The soul-searching has begun in earnest.
It’s been just shy of a week since Fedor Emelianenko’s second consecutive defeat – this one a stunning manhandling by Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva in the first round of the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix – and with speed befitting a sport dominated by new media, fans and analysts are already scrambling to define his legacy.
Does the stoic former Pride champion stand as the greatest mixed martial artist of all time? Was he just overrated from the start? Has he suddenly grown old? Is he too small to compete with the modern breed of MMA heavyweight? Will he soldier on in the face of this unprecedented adversity? Does he even still have the fire needed to perform at the highest level?
At the risk of getting snared in contradiction, I submit that the answer to all these questions is an emphatic yes. As of this writing, Emelianenko remains the greatest MMA fighter in history. Unfortunately, his last two trips to the cage have added emphasis to that last word, and with the sport evolving at an unheard of rate (and guys like Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre already breathing down his neck) it remains to be seen how long he’ll retain GOAT-status.
The trickier questions concern Fedor’s abrupt fall from grace, of course. Since the man himself remains an unsolvable mystery there’s simply no way to explain the two losses without straying pretty far into speculation and personal opinion.
So, here’s mine: Yes, at 5-foot-10 and a soft 240-pounds Emelianenko is probably undersized to continue competing with the new giants of the heavyweight division. The athletes of today are better trained and better equipped than the opponents he built his legend destroying in Japan during the early part of the decade. Also, they’ve continued to improve, while he has remained stagnant.
At this stage in MMA’s development, I see no way to overlook the fact the Fedor still trains like it’s 2001. Choosing to remain in the relative seclusion of his hometown of Stary Oskol might be good for the soul, but it just doesn’t cut it anymore in a world where everyone else continues to grow. In the wake of this latest loss, word is that Emelianenko might head to Holland to regroup and shake up his training. That’s a good move, but in a perfect world you’d like to see him decamp for America to spend some time training with one of the top organizations in the states – American Kickboxing Academy, Greg Jackson’s or even Bigfoot’s own American Top Team – any one of which would probably be ecstatic to have him.
Even still, the sad truth might be that it’s too little, too late. Fedor turned 34 years old last September, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that age has been the leading factor in his recent decline. He’s got a lot of fighting years under his belt, too. It’s unclear how much a new trainer might be able to deprogram him from what he knows in order to build him back up with improved skills.
As of this moment, it appears Fedor will fight again. After declaring inside the cage immediately following last weekend’s loss that “maybe it’s time to leave,” he has since revised his opinion. Strikeforce is trying to angle him into a bout with the loser of Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum’s upcoming tournament matchup and that feels about right.
If it wasn’t already however, the next time Emelianenko steps in the cage it will certainly be under must-win conditions.
Chad Dundas writes about MMA for CraveOnline, Versus.com and CagePotato.com. He lives in Missoula, MT.