If you're an aficionado of mixed martial arts, you know there are plenty of enigmatic fighters peopling the sports' current landscape.
There are the big fish like Brock Lesnar, Anderson "The Spider" Silva, and B.J. "The Prodigy" Penn.
The first is an athletic freak and a behemoth to boot, but the professional-wrestler-turned-heavyweight-champion is coming back from illness to a resume still in its infancy. The latter two are pound-for-pound brilliance, but Silva's been a bit loco in his last several fights while Baby J has battled consistency all his career.
At the moment, it's tough to say definitively what each gladiator's legacy should and will be.
Consequently, all three inspire vicious polarization amongst the MMA fanbase.
Additionally, there are the comparably minor league mysteries represented by Paul "Semtex" Daley, Josh "Kos" Koscheck, Nick Diaz, Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal, Roy "Big Country" Nelson, and the list goes on.
Either by personality, antics, or some factor completely beyond the individual's control, these men (some are actually kids) can quickly transform a message board into a venomous cauldron of profanity and assaults on cyber-mothers.
Nevertheless, the most divisive warrior on the planet has yet to be mentioned. Ironically, he is one of the sport's most gracious, most respectful, and softest spoken icons. He is the Last Emperor.
He is Fedor Emelianenko.
Also known as the Russian Experiment, this brute is either the most dangerous humanoid that ever existed or he's a never-was who is ducking any sincere charge at his faux-throne.
It depends on who you ask and whether you acknowledge that the Japan's Pride Fighting Championships was once the premier organization for MMA talent.
Well, get ready for a fresh round of debate in the wake of Alistair "Demolition Man" Overeem's thumping of Fedor's last opponent, Brett "The Grim" Rogers.
The Dutch Strikeforce heavyweight champion tossed the Grim around like a rag doll before overwhelming him on the ground. By contrast, Rogers was able to effectively strike with the Last Emperor for an entire round before the smaller fighter obliterated Brett's face and rattled his brain .
So, by the oh-so-reliable law of athletic transitivity, the Demolition Man is suddenly on par with Fedor.
Except that he's not.
Neither a single fight nor an extended absence from elite competition erases an entire body of work. Not completely.
I watched many of those Pride fights—Fedor's and otherwise—and I firmly believe it was the pinnacle of combat until the Ultimate Fighting Championship re-established its dominance circa 2005.
It follows, then, that I also believe Fedor Emelianenko is the genuine article—a truly terrifying force of nature and as close to unbeatable as MMA will ever see. I am a loyalist if you want to be charitable, a fanboy if you opt for the other end of the spectrum (incidentally "fanboy" is one of the dumbest jumble of letters ever adopted by the sporting world, along with "hater" and "don't sleep on _____").
However, even I can't deny his recent lack of top-flight adversaries casts a shadow of doubt over the Last Emperor's place amongst contemporary top 10 heavyweights.
The evolution of the UFC's biggest brawlers—notably Lesnar, Shane Carwin, Cain Velasquez, and Junior "Cigano" dos Santos—deepens the hue of that shadow.
Again, though, the 33-year-old native of the Ukraine is not some newbie flash-in-the-pan.
At one point, he dominated the best and the brightest of the sport—titans of the industry like Antonio "Minotauro" Rodrigo Nogueira in his prime (twice), Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, Mark "The Hammer" Coleman closer to his glory days (twice), and Heath "The Texas Crazy Horse" Herring (who I wouldn't include except Herring has suddenly become an impressive HW in the wake of his loss to Lesnar).
The Russian Experiment has also collected the scalps of Mark Hunt and Kevin "The Monster" Randleman when both were legit.
Furthermore, most of these "battles" were hardly that. Instead, they were slaughters authored by Fedor.
The ones that were serious wars arguably changed the vanquished fighter's future permanently and for the worse.
Many will tell you once-proud champions like Big Nog and Cro Cop have never been the same after standing toe-to-toe with the Russian to disastrous results. In fact, you could argue Overeem had such an easy time with Rogers because the latter was noticeably more gun shy after getting KO'd savagely in his last trip to the cage.
By the Last Emperor.
True, the Sambo specialist hasn't fought anyone of note in years and his next bout against Fabricio "Vai Cavalo" Werdum doesn't totally change the trend (although it is a step in the right direction).
It's a fair and accurate criticism.
But it's not a trump card; it doesn't mean his championship days never happened.
It doesn't even mean they are necessarily behind him—the lay-off only creates room for skepticism where before there was none.
And that, in itself, is the strongest evidence of Fedor Emelianenko's greatness.
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