The Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. For years now Fedor Emelianenko has paraded through the streets of the MMA world as if nothing is wrong, perceived as the lone searcher of someone suitable, a mythical warrior contemplating a chosen one to tussle with his highness of the sport.
After being stripped of his prowess, exposed for a second straight defeat, it is time to point out the bare truth: Fedor has been pampered. Ironically this true tough man from a lonely Russian outpost has been too guarded by those around him and it is glaring.
Strategically choosing opponents, marketed perfectly to mask flaws in his game and reliant on the undying reverence of his fans and media since winning the Pride Heavyweight Championship in 2003 over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and taking their Heavyweight Grand Prix the next year, a real course for a real champ was only a facade as it has unfolded.
M-1 Global protected him better, or worse, than Colonel Tom Parker did Elvis, sheltering him from reality with match ups against Mark Hunt, Mark Coleman, Matt Lindland–all quality fighters– but not the UFC caliber that the times called for such a great champion to engage. For them, coming to America was an Eddie Murphy movie, not recognition of where the rest of the best fighters in the world had landed. They eventually made it, on their terms of course.
In the meantime instead of getting a deal done to fight Randy Couture, he stayed around Japan more content for a circus like show versus Hon-Man Choi. His management defended it all by noting that Emelianenko eventually returned to the States, he had fought Coleman in Las Vegas once, and beat two former UFC champs, Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski.
Both were on the downside of their careers and Arlovski in their Affliction meeting had Emelianenko confused, if not dazed, before trying an ill-advised flying knee that set Fedor up for an impressive one punch knock out. That win was telling however, the beginning of the end of his reign. Brett Rogers should’ve finished him off in the first round in his ensuing Strikeforce fight. Then came the Brazilian typhoon tandem of Fabricio Werdum and Antonio Silva, suddenly the sparkling 27-fight win streak dulled by a not ever thought possible two fight losing streak.
As the host and co-writer of a special that aired on HDNet about “The Last Emperor” being the greatest MMA fighter ever, I’m not hypocritical. Arguably he is the best, without qualification certainly an all-time top five. A Babe Ruth of MMA, but unlike the legendary baseball slugger in his day, there have been legitimate contemporaries who regretfully went unchallenged because his Colonel Parkers refused any threat to disparage the image being created. Fans were denied a chance to see how he would’ve fared against the best the UFC had to offer over the past five years. And Emelianenko himself was cheated out of showing a vast audience his immeasurable skills in his prime.
There was too much universal deference to the cloaked mystique of the man from Stary Oskol, Russia. A throwback to the Soviet Union time, he trained in solitude, was polite but calculated in press conferences. His stomach protruded over his belt at weigh-ins.With all the adjectives used to describe his superiority, chiseled was not one of them. That heightened his appeal. He looked like most of us and fought like we could only do in our wildest dreams. An Everyman appearance, a Kingly talent.
It has been blasphemous among most of the MMA media to dare question the dominant run of Fedor, to even hint maybe he and his team had taken the path of least resistance since Pride. When we have suggested as much on Inside MMA, the emails have gotten down right nasty. In any other sport such a daunting streak of victories would be scrutinized ad nauseam by media and fans. The strength of schedule foremost, just ask anyone who follows Boise State or TCU in college football.
I don’t think Fedor such retire. He is approaching 35 years old, certainly not post-prime. And as some of our emails have already suggested, perhaps a move down to the light heavyweight ranks would best fit him at this time. His physique would be leaner, maybe even quicker (and he might be the quickest heavyweight ever) at 205 pounds.
He deserves his legacy, and even in two dominating defeats his character and class have shone. Maybe he too realizes even with his cut of a sweet M-1 Global deal, he had to sacrifice staying at the top of his game by being sent in a less difficult direction. Much like Elvis in his string of cookie cutter movies and albums late in his career that Parker selected for him, sadly rounding off that special edge. .
It gets boring for the great ones to not face obstacles, to not push a little more. Complacency leads to apathy, deadlier than a liver shot or an arm bar ever could. Fedor deserves better. His legacy shouldn’t end this way. It’s time M-1 Global sit down for a rational discussion with their superstar about changing the wardrobe. A sleeker, renewed fashion for their emperor because their kingdom has crumbled.
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