–Kenny Rice

Remember when he was going to turn the US upside down with his arrival and subsequent domination? He was going to convert all those who were still leery of mixed martial arts into devotees after they saw him. His influence would dwarf that of Pele’ arriving to boost soccer in this country in the 1970’s. He didn’t need the established UFC, he would be his own boss, he was that good, maybe the greatest ever.

Instead of doing any of that, this weekend far from the ballyhoo of a mere three years ago, Fedor Emelianenko is getting just a shade more national media attention than a fencing tournament, for his fight with Dan Henderson in Strikeforce. No mass PPV deal, no turning away hordes of reporters, if you subscribe to a premium channel you can watch it. And that is sad. It also begs the biggest question, the elephant in the room that most MMA pundits still try to ignore, is he the greatest or just an exceptionally good fighter who benefited from advantageous match ups?

Granted deserving of Hall of Fame honors someday, but is he more like Sadaharo Oh the legendary Japanese baseball player who hit a “world” record 868 home runs in his 22 years with the Yomiuri Giants, but never played in the larger parks, against the best pitchers as did his contemporary in the US, Henry Aaron. That Emelianenko’s storied career was made in Japan and his biggest wins were there against lesser competition that his contemporaries were facing in the UFC, certainly draws comparison.

What has happened to “The Last Emperor”? At 34 years old he should just be reaching his prime, instead he’s been whipped, not just beaten, in two straight fights, the later to Antonio Silva taking him out of the Strikeforce Grand Prix Tournament.

Even his the successes he’s had since he decided to prove himself in the US on July 19, 2008 are debatable. Yes he fought here earlier in 2006 beating Mark Coleman, but it was three years ago when it was really going to matter when Affliction (remember them outside of their apparel company?) was going to rival any and all with the signing of Fedor.

So good he was recognized by one name. So daunting a streak of wins in Japan and five separate major championships abroad, it was only a matter of time before all would bow with universal acceptance. In addition, the man was incredibly likeable, amiable to all he encountered.  Though his entourage shrouded him in a retro Soviet Union manner of secrecy about his training and his life. Want to know something real about the Russian? Nyet.

His victories in America have come against two former UFC champs as his loyal followers will quickly note, but Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski have since shown to be far from their prime. Arlovski was puzzling Emelianenko throughout the first round of their bout before an ill advised attempt at a flying knee led to his being knocked out in one punch. Such is the power of Fedor, another part of his myth-like existence. The less heralded Brett Rogers should have finished him in the first round before losing in the second.

His best days were in Pride in Japan. He had some wins over very talented fighters but given his slow but sure demise since coming stateside it is obvious why he was reluctant all those previous years to fight at the UFC level. To not have done that casts a giant shadow over certainly worthy conquests and accomplishments.

If Emelianenko, the 2-1 favorite, loses to Henderson, the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight champ who agreed to move up to in weight to accommodate Fedor,  there will be further tarnish on what he did as the “Last Emperor” of the sport. Henderson, who has one fight remaining on his contract, is a scary match up for Fedor and one has to wonder about his confidence after so many lackluster performances of late. It is essentially a consolation fight for being knocked out, literally, in the much more publicized Grand Prix Tournament.

Three straight defeats against opponents much better than the vast majority of his Japanese victories, will wake up even his staunchest supporters, that maybe there is something to the questions of how good he really was, and how he would’ve fared if he had fought the UFC’s best.

This weekend he could be making his last stand.

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