Bellator MMA has carved its own unique niche in the world of combat sports.
While it does have several young, top-tier fighters such as Rory MacDonald, Bellator's bread-and-butter is the freak-show fight. The carnival. The fights you wanted to see 10 (or even 20) years ago. The big names of yesteryear, from the glory days of mixed martial arts when so many fans discovered the sport in the first place.
Bellator President Scott Coker has used the same formula throughout his promotional career, opting to go for the fights that bring maximum exposure. Never mind that the fighters involved are often past their expiration date (Ken Shamrock, Royce Gracie), or that they've barely fought professionally before (Dada 5000). The actual fights are mostly irrelevant; it's the build that counts.
And there is every reason to believe the result would have been the same a decade ago.
Emelianenko capitalized on a strangely wild and flailing Mir, knocking him face-first to the canvas with a crushing left uppercut. At that point, it was all but over; it's the same position so many of Emelianenko's foes have found themselves in over the years, shortly before he turns out the lights and ends fights. Emelianenko did the same thing yet again, swarming Mir with ferocious ground-and-pound before the referee pulled him off the unconscious Mir roughly 90 seconds into the fight.
Fedor, slightly doughier than he's ever been, retained almost all of the quickness and all of the power that made him such a force to be reckoned with. From his entrance to the finish, everything about the performance was vintage Fedor. His deft hip toss of the much larger Mir brought back memories of Fedor's days as a world-class Sambo athlete; it was also the moment that doubt appeared to creep into Mir's eyes. And with good reason, it turned out.
Emelianenko was once considered unbeatable. During his tenure in the PRIDE organization, Emelianenko was literally unbeatable, running through the best heavyweight division the sport has ever seen like a hot knife through butter. His stoic visage and physical ferocity in the ring helped created an aura that surrounded him wherever he went. When I saw him fight in person for the first time, back in November 2009, the entire Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, fell into a hush when he made his entrance. Some of the most popular fighters in the world were standing on their chairs, phones held aloft, desperately seeking to get a photo of the greatest fighter in the world.
But ever since his June 2010 loss to Fabricio Werdum—one of the most shocking moments in MMA history—Emelianenko has been decidedly human. Saturday night, he turned back the hands of time.
With the win, Emelianenko moves on to face Chael Sonnen, the loudmouthed former UFC middleweight contender who used his verbal skills and a grinding fight style to work his way into a legendary feud with Anderson Silva. True to form, Sonnen was brought into the Bellator cage to face off with Emelianenko and proceeded to cut a fantastic promo.
"The only thing I hate more than being in this cage in Chicago is standing in here with you," Sonnen told Fedor. "And I assure you, the next time it happens, it will not be for long."
Sonnen cuts a fantastic heel promo, as always. But if it's this version of Fedor that Sonnen finds himself across the cage from in the future, he might be correct in saying that it won't be for long; unfortunately, he might be the one staring up from the canvas as Emelianenko celebrates yet another victory in a hallmark career filled with them.