We may have seen the last of the greatest mixed martial artist of all time this weekend.
Fedor Emelianenko – once the undisputed ruler of the heavyweight division, whose reputation grew to mythic proportions while he was dominating the Pride organization during the early part of the decade – bowed out of the Strikeforce 265-pound tournament in the first round on Saturday night, after losing to Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva via doctor’s stoppage.
Then Fedor hinted that he might be bowing out altogether.
“Maybe it’s time to leave,” he said through an interpreter immediately following the bout, his right eye swollen completely shut from the barrage of strikes he’d received both on the feet and on the ground. “Maybe it’s God’s will. I have had a great, beautiful, long sporting life.”
We’ve heard these kind of post-fight declarations before from others, of course. They never seem to stick. On the other hand, Fedor has always done things differently and walking away now, on the heels of back-to-back losses (his first in nearly 10 years), would fit well with the rest of his enigmatic legacy.
Emelianenko only seemed to grow more mysterious as time went on. He rose to the top of the sport during the height of Pride, when the Japanese company was unanimously regarded as MMA’s premiere organization. He built a peerless 26-1 record without ever seeming to change facial expressions. The stoic Russian defeated bigger opponents, stronger opponents and arguably more skilled opponents using his blistering hand speed and deft, unorthodox ground game. He held the Pride heavyweight title more or less uninterrupted through three years and 13 fights.
After Pride’s fall, Emelianenko’s career came a bit unmoored. He trekked through a series of lackluster fights in lesser organizations, surrounding himself with a cadre of shadowy managers who often seemed to hinder his progress more than help it. There were public spats with the UFC when the two couldn’t reach a contract agreement and eventually Emelianenko settled in Strikeforce in late 2009.
He hadn’t faced a wealth of top competition in recent years, but expectations were nonetheless high. With Fedor in camp with one of America’s top two promotions, fans were keen to see how he’d stack up to the opposition. Not well, it turned out.
Emelianenko posted a disappointing 1-2 record in Strikeforce, knocking out Brett Rogers in his promotional debut before dropping two straight bouts to Fabricio Werdum and Silva. The Werdum loss could be dismissed as a fluke – a triangle choke locked on in the fight’s opening minute – but last weekend’s fight against “Bigfoot” Silva was shockingly definitive.
The giant American Top Team fighter made Fedor look like a competitor of very little consequence. He battered him on the feet and utterly controlled him on the ground, eventually closing his eye with a series of hard strikes from the mount down the stretch in the second round. Emelianenko seemed game to continue – two of three judges had given him the first, so the fight was still up for grabs – but the ringside doctor called a stop to the action prior to the third.
The end came so swiftly and anticlimactically that the Strikeforce broadcast never really recovered. It remains to be seen if the same can be said of its ambitious heavyweight tournament, which lost its biggest draw and most recognizable face with the loss. At the post-fight media event, company CEO Scott Coker was already hinting they might try to find a way to put Fedor back in the tournament.
In other words, Emelianenko’s future is very much uncertain as of this writing. A reentrance into the Strikeforce grand prix draw would feel forced and might only open him up to receiving more punishment. On the other hand, if he makes good on his retirement, he might leave us feeling like we never truly knew him at all.
Chad Dundas writes about MMA for CraveOnline, Versus.com and CagePotato.com. He lives in Missoula, MT.