On Saturday, Fedor "The Last Emperor" Emelianenko and his considerable star power will help Strikeforce kick off its World Grand Prix Heavyweight Tournament in beautiful East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva—that's Antonio "Big Foot" Silva for the uninitiated—will be the first step toward sorting out the morass atop the organization's 265-pounders. Some argue the merits of Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion Alistair "Demolition Man" Overeem. Others point to the man who handed the Fedor his first real defeat, Fabricio "Vai Cavalo" Werdum as the real bopper to beat.
And there are always those pesky wild cards.
Sergei Kharitonov might be slated for his Strikeforce debut this weekend, but the Russian is a grizzled veteran of mixed martial arts with wins over both Overeem and Werdum. Additionally, Josh Barnett might figure in the equation if he can pass enough drug tests.
Not to mention the dark horses and reserves who'll also be waiting in the wings should the favorites stumble.
Despite all the uncertainty and what-ifs, the biggest question has to be the one looming over the Russian Experiment.
Ever since the modern evolution of MMA started in earnest with the emergence of the Ultimate Fighting Championship from its dark ages, the new school has been casting doubt on Emelianenko and his prior accomplishments. To be fair, it had an argument—while the UFC heavyweight waters got deeper and deeper, Fedor was conspicuous in his absence.
Instead the once-undisputed pound-for-pound king toiled around the edges in freak show fights or matched against wilting warriors in the twilight of relevancy.
But then Strikeforce embraced Fedor and its own heavyweight division began to develop. Now, he's got real challengers in front of him, and it's time to see if the Last Emperor is still fit for the throne.
As a primer for Emelianenko's fateful run—and a reminder for all his doubters—here are his 10 best submissions of all time.
This is the one that started it all.
Fedor Emelianenko needed 144 seconds in his pro debut to secure the stoppage via guillotine over Martin Lazarov. You can see the trademark calm as the heavyweight all-timer spends a good deal of the bout on his back. You can also see he was dangerous in that position from the very get-go.
Probably doesn't score too many points for artistry or degree of difficulty, but you must pay respect to the first words of any legend.
The Russian Experiment is right up there with B.J. "The Prodigy" Penn and Royce "My Name Is Its Own Nickname" Gracie as one of my favorite mixed martial artists of all time, but Fedor's tale cannot be told without at least mentioning the freak show fight.
Some weren't his fault since novelty acts were part and parcel of Japanese promotions (including Pride) even in their heyday. Emelianenko was simply following orders and playing the game.
Such was the case when he faced Wagner da Conceicao Martins, more commonly known as Zuluzinho.
It looks odd on paper, but the 450-pound (and that's being charitable) with legitimate Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and vale tudo skills was brought in by the brass to be spectacular cannon fodder against Fedor. Undefeated or not, that's precisely what he was.
The Brazilian monster submitted after only 26 seconds and who can blame him after watching that hellacious barrage of strikes from Emelianenko?
Here's an example of the other so-called stain on the Russian's resume—the demolition of former champions who've only a faint memory of their primes.
I was never too big a fan of Tim "The Maine-iac" Sylvia even when he was at his peak, but that was largely due to his ridiculous handle.
The Maine-iac? Really?
Regardless, the 6'8" monster wore the UFC Heavyweight belt and defended it twice before getting punked by an aging Randy Couture at UFC 68. Furthermore, he's one tough son of a gun—nobody can reasonably challenge that after he tried to convince the ref he could keep fighting despite an arm that we all saw Frank Mir break (as in, you could clearly see his forearm snap).
And let's not forget this was Sylvia's first contest since catching the UFC boot i.e. he hadn't devolved into the oddity he currently is.
Nevertheless, the Maine-iac only survived 10 seconds longer than Zuluzinho, submitting to Fedor's rear-naked choke after only 36 seconds.
Matt "The Law" Lindland is one of the more underrated athletes to ever grace the cage.
The American won freestyle wrestling silver at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney and owns notable MMA victories over such names as Carlos Newton, Jeremy Horn, Travis Lutter, Phil Baroni (twice) and Pat Miletich and Ricardo Almeida.
He's also lost to some of the best the sport has to offer in Vitor Belfort, Quinton Jackson and Emelianenko.
Is he a true 265-pounder?
Nope, but then the Last Emperor has always been a small heavyweight at 6'0" and 230 pounds. In fact, you can watch the clip and see the Law hoist Fedor off the ground with relative ease in the beginning of the scrap. You can also see other common elements of the Last Emperor's fights—smooth transitions from one facet to the next and a bleeding Russian.
Oh, and of course, Emelianenko in victory thanks to an armbar.
Our first bump in competition is New Zealand's Mark "Super Samoan" Hunt.
Also known in some circles as the Doctor, the big fella is more dangerous as a striker because of his successful stint in K-1 kickboxing. Toss in his unsteady career in MMA and maybe Fedor's submission loses a bit of luster on paper.
Nevertheless, check the video.
Hunt was in his prime and gave the Russian Experiment all he could handle until gassing out in the 10-minute Pride first round. Very few opponents have ever extricated themselves from a deep Fedor armbar and even fewer have used such a maneuver to actually reverse positions on Emelianenko.
Yet, Super Somoan did both and had his adversary in a peck o' trouble at various times. Not too many opponents escaped such context.
Just ask Mirko Filipovic or Wanderlei Silva.
Alas, Fedor Emelianenko is neither Cro Cop nor the Axe Murderer which is why it shouldn't come as a surprise that he perseveres and eventually wins by kimura.
Some will argue we're taking a step back down the competitive ladder to visit with Noaya "Hulk Ogan" Ogawa, but those people will be countered by the Japanese product's supporters. Those will point to his silver medal in judo from the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona as well as various other international judo decorations as proof of his ring-worthines.
In truth, the debate doesn't really matter because this bad boy makes the list independently of quality considerations.
That's because Ogawa makes the unwise error in judgment of refusing to touch gloves with Emelianenko before the tussle.
The Last Emperor doesn't ask for much, but it would appear respect makes the short list.
At least, that's what it looks like based on the 54 seconds of carnage that ensue, culminating in—you guessed it—the obligatory armbar.
Haven't seen too many deep thinkers refuse to touch with Fedor since then.
Kazuyuki "Ironhead" Fujita is infamous for two reasons in MMA circles—for absorbing inhuman amounts of punishment and for losing to anyone worth their salt in the sport (he's like a Japanese Wesley "Cabbage" Correira). He's shown a tremendous heart and skull against the likes of Fedor, Wanderlei Silva, Alistair Overeem, Mirko Filipovic and Mark Coleman.
Meanwhile, he's dispatched the Bob Sapps and James Thompsons of the world. Though it should also be noted he owns victories over Ken Shamrock and Gilbert Yvel before either fell of the career cliff.
Consequently, it's a good reference for irony that Ironhead is the only gladiator I've ever seen really hurt Emelianenko.
The Last Emperor cuts easily and has been tagged by power shots on multiple occasions, but never before or since has he been stuck on Queer Street like he was against Fujita.
Skip forward to about the 3:50 mark of the video above and you'll see an ENORMOUS right hook land square on Emelianenko's grill. He does the drunken stumble with Gumby legs for the next few seconds as he weathers a blood-thirsty rush from Ironhead.
Then, the Japanese brawler shows why he struggled with elite competition by taking the Russian to the ground.
Fedor recovers enough to scramble back to his feet, find his lethal range and finish the matter via rear-naked choke less than two minutes after being out on his feet.
And he still looks a little lost even after the stoppage.
This is the second meeting between two of the most-decorated heavyweights the sport has seen in its young history, and it shook down much like the original.
Usually, that'd be good for a higher ranking.
After all, it's gotta be tougher to beat an elite competitor like Mark "The Hammer" Coleman in basically the same fashion for a second consecutive time.
For those who did a double-take at that sentence, let me head you off at the pass—the Hammer was still elite back then.
True, he wasn't the same guy who wore the UFC hardware, but he was still an insurmountable challenge for anyone but the serious gunners. In the six years preceding this bout, he'd only lost to Emelianenko, Mirko Filipovic and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira while beating Mauricio Rua, Don Frye, Igor Vovchanchyn, Allan Goes and Kazuyuki Fujita.
Coleman's capacity for excellence notwithstanding, the contest loses points on a "greatest submissions" ranking because it was actually a better display of striking and takedown defense.
It's no exaggeration to say the Last Emperor dominated a totally one-sided fight. For 11:15, Coleman either got abused on his feet and on the ground or got stuffed in a futile attempt to drag the pleasantries to the ground.
And when he finally secured that elusive takedown?
Armbar, tap and rematch over.
The original bout between Fedor Emelianenko and Mark Coleman features what is probably the Last Emperor's best submission if you only take into account the caliber of opponent and its artistry.
Again, don't mistake the current Hammer who UFC fans have come to know and dismiss for the beast he was at the pinnacle of an illustrious career.
And the UFC Hall of Famer was at or near said pinnacle for this tussle.
He was 13-5 at the time, coming off a decisive (though uninspiring) unanimous decision over Don Frye and only his loss to Minotauro stained a run of seven wins in eight matches. That streak netted him the Pride Openweight Grand Prix in 2000 and re-introduced the Hammer as a player on the MMA landscape (a four-fight losing jag in the late 1990s had all but removed him).
Then he faced the Russian Experiment; he was even controlling the matter for a good 80 seconds.
From there, however, it was all downhill.
But what a lovely hill if you were in Fedor's corner as the full arsenal was on display—his calm, his resiliency, the effective striking from any/all angles, three sleek transitions between from striking to submission or vice versa, his balance and the coup de grace via meticulous armbar.
So you know No. 1 has to be special...
Anyone remotely familiar with Fedor Emelianenko knows precisely why the submission of Kevin "The Monster" Randleman gets top billing.
It's not because Randleman is the most devastating adversary who the Russian has ever submitted, though the Monster was an intimidating foe in his time. It's not because the kimura Fedor uses to stop his opponent is such a thing of beauty, though the maneuver was quite nice.
It's because of the suplex about 45 seconds into the fight.
Nobody should be able to do absorb such hostility. Nobody...except maybe Chuck Norris.
I know the experts (real and imagined) will tell you the Last Emperor took the slam exactly how you're instructed, that it was a textbook case of tucking your chin to your chest and blah, blah, blah, blah. That's missing the point, which is not that wearing a similar suplex and living to fight about it is technically impossible.
The point is that, for 99.9 percent of mortals, surviving such a bomb absolutely IS impossible in reality.
Of course, the stoic Russian barely seems to notice.
Only 45 seconds later, the kimura is in place, and the Monster taps.
When you consider what that span of 60 seconds that culminates in the submission says about Fedor Emelianenko, there is none better.