In the wee hours of this Sunday morning—6 am my time—former Pride heavyweight champion and phenomenon Fedor Emelianenko picked apart challenger Jeff Monson for three rounds on the other side of the planet in Moscow, Russia. I suppose life goes on for Fedor after his downward spiraling exit from Strikeforce.
The Russian has a bright future of laying golden eggs for M-1 Global, getting overworked and competing against handpicked opponents who are either way past their prime or simply outmatched. What a difference two years makes.
After competing in over 50 professional matches and losing a lopsided unanimous decision at M-1 Global, Fedor vs. Monson, 40-year-old Monson has no business fighting in mixed martial arts anymore. He clearly had nothing left: barely throwing any strikes, failing to set up takedowns and forgetting how to check leg kicks.
Ironically, Monson currently holds four heavyweight titles for minor league promotions: International Sport Karate Association, Strength and Honor Championship, Cage Warriors and Sprawl N Brawl. To Monson’s credit, he sports a MMA record of 43-13 and has a decorated list of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and grappling accomplishments, winning gold twice at the ADCC World Submission Wrestling Championships.
All these past and current achievements were virtually irrelevant after this last MMA performance. Monson looked horrible for all three rounds. What does that say about pound-for-pound heavyweight legend Fedor’s efforts in Moscow?
Consequently, when analyzing Fedor’s effectiveness at this stage in of his career, people must take the quality of opponents into account. It’s hard to commit to the idea that he has regained his former indestructible status, considering he was fighting a washed up veteran who had no interest in actually competing after the first couple of minutes of the fight.
Either way, there were certainly some positives to take away from Fedor’s performance. Will we see a stateside resurgence anytime soon? Probably not, but the 35-year-old still has enough tools to be dangerous to any level of opponent after watching how he revamped his approach, in a more strategic sense, against Monson. If he continues to fight like that, he could build some momentum to end the rest of career on a high(er) note.
After coming off his only losing streak—against Fabricio Werdum, Antonio Silva and Dan Henderson—Fedor or his coaches have seemed to learn a vital lesson. Those three straight losses were mainly due to Fedor’s impatient, borderline reckless pace he set against high caliber guys. It appeared as if he had complete disregard for his opponents’ strengths: Werdum’s submissions, Silva’s size and power and Henderson's striking.
On the contrary, Fedor was anything but reckless against Monson. Strategically, he fought a very smart fight, reflecting a very conservative game plan that could have been devised for a much more dangerous foe. He kept his distance and the fight standing to nullify Monson’s strengths in grappling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu to a tee.
In addition, Fedor destroyed Monson’s lead leg with thunderous outside kicks, rendering him even slower and unable to effectively shoot for takedowns. As a result, Monson became nearly stationary, allowing Fedor some target practice for his already accurate hands—which are surprisingly still pretty fast.
Monson also found his way to the mat numerous times throughout each round and each time Fedor wanted nothing to do with the ground, allowing his opponent to return to his feet nearly every time.
Despite the dominant decision, it was slightly unnerving that Fedor couldn’t put away the inferior Monson, but that probably had more to do with his overly reserved game plan than anything else.
The Russian’s fighting future is completely in the hands of M-1 Global, as it always has been. Unfortunately, with all the serious heavyweight talent already in the UFC, or on their way to the UFC, the once great undisputed champion will more than likely finish out his legendary career annihilating lesser foes, so M-1 Global can protect their most important investment.
It’s anybody’s guess whether The Last Emperor will ever find his way back into heavyweight relevancy or if he’ll slowly fade away in the Russian sunset, marking the end of his memorable chapter in the sport's sacred scriptures.
Regardless, the overshadowing question mark will remain until his last stance: how would have the iconic heavyweight fared in the depths of the UFC’s Octagon? For my money, it’s a question that will go unanswered forever.