
Fabricio Werdum disabused us of the notion any man was invulnerable. Then, Antonio Silva shattered a legend. Now, he rebuilds his confidence and reputation against men like Rizzo, the former UFC star who hasn't won a meaningful fight in almost five years. And even that is no gimme fight, not anymore.
Will we see Fedor in the UFC? I hope against hope we do. Willie Mays doesn't retire in front of a handful of stalwart fans in an AA ballpark in Topeka. And Fedor Emelianenko shouldn't fade into oblivion. If he can walk over Rizzo and swallow his pride, nothing would be better than to see Emelianenko finish his career in the only promotion that still matters on the world stage.