MMA Global: Is Fedor Emelianenko Still Relevant in the Heavyweight Division?

Christopher HuertaContributor IIIDecember 14, 2011

Fedor at the peak of his career
Fedor at the peak of his careerTomokazu Tazawa/Getty Images

Remember when it was debated whether former Pride heavyweight champion and MMA star Fedor Emelianenko was considered the No. 1 fighter in the world? 

Remember his aura of invincibility, his untarnished record and over decade-long streak of never losing a fight? 

Well, most MMA fans don't.  That's because in less than 18 months, "The Last Emperor" went from world-beater to MMA also-ran.  Even sadder is that it took so little time to make a great, legendary fighter so irrelevant in the sport he once dominated.

For those wondering who Fedor is, let us review his body of work by dividing it into three-year segments. 


He entered the world of MMA as a highly regarded Judo and Sambo fighter, one who medaled on the world stages. 

His reputation rose from a little-known Russian fighter to feared Soviet crusher in less than three years, dominating top heavyweights Heath Herring and Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera on his way to winning the PRIDE heavyweight title. 


Fedor never looked back, defeating the likes of Mirko Cro Cop, Kevin Randleman, Mark Coleman (twice) and "Big Nog," again—all of them while his opponents were in their prime. 

He fought in front of some of the biggest crowds in Japanese history, raising many to question if he could ever be stopped. 

Now with all Japanese MMA records there was a little padding going on as well, with Fedor not always fighting the best in the world.  But, it cannot be denied that when PRIDE fell in 2006, he had earned the single-name status much like Tiger had in golf. 


In the waning years of his prime, Fedor, with the help of his "partners" at M-1 Global, became a sideshow attraction.  Twice, they failed to come to terms with the premiere MMA organization in the world, the UFC, instead opting to fight fighters too big (Hong-Man Choi) or small (Matt Lindland) for his weight class. 

He does get credit for fighting former UFC champions, even if it was for a hollow WAMMA title.

Fedor finally agreed to a three-fight deal with up-and-coming Strikeforce, winning his first fight in the organization against future alleged-felon Brett Rogers by second-round TKO.


Entering his second Strikeforce battle against UFC sendoff Fabricio Werdum,  Fedor was being debated as the greatest MMA fighter in history. 

In a fight seen as a foregone conclusion before he fought Allstair Overeem for the Strikeforce heavyweight title, Emelianenko was shockingly tapped out after falling victim to Werdum's world-class BJJ guard. 

Seven months later in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, the loss proved to be no fluke, as dangerous journeyman Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva dominated Fedor, causing so much damage that the fight was called after just two rounds.  

People wondered if Fedor was done, whether the game had passed him.  But, Strikeforce still believed in its investment, deciding to put him up against light heavyweight champion Dan Henderson in a catchweight bout. 

Henderson, an MMA legend in his own right, was hurt early in the fight. However, he swept Emelianenko in a bad position, then scrambled his mind with a perfectly placed uppercut to the jaw. 

And with that, it was over, even before referee Herb Dean stepped in.  It was over for Fedor; his status as a feared MMA fighter was done. 

After the fight, he spoke of retirement, but at just 34 years old, his handlers at M-1 Global felt that he could still be a box office draw and pushed him to keep fighting. 

Just a few weeks ago, "The Last Emperor" fought Jeff Monson to a decision victory, defeating a fighter whose best win was over Roy Nelson nearly 30 months before. 

His future path is simple: M-1 Global will continue to run Fedor out there over the next few years against fringe fighters looking for one last check that are just good enough to appear to be a credible opponent. 

Sadly, Mr. Emelianenko is no longer a relevant part of the MMA scene.  He's not a Top 10 heavyweight, is past his prime, has been stopped in the first round in two of his last three fights and is absent of a huge win since 2005 when he fought Cro Cop.

What has become increasingly clear is that Fedor has gone the way of fellow MMA legends Matt Hughes and Tito Ortiz; they couldn't keep up with the rapid development of the sport of mixed martial arts. 

The game has passed them by, and once that happens, there is no way to get that time and skill back. 

This emperor took his last stand and lost to bigger, faster, stronger and just plain better fighters.


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