The Rear Naked Column 08.13.11: Fedor’s Legacy
Posted by Samer Kadi on 08.13.2011
After his third consecutive loss, Fedor Emelianenko was released from his Strikeforce contract. Join 411’s Samer Kadi as he discusses Fedor’s legacy and his status as the greatest heavyweight of all time.
In 2003, on one night in Yokohoma, Japan, the legend of Fedor Emelianenko was born. Following an eventful night which saw Anderson Silva and Dan Henderson score knockout victories, Kazushi Sakuraba fall to a storm of upkicks at the feet of "Elvis" Schembri, and Wanderlei Silva and Quinton Jackson engage in a heated confrontation that would mark the beginning of their epic rivalry, Fedor Emelianenko came in as an underdog to Brazilian submission machine and PRIDE heavyweight champion, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
In what would become the defining moment of his career, Fedor turned in a frightening display of ground-and-pound brutality, battering his adversary for three rounds on his way to capturing the PRIDE heavyweight title, and catapulting himself into the top of the heavyweight rankings, a spot he was able to occupy for seven years.
In a sport where the perception of a fighter changes on a fight-to-fight basis, one thing was able to remain constant: Fedor Emelianenko was the best heavyweight in the world. Factoring in how many drastic changes MMA has endured through the years, from public perception and popularity to the quality of fighters involved, the fact that one man was able to remain on top for so long is nothing short of astounding.
However, as often is the case in MMA, Emelianenko's fall was sudden, unexpected, and rapid. An earth shattering submission loss to Fabricio Werdum last summer was initially shrugged off as just "one of those days" that were bound to happen at one point or another, but the subsequent battering at the hands of Antonio "Big Foot" Silva raised quite a few eyebrows. And while Emelianenko and his team attempted to find solace by attributing the Russian's loss to his opponent's size, his last bout against Dan Henderson left them with little room for excuses. A middleweight/light heavyweight for most of his career, the highly decorated American became the first man to knock "The Last Emperor" out. Naturally, the loss triggered much discussion over Emelianenko's legacy among fans and pundits alike.
Fedor's detractors, led by UFC president Dana White, are often quick to put the "overrated" label on the former heavyweight kingpin, while his legions of fans will defend him to the end, with some proclaiming him – even still – to be the greatest fighter of all time. The truth, as always, is somewhere in between.
While for much of his career, Emelianenko's record was almost unparalleled and his accomplishments spoke for themselves, the heavyweight division has always paled in comparison to its lighter counterparts. Wins over Rodrigo Nogueira and Mirko Cro Cop won't ever be forgotten, but there are only so many quality wins you could get in such a historically shallow division. As such, for every dominant win over elite heavyweights, there are destructions of B level fighters (Heath Herring), past their prime former champions (Randleman, Coleman), and absolute cans (Zulzinho, Hong Man Choi). When comparing his record to modern day greats Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre, Emelianenko's level of competition fails to hold up.
That isn't necessarily through fault of his own, as in his heyday, Fedor fought every top heavyweight (Josh Barnett aside) under the PRIDE banner. The division was just so shallow that there were only a handful of high level fighters for him to take on. That, coupled with PRIDE's well documented questionable match-making, enhanced Fedor's record with wins over mediocre opponents. Contrary to popular belief however, this isn't exclusive to Emelianenko, as fellow all-time greats Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko Crop Cop, and Wanderlei Silva all fought their fair share of softballs in their day.
It is undeniable that absolute demolitions of over-matched competition added to his mystique. After all, Emelianenko stopped neither Nogueira nor "Cro Cop." Instead, most of his trademark armbars and violent stoppages came over Jiu-Jitsu deficient opponents or mediocre fighters on the whole. This further established Emelianenko's aura, and gave him and his fans a – perhaps undeserved – sense of invincibility. For the longest time, the mere notion of a Fedor loss would be met with ridicule by his army of followers.
And yet, is there even an argument against Fedor Emelianenko being the greatest heavyweight of all time? And if so, then who is? Simply put, Emelianenko is the greatest his division has ever seen. His decision not to sign with the UFC was met with great vitriol, but his level of opposition since PRIDE's dissolution was never as bad as it was deemed to be. Hong Man Choi aside, fights with former UFC heavyweight champions Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski (on a five fight winning streak) were hardly cakewalks. Sure, both fighters had their flaws, but it wasn't as though the level of UFC heavyweights at the time was significantly higher.
Many will point out that Emelianenko passed up on another opportunity to sign with the UFC in 2009, and consequently fight the likes of Brock Lesnar and Cain Velasquez. And while that was unfortunate, it doesn't do much to diminish Fedor's accomplishments. In most sports, the young devour the old. If Cain Velasquez were to crush Emelianenko, then it would have only been the natural course of things. Fedor is in many ways, a fighter from a different era. To form an analogy: Matt Hughes' losses to Georges St-Pierre in 2006 and 2007 respectively, do not say anything less about the fighter he was in his prime.
Of course, neither Fabricio Werdum nor Dan Henderson are exactly "new era" fighters, and the former's win over Emelianenko still holds the same value it did a year ago, since it came at a time when the Russian was the number one ranked heavyweight in the world still. However, fighters should be assessed based on their performances during their prime, and Emelianenko's PRIDE run will forever remain a part of MMA history. His last three losses are no different than Chuck Liddell embarking on a losing streak in the tail end of his career. And just like "The Iceman" continues to be considered the best fighter his division has ever witnessed, so will Emelianenko…until someone surpasses him.
While the days of Fedor being considered the greatest fighter ever are over, and his invincibility was revealed to have been exaggerated, he remains the best heavyweight ever, and that alone makes him one of the top fighters the sport has ever produced.
REMINDER: Be sure to check out the latest edition of the 411 Ground and Pound radio show. Mark Radulich was doing his usual hosting duties and was joined by Scott Kuczkowski, Jeffrey Harris and yours truly to review UFC 133. Tune in again next Sunday at 11 am eastern as we will be previewing UFC on Versus 5.