At this point, Emelianenko's management has said that his fighting career will continue. But if it does end in the near future, Emelianenko's legacy may be at stake.
Before I get into the discussion of why Emelianenko's legacy may be at stake, let me mention the obligatory caveats and disclaimers: What I'm about to say doesn't mean that Emelianenko is a coward, or that I don't think Fedor is a great fighter, arguably the greatest ever.
I've included a more in-depth explanation of my disclaimers below, and I'm considering pasting them onto every Fedor article I write in the future to save myself from hours of angry comment responses.
And now, without further ado, why Fedor's legacy is on the line.
Why Fedor's Legacy Is On The Line
Those who have been following Fedor Emelianenko's career since the beginning know he may go down as arguably the greatest MMA fighter in history.
He's beaten a plethora of former UFC champions and has compiled an unmatched résumé. Still, for as great as his career has been in a present-day sense, the truth is that if he retires now, he'll be missing out on the explosion of the sport's popularity.
Pride FC officially became defunct on Oct. 4, 2007.
Even before that time, Emelianenko's last few fights in Pride were against less-than-stellar opposition.
The last truly great and relevant fight for Emelianenko took place against Mirko Cro Cop at Pride Final Conflict 2005.
To give you a little perspective, that fight took place only a few months after the famous bout between Forrest Griffin and Stephen Bonnar on The Ultimate Fighter.
Since that time, the sport has truly exploded, both in terms of fan interest, and in terms of competition. Not only because there is more money in the sport now, but also because the top fighters today are simply better than the top fighters of five years ago.
It was less than four years ago that Diego Sanchez was considered a welterweight title threat.
Today, Sanchez has probably actually improved as a fighter, but has fallen back down the ladder as a result of the improvement of the division.
The heavyweight division is no different.
Guys like Shane Carwin, Junior Dos Santos, Brock Lesnar, and Cain Velasquez have shown so much promise in the early stages of their careers that I feel confident saying they're all simply going to be better than the guys who were UFC contenders five years ago.
If Fedor retires now, he may have beaten the best fighters of his time, but that will hardly matter to those who look at the current heavyweight crop and think that Fedor wouldn't match up well against them.
More than that, because of the increased popularity of the sport, the majority of today's fans, and to a lesser extent today's media members, are so new to the sport that they never got a real sense of the gravity of Fedor's past accomplishments.
To the modern MMA fan, Fedor's wins over Minotauro Nogueira and Mirko Cro Cop don't seem as important or ground breaking as Brock Lesnar's win over Frank Mir at UFC 100.
Of course, this doesn't mean that people will discount Emelianenko entirely. But if he retires before proving himself against the new crop of UFC heavyweights, his presumed legacy as the greatest fighter in MMA history will not stand the test of time.
... And now for the angry-comment-averting disclaimers.
If Fedor Retires, That Doesn't Mean He's a Coward
I cannot stress this fact enough.
Whenever talk about Fedor's apparent disinterest in fighting for the UFC arises, some fan, fighter, or media person is going to start saying that Emelianenko is a coward for not fighting the top competition in the UFC.
That kind of thinking might make sense for some fighters, but not Emelianenko.
The thing that people don't understand about Emelianenko is that as much as he is a competitive person, he's not out fighting to secure a legacy.
He's said in interviews before that he sees himself as a sportsman, and although he enjoys the competition, he doesn't fight for a legacy.
Instead, he fights for the enjoyment of fighting, and to provide for his future.
Whenever we think of great athletes, we like to think that they're aspiring towards something that we as fans see as being great. But the truth is that Emelianenko's aspirations are not unlike those of everyday people.
He just happens to be extremely talented, and although his ambitions may not be as holy as we might want to imagine, it's clear that he's able to drive himself forward unbelievably with the motivations that he has.
All of that being said, while we shouldn't call Emelianenko a coward if he does retire rather than testing himself against the competition of the UFC, I do look at his motivations and see that because he isn't concerned about his legacy, a retirement does seem more likely.
Emelianenko Is a Great Fighter
Emelianenko's fan base is so rabid that I can hardly publish two sentences about Shane Carwin without Fedor fans complaining about why I didn't spend more time praising Fedor, and how he would armbar Carwin in a minute or less.
Yet as overzealous as Fedor's fans may be at times, they have a point.
Emelianenko is a great fighter, and has possibly achieved more than any other fighter to this day.
No other fighter has fought as long as Fedor has against good competition and maintained an undefeated record.
As I watched promotional videos regarding Fedor, I saw pundits and experts fawning over his skill set, remarking that he's amazing at every single discipline. But as skilled as Emelianenko is, I think they've missed the boat as to what makes Fedor so good.
Fedor may be a world champion Sambo fighter, but aside from that, I truly don't believe that Fedor is the greatest in any single area of fighting.
He's not the best wrestler, he's not the best submission grappler, and he's definitely not the best striker.
Yet Emelianenko is good enough at wrestling to make sure he stays out of trouble against the good grapplers like Fabricio Werdum and Minotauro Nogueira.
He can also use his wrestling to take the fight to the ground when he's facing most strikers.
He's good enough of a striker and submission grappler that if people can wrestle against him, he can threaten most of these guys on their feet and on the ground.
In total, it's the well-roundedness, more than the complete invulnerability of his skill set, that makes him so good.
Aside from that, the most important aspect of Emelianenko is his mental strength.
Emelianenko may have the greatest mental strength out of any competitor in MMA. Nobody can put him into a position where he is mentally defeated, and they'll need to knock him out or submit him outright in order to stop his onslaught.
In the area of mental strength, Emelianenko is the greatest, bar none.
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