Inside Fedor Emelianenko’s Last Fight in MMA

Mixed martial arts is not what it used to be. In its early days, the sport was seen by many as a sideshow by hardliners and relegated to outcasts. For years, MMA was maintained by a passionate and loyal group of fans who mined fight clips from the dirty corners of the internet and watched on low-resolution VHS tapes.

If you knew, you already knew. If you didn’t know, you probably didn’t care. There was something very enjoyable about watching MMA in the 1990s and early years, such as watching a midnight screening of “Eraserhead” or raving about Lee “Scratch” Perry. nice to watch Fedor Emelianenko beat some big, scary guy you thought was impossible to beat.

That may not make sense for those who are just starting to like cage kicks. As MMA has grown into a near-mainstream attraction over the past decade or so, by that time Fedor’s attention has dimmed, and the sport’s audience has grown as well. So it’s reasonable to conclude that newer fans may not understand all of the buzz about Saturday’s Bellator 290 main event, in which Emelianenko will fight for the last time (9 p.m. ET on Monday). CBS, with a prelude at 6 p.m. ET on Bellator and Showtime on YouTube channels).

This is a pivotal moment in MMA history, not simply because Emelianenko challenged the heavyweight champion. Ryan Bader in one of the two title fights that night in Inglewood, California. (Other holes Johnny Eblenundefeated middleweight champion, against Emelianenko’s protégé, Anatoly Tokov.) Fedor still has great appeal, and it’s not about today or anything that’s happened in the past decade. It delves into the sport’s underground past where he rules with an iron fist. That might seem puzzling to those who today look at Emelianenko and see only a quiet, balding 46-year-old man with a stout physique completely unsculpted in granite.

Emelianenko is called “The Last Emperor” by fans, but it would be more appropriate to call him MMA Firstly Emperor. There are other greats who built the sport behind their backs (and fists and chins). Some from those formative years even share Fedor’s worthiness to namesake names – Royce, Tito, Vitor and Randy, to name just a few. But no one has yet possessed the regal aura of the man from Stary Oskol, Russia.

From 2000 to 2010, he fought 33 times and lost once – a questionable doctor’s stop for just 17 seconds in a match in Japan is still a painful memory for those longtime MMA fan. If Emelianenko goes deep in the Ring tournament that night, his next opponent will be Randy’s Fashion. Miss it so much.

But there aren’t too many highlights from Fedor. He fought — and beat — most of the heavyweights of the day. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Mark Coleman. Kevin Randleman. Mirko “Corp” Filipovic. The best of the big boys lined up before Emelianenko, and he took them all down.

And in case you didn’t watch it back then: During his fight, Emelianenko never has the sculpted physique of a muscular man. Same as it was before.

Speaking with Emelianenko on Monday, I asked him which of his 40 wins was his favorite. “First title fight with Nogueira,” he said in Russian through an interpreter, referring to the 2003 match in which he won the Pride heavyweight belt, ending Big’s 14-match unbeaten streak Nog. “I had to activate my fighting IQ and find the key to victory. At the time, he was the best boxer in the world.”

But the results of fighting alone do not paint a vivid picture of Emelianenko. So it all begins with the stoic executioner’s walk, his uncanny death gaze piercing his opponent’s resolve before the first punch is delivered.

And behind this carefree temperament is a deeply reflective presence. Consider Fedor’s reaction when I asked him about the wars that Are not happen. high fashion? Brock Lesnar? Which match did he wish he could play the most during the peak of his career?

“I’m very pleased with how it turned out,” Emelianenko said. “Whatever God gives me, I’m very happy with it. You don’t have to think about things that will never happen. You have to live in the present and be content with what you have.”

His reply came after a long while, making me grateful that we were on a Zoom call. Ten seconds of silence on the phone would make me think our line was down. When I asked Emelianenko about his expectations for Saturday’s game, a rematch of the 35-second Bader victory from four years ago, the silence lasted as long as that first game. On my screen, a stone-faced Fedor was thinking…and thinking…then speaking.



Bader kills Fedor in 35 seconds

Ryan Bader hit Fedor Emelianenko with a left hook to win the Bellator heavyweight belt and the world heavyweight Grand Prix championship.

“Everything that happened last time happened very, very quickly,” he said. “It’s definitely not my way. Of course, I’m not young anymore. [since then]. But I hope, even at 46, I can fight him.”

That modesty may refresh you in a game of trash talk, but it doesn’t give you much peace of mind. MMA doesn’t gently get old stars out the door. Only in the last year have former UFC champions respected Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Frankie Edgar were brutalized in the finals of their careers. So, in case you weren’t upset enough by Bader’s two-punch KO four years ago, here’s the sequel, starring Fedor, whose reflexes have been less than sharp for four years.

But this is the final battle that Emelianenko wants, and he has the right to exit through the door of his choice. And while longtime fans should be ready to cover their eyes right away, wouldn’t it be a sweet comeback if he gave us a glimpse of his old destructive self? We’ll never see General Fedor again, but can he wreak havoc?

Emelianenko has won 4 of the past 5 matches, all with knock-out knockouts in the first round against such lackluster stars as Frank Mir, Chael Sonnen and a round mound “Rage” Jackson. Is it possible that Bader will join that shock club? Sure, it is. He’s also aged over four years since the first Fedor battle. Bader is just a few months away from turning 40 and could fade like other late-career Emelianenko conquests.

If Fedor does the unbelievable this weekend, don’t expect him to cancel his retirement plans. “It doesn’t matter what happens on Saturday – I’ll get the job done,” he said. “I hope that soon enough, Valentin Moldavsky will become the heavyweight champion.” Moldavsky, another of Emelianenko’s students, challenged Bader a year ago and lost by a tight decision.

As for the record, Emelianenko admits that even a stunning win at Bellator 290 won’t make him retire as the world’s No. When I flipped through a list of names and asked who was the best heavyweight on the planet, it was the only time in our conversation that Fedor didn’t stop to reflect. “[Francis] Ngannou,” he replied immediately, this time without a Russian interpreter.

Of course, with any MMA retirement, there’s no guarantee that it’s really the end. Emelianenko has been here before – back in 2011, the night he beat the former UFC title contender Pedro Rizzo in Saint-Peterburg, Russia. After receiving a congratulatory handshake from President Vladimir Putin, Emelianenko announced his retirement. “My family influenced my decision,” he told a Russian media outlet. “My daughters are growing up without me. That’s why it’s time to leave.”

But three years later, Emelianenko returned to combat.

I asked him how his family reacted to it.

“I was able to get them involved,” he says with a smile (after a moment of silence, of course).

Will he talk to his family about another comeback somewhere down the road?

“No,” said Emelianenko without hesitation. Then, after thinking for a while, he further explained, “I’m 46 years old and the longer I’ve been doing this, the more my past injuries remind me. [of that]. And my wife, from war to war, she said, ‘Listen, you have to stop that, keep yourself to your family.'”

When asked about his plans for the future, Emelianenko talked about training professional fighters on his team and working with Russian kids just starting out in MMA. But his eyes lit up as he recounted the conversation with his family.

“Now we’ll have time together,” he said. “When I don’t have to practice, we go for a walk. When my kids are young and it’s nap time, I’ll stay with them. At night, I too, read bedtime stories. This is the time. happiest for me.

“Family comes first. They’ve been waiting for me for a long time.”


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