The Bellator heavyweight grand prix has its first semifinal set with Fedor Emelianenko stamping his ticket to the next round with a first-round knockout win over Frank Mir to close out Bellator 198 from Allstate Arena outside of Chicago.
Mir wasted little time in becoming the aggressor in the fight. He opened up looking to back Emelianenko against the fence and scored an early knockdown but found that he bit off more than he could chew. After fighting Mir off the fence one time, the Russian was prepared for an aggressive Mir to come in.
With Mir lunging at him, Emelianenko was able to slide in a quick left-hand counter that sent Mir crumbling to the canvas and giving "The Last Emperor" a stunning first-round victory.
It was a surprisingly fast-paced fight for the two aging veterans. Ben Fowlkes of MMAjunkie gave the fight credit for more exciting than expected:
Anton Tabuena voiced what several fans had to be thinking: Even though it's just a glimpse, it was nice to see a vintage performance from Fedor who used to be the best heavyweight in the world:
Mookie Alexander of Bloody Elbow may have given "The Last Emperor" an updated nickname for the occasion while responding like many who watched the fight:
Of course, the big win for Bellator is that they get to book a legend in Fedor against Chael Sonnen and his fight promotion abilities. It's a matchup that should be fun if your suspension of disbelief skills are sharp enough.
The win not only sets up Fedor with a fight against Chael Sonnen in the semifinal of the tournament but marks the first time he's had his hand raised in the cage since June 2016 when he defeated Fabio Maldonado via decision.
Emelianenko isn't what he used to be, but the fact that he can still find ways to beat the likes of Mir is a testament to the abilities he once possessed. Emelianenko made his case for being one of the greatest of all time with a 31-1 stretch over a decade of his career, but now he's fighting about once a year and simply trying to bring recognition to his home country.
"The main thing for me is that I would like be remembered by fans not as a fighter, but as a person—as a Russian Orthodox person," Emelianenko said, per Matt Erickson of MMAjunkie. "I don't think about what I haven't done yet. Certainly, I'd love to win the tournament, because that will add to the prestige of my country."
The loss isn't a great harbinger for the rest of Mir's career. The former UFC champion was coming off a two-year suspension because of a USADA doping violation, but it wasn't as though he was winning fights before the time off. He's now 2-7 in his last nine fights.
It's a steep decline for a fighter who was once one of the most skilled submission artists in the heavyweight division.
Now Emelianenko will have to switch his focus to former UFC title contender Sonnen. The West Linn, Oregon, native is fighting up from his usual middleweight or light heavyweight division and advanced to the second round via a decision win over Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
A matchup against the trash-talking former middleweight title challenger would have been unfathomable even five years ago, but it's a fitting matchup for what has been an interesting tournament for the Bellator heavyweight championship.