I've wanted to write this article for awhile now, and in lieu of recent events, we may never see this epic match up. I hope Brock Lesnar recovers for his own sake, and for the sake of history.
Also, in the name of full disclosure: I am a big Fedor Emelianenko fan.
4. Base experience
Let's start off by comparing the fighters' base martial art or original fighting style.
Lesnar wrestled on a national level in college for three years.
He was a two-time NJCAA All-American, a two-time NCAA All-American, and a two-time Big Ten Conference champion. With impressive win records, Brock rarely lost in the sport of college wrestling, and his talent here should not be overlooked.
In comparison, Fedor Emelianenko has been fighting in Russian and world Sambo competitions for twelve years, winning first place seven times nationally, and four times internationally. Not to mention taking a gold in the 1997 Russian judo championships.
With over a decade of competing on the Russian national and international stage his pedigree of competition is second to none.
Comparing those two bodies of work alone paints a picture, but let's think about how these base styles transition to MMA.
Lots of wrestlers have learned striking and become great MMA fighters—Dan Henderson, Randy Couture, Matt Hughes, Josh Koscheck and Matt Hamill, to name a few. Wrestling is one of the best base skills to have as an MMA fighter, but it doesn't guarantee there won't be holes in your game.
Sambo, however, naturally transitions to MMA because it teaches striking, striking to grappling, chokes, and dirty boxing. It also includes folk wrestling, Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling, judo, and jujitsu.
Sambo is basically the Russian military's version of mixed martial arts and makes a fighter well rounded right from the start.
Obviously, Emelianenko has the advantage here. He has fought longer against better competition, and won more accolades in his base martial art.
3. MMA experience
Moving on to actual MMA experience.
There are some direct comparisons between Emelianenko and Lesnar based on previous opponents, so let's look there first.
Lesnar beat Heath Herring in a unanimous decision in the twilight of Heath's career in the UFC. Emelianenko finished Herring off in Round one at Pride by T.K.O. when Herring was still a threatening fighter back in 2002.
Many say that Lesnar's victory over Randy Couture cemented his credibility in the MMA world. I take issue with the notion that Randy Couture is still a dangerous fighter.
Couture's last fight against Brandon Vera showed the world that even at 205 pounds, Couture just can't deal damage or even get take downs anymore. His age and size did not make him a legitimate test for a super heavyweight like Lesnar.
Seeing Emelianenko demolish a younger, larger man in Chicago on Nov. 7th leaves no doubt in my mind on the outcome of a Couture vs Fedor bout.
Frank Mir was the closest Lesnar ever came to true competition and he has already lost to him once due to a fairly quick submission. Some argue that Lesnar might have won the first time if not for poor refereeing by Steve Stopagatti.
In the rematch Lesnar overpowered Mir and completely obliterated him with hammer fists, winning his heavyweight title in the UFC. Mir is a great heavyweight, and I give Lesnar his due for beating him.
Emelianenko is the WAMMA, PRIDE, and RINGS heavyweight champion.
He has fought every style the sport of MMA has to offer. From wrestlers to Mauy Thai specialists, from American boxers to ground and pound kings, he always outshines the competition.
"The Last Emperor" has been rocked by hard punches and crippling slams, put into tight submissions while bleeding all over the mat, but has never wavered or crumbled before any man.
His experience in MMA cannot be questioned, and his supremacy as a heavyweight is unmatched in the sport. Emelianenko is undefeated for almost a decade.
Clearly when talking about MMA experience the nod must go to him.
2. Physical attributes
This is where Lesnar should shine, but let's look at all the variables.
Both men are explosive and powerful, but Lesnar is larger by almost 40 pounds.
Having to cut weight to make 265, Lesnar usually comes into the ring at 280 plus, whereas Emelianenko's fighting weight is around 233. He does not cut weight and I believe this is where a lot of his explosive nature comes from.
Would Lesnars' size be a problem for the "Russian Experiment?"
Emelianenko has tossed around big men before, from Hong-Man Choi (319 lbs), Tim Silva (287), Gary Goodridge (250), and Mark Hunt (280). He has never had a problem controlling big fighters inside the ring.
His recent fight with Brett Rogers left no doubt in my mind he could handle Lesnar's size. Tossing Rogers from the hip or pushing him off the cage, even slipping up and under him when Rogers was on top, Emelianenko has the power to keep the fight where he wants it.
I really do not think Lesnar's wrestling pedigree could match Emelianenko's loose style mastery of Sambo, and even if Lesnar got on top of Emelianenko, he could explode out in a way that no other fighter has done before.
Lesnar, on the other hand, would have big problems striking with Emelianenko.
The Russian has shown with his last two fights, and in many other bouts in his past, that his fists have true knockout power. His Sambo casting is furious and brings the full power of his hips and legs into each crunching punch.
Although Lesnar is the larger man, bristling with muscle, I think Emelianenko's explosive speed and controlling skill would negate any weight advantage Lesnar would have on top.
From previous fights, I would have to again acknowledge Emelianenko as the winner.
1. Mental power
Fighting truly is a mental game, and Lesnar and Emelianenko are polar opposites.
One man is the definition of calm in a sport defined by chaos, while the other is brash, loud, and overbearing.
Where Emelianenko often holds up the hands of his defeated enemies, Lesnar hurls verbal abuse and foams at the mouth after he wins.
I think the mental edge, an element that Emelianenko brings to all his fights, would ultimately be the deciding factor in this clash of titans.
He comes from a reality of humble stoicism, and fought initially to feed his family. Emelianenko aspires to be MMA's greatest ambassador to the world and prove that not all fighters are savage brutes.
Many in the sport have commented on his lack of emotions and concentration inside the ring. Emelianenko's mental concentration is on a level that no other fighter in mixed martial arts has displayed. The ability to shrug off all pain and never show weakness during a fight is a huge bonus in his arsenal.
Lesnar possess great drive to compete and win, but spent many years as a "fake" wrestler, performing scripts and stunts to jeering crowds that care nothing about true combat sports.
Some question his commitment to the sport due to tendency to quit in other areas in the past. This could be debated, but the simple fact is that he has not devoted his entire life to MMA like Emelianenko has.
In short, Lesnar does not posses a diverse enough mixed martial art pedigree, the pure MMA experience, or the mental edge needed to defeat the Last Emperor. Any advantage Lesnar has in size, Emelianenko could negate with his skills and endurance.
Perhaps in five or six years, when Emelianenko is older and Lesnar has some real tests under his belt, things could turn out differently.
As things stand now I see no real advantage for Lesnar against Emelianenko of MMA.
Lesnar is now recovering from an intestinal issue, and his future in the sport is in doubt. Perhaps he will recover and fight again, but will he compete on the same level? Only time will tell.
If I had to call a matchup between these two titanic fighters?
Emelianenko would win by knockout in the second round.
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