Once upon a time, being a faithful worshiper at the church of Fedor Emelianenko was easy. In the heyday of PRIDE Fighting Championships (circa 2004-05), the man absolutely dominated the heavyweight division. The 33-year-old sambo expert won the belt from Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in thorough fashion after just two PRIDE fights and that was that.
The hardware never left his formidable waist from until the organization imploded.
Back then, battering Minotauro was no simple thing. Neither was the thrashing the Last Emperor put on Mirko Filipovic. Fedor calls his legendary clash with Cro Cop his hardest fight ever, which I'm sure is wonderful consolation to a Croatian fighter who's never been the same since the unanimous decision went to the Russian.
That "when is this %$&! over" look that we've seen with disturbing frequency since Filipovic arrived in the UFC wasn't always there. You can see it's debut against Fedor—not that anyone can blame Cro Cop after the display he put on in defeat.
Warriors in their prime like Mark Coleman, Mark Hunt, and Kevin Randleman were no match for Emelianenko.
Sadly, that was about four years ago and a funny thing happened on the way to the Kremlin.
The UFC exploded in popularity and the sport of mixed martial arts along with it. However, the burgeoning love affair with the masses passed through a filter controlled by Dana White and company. Millions of new fans became familiar with his darling and little else in the world of MMA.
Consequently, Fedor Emelianenko's reputation and domination began to collect dust.
Regardless of who is to blame for the Last Emperor's throne sitting outside the UFC, there is no disputing that his absence has allowed the skeptics and haters to gather momentum. Although it doesn't have a monopoly, the UFC most certainly has cornered the market on premium mixed martial artistry. Thus, the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet is very much vulnerable to criticism.
His fight slate—once a who's who of the global heavyweight circuit—has become a stable of novelty acts and overmatched ex-bad asses.
Which is why Brett Rogers could mark the dawning of a new day for Fedor Emelianenko.
The Grim has given every impression of being a legitimate fighter. The hombre is LARGE—6'5" and around 265 pounds—and seems to know what to do with his mountainous mass.
Of course, the size differential is nothing new for Emelianenko. At 6'0" and 235 pounds, he's normally the smaller of the two gladiators and it hasn't seemed to matter much to date. Nevertheless, you could argue he's never faced the combination of size, speed, and agility that Rogers may possess.
I say 'may' because the Grim has been done no favors. He's being tossed to the lions without really proving himself against any probative talent. Yes, he's undefeated in 10 contests, but I've only heard of two of his opponents and neither are too impressive.
A fading Andrei Arlovski is his shiniest pelt along with a knockout of (ugh) James Thompson. Hey, if the Colossus showed up to collect on a debt I owed, I'd soil myself. Unfortunately, every single heavyweight in MMA worth a damn seems to be infinitely tougher than I and they've proved it using Thompson's cranium.
So there's really no meaningful sample size by which to accurately judge the Grim. To his credit, the 28-year-old has looked really good against mediocre (at best) competition. That's better than looking average.
And this is a guy on the upside of his career, not the back nine.
Will Brett Rogers have enough to give Fedor Emelianenko his first sincere test since Hunt back in 2006? I have no idea.
But he genuinely seems to have that potential.
At this point in the Last Emperor's reign, it'll have to do.