Saturday night will mark the return of mixed martial arts' Last Emperor to American soil, as legendary heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko makes his Bellator debut against Matt Mitrione in San Jose, California.
Emelianenko, a winner of five straight that was punctuated by a three-year retirement hiatus, hasn't fought in the US since a 2011 stoppage loss to Dan Henderson under the Strikeforce banner. In that time, there's been plenty of change in America and abroad, not the least of which is the reign of newly minted US President Donald Trump.
Trump, a vocal advocate of friendlier ties between his nation and Emelianenko's native Russia, is predictably a fan of the superstar. Emelianenko's former manager, Vadim Finkelstein, told RT Sport as much in a recent interview:
"I remember [Trump] as a confident man and a decent businessman," he said. "He said some nice words about working with us, as well. He said that MMA is the fastest developing sport and that it has a great future."
Finkelstein went on to note Trump's fandom more directly, claiming he knew "for a fact" that the President would cheer on Emelianenko in his bouts.
"He was really happy when Fedor beat [Andrei] Arlovski despite the fact that Arlovski was technically representing America in the fight, as he speaks good English already and had a solid fan base in the States."
In talking about Trump as a leader, Finkelstein intimated: "I don't know what kind of president Trump will be though, but I hope for a better relationship between [Russia and the US]. Both countries can achieve more conducting a peaceful business rather than having this Cold War that everybody is tired of. We don't Americans to worry about coming [to Russia] and vice versa. We don't want to worry about going to the States."
Shifting back to MMA, he said the upcoming bout with Mitrione is a "hard fight [with] a serious opponent" for Emelianenko and is a "very good move for Bellator."
Bellator 172 goes down live on Spike TV, February 18 at 9pm EST.