In Case You Forgot: The Greatest Heavyweight in MMA History Fights This Weekend

Chad Dundas@@chaddundasMMA Lead WriterJune 22, 2017

HOFFMAN ESTATES, IL - JULY 30:  Fedor Emelianenko enters the arena before his heavyweight fight against Dan Henderson at the Strikeforce event at Sears Centre Arena on July 30, 2011 in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.  (Photo by Josh Hedges/Forza LLC/Forza LLC via Getty Images)
Josh Hedges/Forza LLC/Getty Images

Did you forget that the greatest heavyweight in MMA history fights in the United States for the first time in nearly six years Saturday?

No shame if you did.

Fedor Emelianenko doesn't send shivers down the spines of fight fans quite the same way he once did.

On top of that, there's no shortage of reasons why Emelianenko's co-main event bout against Matt Mitrione is flying under the radar just a few days before Bellator MMA heads to Madison Square Garden to take its latest swing at pay-per-view.

Considering the stakes, this event has been lightly promoted by the second-largest MMA company in the U.S. In addition, Emelianenko's Bellator debut has already been postponed once, and the more we see The Last Emperor in the cage, the more we question how long he should soldier on.

Emelianenko shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin after a recent fight.
Emelianenko shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin after a recent fight.Alexei Nikolsky/Associated Press

If you're still following the winding string of Emelianenko's 41-fight career, you're probably either a Fedor superfan or you're starting to feel a little worried for the guy.

Or both.

Last time we saw Emelianenko on U.S. soil was July 2011, when he capped a three-fight losing streak with a crushing first-round TKO defeat by Dan Henderson. That loss ended a disastrous 1-3 run through the now-defunct Strikeforce organization that obliterated Emelianenko's 10-year unbeaten run and killed any lingering notion he was the world's most feared fighter.

Since then, he's won five bouts in a row, fighting exclusively in his native Russia and in Japan. He's also retired and unretired once, and the nature of the victories didn't do enough to distract us from his declining physical skills.

If anything, Emelianenko's most recent appearance—an iffy majority-decision win over UFC washout Fabio Maldonado at EFN 50 in St. Petersburg in June 2016—only cauterized our view of him as well past his prime.

Emelianenko throws a right hand at Henderson.
Emelianenko throws a right hand at Henderson.Josh Hedges/Forza LLC/Getty Images

So why will fans tune in Saturday to see the 40-year-old legend take on the 38-year-old Mitrione at Bellator: NYC?

If they do, it'll be because he's still Fedor. He's still the same stoic knockout artist who held the Pride FC heavyweight class in his terrifying sway from 2002 until 2006.

He's still the guy who toppled former UFC heavyweight champions Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski.

Still the guy who downed Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (twice) back when that trio arguably comprised the top three heavyweights on the planet.

Maybe MMA fans will tune in to this PPV with the weak glimmer of hope that the old Fedor will show up at MSG.

How many more times will Fedor step on the scale?
How many more times will Fedor step on the scale?Josh Hedges/Forza LLC/Getty Images

Or maybe they'll buy this PPV because we all know full well Bellator's strategy of propping up its tentpole events with over-the-hill stars and we've made our peace with it.

Still, it remains unclear how much Emelianenko has left in the tank or what kind of an asset he'll be in supporting this event's all-important PPV buy rate.

To his credit, he remains as humble and inscrutable as ever, telling Ariel Helwani on the The MMA Hour ahead of Saturday's event that he never bought into his own hype as one of the greatest fighters of all time.

"I never considered myself to be the best one," Emelianenko said (via MMA Fighting's Chuck Mindenhall). "A fighter can lose at any moment—and there are some fighters that...will be better than me in some techniques."

For its part, Bellator appears content to promote the Fedor legacy more than the man who will climb into the cage Saturday:

Will fans open their wallets to watch?

This entire Bellator card seemed poised for bigger things when company CEO Scott Coker announced it back in March.

With Chael Sonnen vs. Wanderlei Silva as its main event, three titles on the line and the debut of super-prospect Aaron Pico, some observers were cautiously optimistic Bellator could make a modest splash as it returned to PPV for the first time since 2014.

So far, the expected pre-fight fireworks haven't materialized.

By all rights, the purported blood feud between Sonnen and Silva should have had a weekslong build that culminated in a tense on-stage standoff. Instead, Silva skipped the event's first two press conferences.

The first time, he said it was because he was too busy training for the fight. Then, when Silva no-showed a second Bellator presser, the organization said he was "under the weather," per Steven Marrocco of MMAjunkie. Later, the fighter revealed he just didn't want to be there with Sonnen, per MMA Fighting (h/t Milan Ordonez of Bloody Elbow).

It's hard to sell the fight when one guy won't show up to the promotional events.

Matt Mitrione is one of Bellator's more recognizable heavyweights.
Matt Mitrione is one of Bellator's more recognizable heavyweights.Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Those missed opportunities leave a short window to try to market this PPV during fight week, with Emelianenko and Mitrione playing second fiddle to a main event fight that hasn't done its share of the heavy lifting.

Mitrione exited the UFC on the heels of back-to-back losses in 2016, but he's won two straight contests since coming to Bellator. He's the slight favorite here, according to OddsShark, but considering Emelianenko's recent inactivity, there's no way to anticipate how they will match up.

The two heavyweights were originally supposed to meet in February before Mitrione pulled out with kidney stones, and this rescheduled bout has naturally lost a little momentum.

And Mitrione says he's struggled to keep his eye on the prize.

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

"It is difficult to do that," the former New York Giants defensive lineman told Dan Pizzuta of Big Blue View. "I've done the exact same movements, counters, combinations, visualizing. ... I've done all of this for a really long time. It's difficult to stay motivated during this, especially in the waning weeks of the camp."

To recap: Saturday's Bellator PPV is headlined by one guy who didn't show up to the introductory press conferences.

Meanwhile, the co-main event features one guy who steadfastly claims he's not the best and one guy who admits he had a hard time staying motivated for this one.

Then again, perhaps thinking about it that way is to judge this fight too harshly.

Each time Emelianenko steps in an MMA cage these days, we know it might be for the last time. Fans are running out of chances to see the man who was once the most dominant heavyweight fighter the sport had ever seen.

That seems like something to mark your calendars for.