Many view him as the best heavyweight fighter of all time. Yet he has never signed a contract with the biggest fight promotion in the world. Fedor Emelianenko will probably remain the one mixed martial artist that slipped through the UFC’s fingers before he retires.
He and the promotion had several flirts over the years, but a deal was never inked. And even though, at 40 years old, Emelianenko should not compete against the likes of Stipe Miocic and Cain Velasquez, he allegedly had the chance to join the UFC last year. Instead, “The Last Emperor” signed a deal with Bellator and his former promoter with Strikeforce, Scott Coker.
His relationship with Coker played a significant role in his decision-making as Emelianenko stated after an open workout recently. “We have a long relationship with Scott Coker,” Emelianenko said through a translator. “This is the person who keeps his word. This is the person who respects fighters. This is the person who works hard to develop his organization and to make it better.”
Emelianenko will fight Matt Mitrione in the main event of Bellator 172 on Saturday night in San Jose, California. After his recent performances, the Russian MMA legend is the underdog against the athletic Mitrione who has scored two wins in his Bellator stint after leaving the UFC in early-2016.
Following a three and a half-year long layoff, Emelianenko returned in December 2015 taking on the unknown Indian fighter Jaideep Singh who he beat in the opening round via first-round submission due to punches.
His second fight in his comeback run saw him defeating Fabio Maldonado who hit Emelianenko with several hard blows in the first round. The referee, who officiated the fight that took place in St. Petersburg, Russia, last June, did not stop the bout, even though Emelianenko looked like he was out on his feet. In the end, the three judges granted “The Last Emperor” a controversial win via majority decision.
It became apparent that Emelianenko could not hang with the absolute heavyweight elite and seems like a relic of a bygone era. Between 2002 and 2006, he ran roughshod over Pride’s heavyweight division, with notable wins over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Mark Coleman and Kevin Randleman. No one could hold a candle to the Sambo specialist who was light on his feet and a threat on the ground.
Even when Emelianenko finally made his debut in the US—before 2008 he had only fought in Japan, Russia and Lithuania—he, at first, was successful competing under the Affliction banner and then joining Strikeforce. However, between June 2010 and July 2011, he suffered a three-fight losing streak when Fabricio Werdum, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Dan Henderson all beat him.
Following his third loss, Dana White stated that Zuffa that owned Strikeforce at the time cut Emelianenko, while the Russian and his team claimed that he only had a contract with Showtime which broadcasted Strikeforce events. White’s comment certainly hurt the relationship between the two parties and made a possible agreement even more unlikely.
In the end, Emelianenko decided to go to the places where he feels comfortable. His return fight was under the Rizin banner in Japan. His win over Maldonado happened in the main event of Eurasia Fight Nights 50. Now he fights for Coker and Bellator which reminds many of
the old Strikeforce promotion.And when you look at his recent performances, it is probably for the best that Emelianenko does not step into the Octagon. He still fights like he did ten years ago, with his chin up relying on his ability to take a punch. But especially after two KO losses a few years ago and his underwhelming last outing it is rather questionable whether Emelianenko has still the same durability.
The sport has evolved tremendously in the last ten years and even heavyweights, who look more often than not clumsier than the fighters in the lower weight classes, do not necessarily fall for Emelianenko’s old tactics.
With that mind, it is probably for the best that he, in this day and age, fights the Maldonados and Mitriones of the world who can beat him but will not embarrass him. And as for Bellator’s business, they have a Russian superstar that still possesses name value despite his decline.
Photo courtesy of Bellator MMA