Wednesday, June 20, 2012

*The Last Emperor’s Last Hurrah

(photo courtesy of
As was the storyline for most of his career, Fedor Emelianenko’s final matchup leaves fight fans with little more than another question of “what-if?” Squaring off in his final career fight versus UFC veteran Pedro Rizzo tomorrow night on a card for M-1 Global, many wonder what could have been for the once mighty Russian.

It’s no secret in the MMA world that Fedor missed the boat, failing to capitalize on his once-untouchable status as one of the pound-for-pound baddest men on the planet. He built his kingdom on the corpses of UFC throwaways, but never took the plunge into the world’s biggest fight promotion. Fedor’s management team has taken the bulk of the blame for the signing never materializing, with several negotiations with Zuffa falling apart over the years. 
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The problem is, he held onto that formula for far too long, eventually seeing his amazing unbeaten streak ended by Fabricio Werdum, followed by two more consecutive losses to Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Dan Henderson, effectively putting an end to any and all mystique built around him.

So what can be gleaned from Fedor’s meteoric rise, and subsequent fall from grace? Well, if anything, his story serves as a cautionary tale for any young hotshot thinking that they are bigger than the sport. It’s an old cliché, but those who think of themselves in that light often see negative karmatic returns, as the business of sports inevitably balances it’s own moral ledgers sooner or later (see “Allen Iverson”). 

Seeing Emelianenko face off with Rizzo will be a bittersweet affair for hardcore MMA fans. While still enticing on a billboard, this fight would have the makings of an instant classic had it taken place several years ago, when both fighters were much closer to their primes. A match-up of that calibre could have, at that time, been a legitimate UFC main event, but fans will now endure a match-up of two men who are undeniably shells of their former selves.

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During the post-PRIDE period, when Fedor was destroying lesser opponents like Tim Sylvia and Hong Man Choi, UFC fans could have been treated to fights that would have been far more intriguing, not just from a raw skill standpoint, but also in terms of sheer status. Fedor vs. Nogueira 2, Fedor vs. Randy Couture, Fedor vs. Brock Lesnar, all fights which would have had massive pay-per-view buy rates. Emelianenko could have cemented himself as a true legend of the sport by stepping onto that stage, but seemed more concerned with maintaining status quo than achieving ultimate status. His preoccupation with the preservation of his legacy will now be the defining trait that ultimately tarnishes it.

One more what-if for people to ponder: What if Emelianenko shows up in St. Petersburg and absolutely dominates Rizzo like the Fedor of old? Will the competitive bug in him seek out one more fight? And if not, is a dominant performance over a 38-year-old Rizzo enough for people to say that he left on top? As fighters like Bob Sapp have proven, there is plenty of money to made headlining on the independent circuit, and if nothing else, Fedor is a name that will put butts in seats.

If this really is the end for “The Last Emporor”, his body of work, although still truly great, will always have a stigma hanging over it; the stigma of greed, the stigma of vanity, and the stigma of never proving his greatness on the world’s biggest stage. What a sin. 

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