When it comes to heavyweights in mixed martial arts, none comes close to the brilliance and sustained excellence of Fedor Emelianenko.
Three years ago, I was not as enthusiastic about "The Last Emperor." Then Vitaly, a friend of mine who is of Russian descent, told me about this heavyweight.
"He’s the greatest fighter ever," he told me. I took it as a guy supporting his fellow countryman. Then Vitaly threw some facts at me. He spoke of a nine-year unbeaten streak that included former UFC champions and Hall of Famers. Then he said that Fedor's first loss was one of the great robberies in MMA history.
Still not impressed, I researched everything I could about "The Last Emperor." I came away more impressed than I could have ever imagined.
I discovered that Vitaly was right. Fedor is unarguably the greatest heavyweight of all time. In this slideshow, I’ll prove it.
TD Accuracy: 63 percent
TD Defense: 83 percent
Strike Accuracy: 52 percent
Striking Defense: 63 percent
Significant Strikes Per Minute: 3.15
TD Average: 2.02
One of the most remarkable things about Fedor was his physique.
Fedor had an everyman look—as if he had just gotten off the couch with a beer in his hand and then walked to the ring to fight.
Had he "gotten in shape," many people believe he could have competed at middleweight.
Fedor began his MMA career with six straight victories, including two openweight exhibition matches against Shinya Aoki and Gerard Mousasi.
His first "loss" came in the second round of the King of Kings 2000 tournament to Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, but it was controversial.
Kohsaka missed an overhand right and nailed Fedor with an illegal elbow strike. Under normal circumstances, this fight would have been deemed a no contest. However, since this was in a tournament, a winner and loser had to be chosen.
Emelianenko was given the loss.
What proceeded after that night would be the greatest unbeaten streak in the history of mixed martial arts. From December 22, 2000 to June 26, 2010, Fedor beat every man in front of him.
For nearly 10 years, "The Last Emperor" dominated. He went 28-0 with one no contest, and only six of his matches went to a decision.
Fans of Fedor have to defend the "can crusher" label. In my opinion, cans are fighters who have no MMA record or a losing record.
Here are some "cans" he crushed.
|Martin Lazarov||N/A||Fedor wins by submission in 2 minutes|
|Levon Lagvilava||N/A||Fedor wins by submission in 7 minutes|
|Hiroya Takada||N/A||Fedor wins by KO in 12 seconds|
|Mihail Apostolov||N/A||Fedor wins by submission in 1 minute|
|Ryushi Yanagisawa||24-25||Fedor wins by UD|
|Lee Hasdell||13-16||Fedor wins by submission in 4 minutes||Kickboxer with 44-16 record|
|Yuji Nagata||0-2||Fedor wins by TKO in 1 minute||Pro wrestler|
|Zuluzinho||8-8||Fedor wins by submission in 26 seconds|
|Hong Man Choi||2-3||Fedor wins by submission in 2 minutes|
First of all, let's note that every fighter in his career has fought what some people would call "cans." Second, even if you disregard these nine victories, Fedor still has 26 victories against worthy talent—three more than longtime UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.
The label of "can crusher" is simply a myth.
You don't get recognized as the best without defeating some of the best of your time.
Even though Fedor never stepped foot into the Octagon, he faced competition with a combined 131 fights in the UFC. He also dominated the PRIDE Fighting Championships, which held the best heavyweight division of its time.
Here are the quality guys Fedor has defeated and their credentials.
Ricardo Arona: 14-5 Overall, 8-4 PRIDE
If you haven't had a chance to see Ricardo Arona fight, open a tab and YouTube him. He holds victories over Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva, Alistair Overeem and Jeremy Horn. In only his fourth professional fight, Fedor was the first man to defeat Arona.
Renato Sobral: 37-9 Overall, 6-4 UFC
The former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion has beaten Chael Sonnen and Shogun Rua.
Semmy Schilt: 26-14-1 Overall, 1-1 UFC, 4-3 PRIDE
Many would argue that Semmy Schilt is the greatest standup fighter of all time. With a 39-6 kickboxing record and wins against quality fighters, he deserves consideration as one of the best.
However, he became another Fedor victim in a 2002 PRIDE match that saw "The Last Emperor" take down the "Kickboxing King."
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: 33-7 Overall, 4-3 UFC, 17-3 PRIDE
Holding a record of 19-1-1, Big Nog was once considered the top heavyweight in the world. With an unbeatable guard, Nog rolled through Dan Henderson, Semmy Schilt, Mark Coleman and Jeremy Horn.
Then, in what may have been the biggest heavyweight match in MMA history, Fedor faced Big Nog in 2003 with the PRIDE Heavyweight Championship on the line. Fedor won by unanimous decision.
In three epic matches against Fedor, Big Nog went 0-2 with one no contest.
Mark Coleman: 16-10 Overall, 7-6 UFC, 8-5 PRIDE
Mark Coleman has many accomplishments: UFC Hall of Famer, two-time UFC tournament winner and the very first UFC heavyweight champion. Coleman was a force. With a 13-5 record before facing Fedor, Coleman also defeated top heavyweights Igor Vovchanchyn, Dan Severn and Don Frye.
Mark Hunt: 8-7 Overall, 3-1 UFC, 5-3 PRIDE
Who would have thought that this name would have been here a couple of years ago? Hunt is currently riding a three-fight UFC win streak, and Bleacher Report ranks him as the No. 8 heavyweight in the world. With a 30-13 kickboxing record and wins against Mirko Cro Cop and Wanderlei Silva, the heavy-hitting Samoan was 5-2 before losing to Fedor.
Tim Sylvia: 31-7 Overall, 9-4 UFC
Sylvia is a two-time UFC heavyweight champion. He is also tied with Randy Couture for the most successful defenses of UFC Heavyweight Championship. Sylvia has beaten UFC vets Ben Rothwell and Brandon Vera, Andrei Arlovski and Paul Buentello.
Even Dana White, who had been notorious for bashing Fedor, said after Fedor's fight with Sylvia, "It does (change my opinion). Tim Sylvia was a real opponent."
Kevin Randleman: 17-16 Overall, 4-3 UFC, 4-7 PRIDE
Don't let the record fool you. Randleman was one of the top heavyweights of the class when he fought Fedor. Fresh off of a knockout of Mirko Cro Cop, "The Monster" was 15-7 and held victories over Renato Sobral and Pedro Rizzo. A former UFC heavyweight champion, Randleman was considered a top-10 heavyweight when he faced Fedor.
Mirko Filipovic: 27-10 Overall, 4-6 UFC, 18-3-2 PRIDE
Of all the dangerous heavyweights, Cro Cop was the most feared standup fighter in the world. "Left leg hospital, right leg cemetery" rings true since 10 of his 20 KOs came via kicks. Before he met Fedor, Cro Cop was on a seven-fight winning streak that claimed Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, Josh Barnett and even Fedor's brother Alexander as victims.
In the 2005 Fight of the Year, Cro Cop and Fedor went the distance in an instant classic. Fedor got rocked and stumbled, only to catch himself and bring the fight back to Cro Cop. Definitely a fight worth catching on YouTube.
So how did Fedor's opponents fare in the UFC and PRIDE?
Fedor faced 18 opponents who have fought in the UFC. Their combined UFC record is 82-49, which is a 62.5 winning percentage in the Octagon.
In the ring under PRIDE rules, Fedor faced 14 fighters with a combined PRIDE record of 99-44, good for a 69.2 winning percentage.
That's saying something.
One thing to love about Fedor was his fighting style.
He had no game plan. He was set to stand and bang and then finish opponents on the ground. If things got dirty, he was more than happy to use his sambo background to take the fight to the ground.
More than anything else, he fought to the finish and always wanted to finish fights.
Alistair Overeem refused to go to the ground with Fabricio Werdum. GSP refused to go to the ground with Jake Shields. Anderson Silva refused to go to the ground with Demian Maia.
Fedor Emelianenko went into the dangerous guards of "Minotauro" Nogueira and Fabricio Werdum in an attempt to finish. He stood with a prime Mirko Cro Cop and grappled with Kevin Randleman.
He was never afraid to enter another man's comfort zone to try and win a fight.
Sometimes, it cost him like against Werdum. Other times, it benefited him like against Cro Cop and Big Nog. However, no one could ever accuse him of not fighting his fight.
Fedor will be remembered a couple of different ways depending on the generation of fan.
Old-school PRIDE fans will think of Fedor as quite possibly the greatest of all time. With the physique of a plumber and not a cage fighter, he bounced around like a middleweight. He dominated the heavyweight division with deceptive speed and a slab of concrete for a right hand. No one could solve his puzzle for 10 years.
Nothing is more telling of his dominance than the fact that opponents knew what he was going to do and still couldn't stop it.
New-school UFC fans will think of Fedor as a fraud. Someone who padded his record in PRIDE. Nothing more than a glorified can crusher.
Nothing is farther from the truth.
Fedor was never cocky or mean-spirited in all of his time as an MMA fighter. Class personified, Fedor always showed respect for his opponents. He should be remembered as one of the most resilient men in MMA. He endured Kevin Randleman's devastating slam, Cro Cop's punishing kicks and everything in between.
In this world of "What have you done for me lately" people will remember the demolishing he took from Bigfoot Silva and the H-Bomb he took from Dan Henderson. What these people tend to overlook is a decade of decisive dominance that encompassed former champions and top heavyweights. They overlook a run that will never be duplicated in MMA.
And they overlook the greatest heavyweight in mixed martial arts history.
Montique David is a Featured Columnist with Bleacher Report and has a passion for combat sports. One of the more accessible columnists in the game, you can tweet him @montiqued