(“Mr. Fedor thinks you are a very amusing little man. He would enjoy it very much to see you dance for him … Dance! Dance, I say!” PicProps: Fedor’s Website)
Even by his own lofty standards for peculiarity, Fedor Emelianenko had a pretty enigmatic week in America leading up to his second appearance inside the Strikeforce cage. When he wasn’t no-showing scheduled appointments or turning interviews into literal games of telephone by funneling his quotes through a comically long series of interpreters and middlemen, Fedor plodded through his obligations to hype tonight’s fight against Fabricio Werdum with the same kind of indecipherable stoicism he usually shows his doomed opponents.
Amid rumors that his retirement was imminent and that he was planning a life in politics at home in mother Russia (both of which he’s denied), the whole circus served only to remind us how little we really know about Fedor. Aside from a few half-hour Showtime specials, a handful of feature stories — the best known of which was actually written by M-1 executive Evgeni Kogan, so it has to be considered no more substantive than an M-1 press release – and his own stilted and translated post-fight interviews, there is shockingly little primary source material on Emelianenko.
What we’re told, over and over again, is this: Because of his old-school Soviet sensibilities and deeply religious nature, Fedor has no need for fame or for money and apparently has no desire to be known or understood by the fans who’ve elevated him to near God-like status in hardcore MMA circles. He’s a simple, conservative-minded man who chooses to live in relative seclusion, train with a select group of close friends and views nearly everything else as bothersome, needless distraction. Yeah, that last part made him sound a little bit more like Brock Lesnar than any of you are comfortable with admitting, huh?
But as much as he remains a mystery outside the cage, he’s given us ample evidence of what’s capable of inside it. In preparation for tonight’s bout with Werdum, we give you our choices for the 10 fights that have, in different ways, defined his career thus far …
In which Our Hero suffers his one and only loss (12/22/2000):
Fedor’s only MMA defeat — if you even want to call it that — came in the bizarro world of Rings, where punching to the head was not allowed on the ground and Valentijn Overeem once tapped out Randy Couture. I know, pretty weird, right? As part of the “King of Kings 2000” tournament, Emelianenko met up with UFC veteran and future Pride fighter Tsuyoshi “TK” Kohsaka. It was Fedor’s fifth professional fight. For TK, a member of Frank Shamrock and Maurice Smith’s Alliance fight team, it was his 32nd. Just after the opening bell, Kohsaka missed a wild punch and inadvertently hit Emelianenko with an elbow that opened up a gash over his right eye (more on that later). The bout was stopped after just 17 seconds and, because of the tournament format, TK was declared the winner.
It remains the only blemish on Fedor’s record and it did not go unavenged. Five years later, he defeated Kohsaka by TKO at Pride Bushido 6.
In which Our Hero makes his Pride debut (6/23/2002):
Eight years and six days ago, Emelianenko showed up in Pride Fighting Championships as an all-but-unknown heavyweight prospect with an 11-1 record and some nice wins over guys like “Babalu” Sobral, Ricardo Arona, Kerry Schall, Bobby Hoffman and Chris Haseman. Aside from that, nobody knew a thing about him, as evidenced by Bas Rutten’s and Stephen Quadros’ fairly clueless call of the action. His Pride debut was against 6-foot-11 kickboxer Semmy Schilt, who had already had three fights in Pride, one in the UFC and was 12-1-1 in his last 14 fights. Fedor won by decision, but you really only need to watch the first round to see how the rest of it was going to go. The above video is also worth a look if for no other reason than to see Fedor’s entrance, complete with Russian national anthem and one of his compatriots waving the good, old red, white and blue. The other red, white and blue, obviously.
In which Our Hero’s chin gets tested, and the chin retorts: “Fuck you.” (6/8/2003):
Less than three months after winning the promotion’s heavyweight championship by defeating Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at Pride 25, Emelianenko met up with hard-slugging Japanese fan favorite Kazuyuki Fujita in what remains one of his most notable bouts, due in large part to the sheer un-Fedor-ness of his performance and the fact he came away with a win but looking, well, human. Emelianenko seems atypically overconfident in the early going against Fujita, even taunting him a bit in the stand-up. That all changes at the 3:15 mark of this video, when Fujita catches him with a right hand and Fedor does what has henceforth been referred to as the “fish dance.” Meanwhile, the Japanese faithful come as close to losing their minds with excitement as they ever do, which means there is some mild cheering and clapping.
The moment is fleeting, however, as Emelianenko regains his senses, pummels Fujita with his own punches and finishes him with a rear naked choke on the ground.
In which Our Hero survives the Randleplex (6/20/2004):
Four fights after his humanizing performance against Fujita, Fedor followed it with a showing in the quarterfinals of the 2004 Open Weight Grand Prix that made him look goddamn indestructible. With 9:15 remaining in Pride’s funky 10-minute first round, former UFC heavyweight champion Kevin Randleman scoops Fedor up from behind and plants him into the canvas with a jumping suplex that, by all rights, should’ve buried the Russian’s head eight inches into his torso. Instead, Emelianenko acts like it ain’t no thang, quickly sweeping Randleman for top position and battering him with left hands before securing a kimura. Randleman taps, and it remains one of the most surprising and abrupt turnarounds in MMA history, what with Fedor going from assumed dead to victorious in a matter of seconds. It was the beginning of a 2-8 slide for Randleman.
In which Our Hero beats Big Nog … again (12/31/2004):
Man, if this quasi-NSFW hype video doesn’t make you miss Pride, nothing will. By announcing plans to eschew Pride’s gala 2003 New Year’s Eve show in favor of competing for more money at the rival Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye event, Fedor had so angered Pride bigwigs that they awarded Nogueira an interim heavyweight championship after his come-from-behind victory over Mirko CroCop in November. To make matters worse, Fedor and Big Nog’s second meeting in the final of the 2004 GP – which was to serve as both tournament championship and title unification bout — was ruled a no contest after just 3:52 when an accidental head butt gashed Emelianenko open above the right eye (see, I told you it’d be back. But wait, there’s more …). Injuries and further wrangling put the rematch off an additional four-and-a-half months, but when the pair finally met up on NYE 2004, Fedor thoroughly dominated Nogueira, using takedown defense and counter-punching en route to a unanimous decision win.
The victory not only reaffirmed his status as Pride champ and world No. 1, but displayed his ability to out-class his next best competition in all facets of the fight game.
In which Our Hero also beats CroCop (8/28/2005):
In addition to losing his 2003 interim title bout against Big Nog, CroCop got bounced from the 2004 GP on a surprising knockout loss to Randleman. He rebounded with six consecutive wins to once again claim top contender status and set up a fight with Fedor at Final Conflict 2005 that is remembered as one of the best bouts in Pride’s history. The fight must’ve occurred during the sunny months in Stary Oskol, because Fedor showed up oddly tanned. He also took kind of an uncharacteristic beating from CroCop in the early going, weathering some dicey moments on the feet and suffering a broken nose. Emelianenko rebounded, eventually wearing CroCop down both in the stand-up and the ground game, claiming a decision win. In retrospect, this fight may well have yanked the curtain on the glory days of Pride, but at the time it only underscored Fedor’s dominance.
In which Our Hero makes Mark Coleman’s kids cry (10/21/2006):
Certainly not memorable for the quality of competition, this fight is most notable because it served as Emelianenko’s American debut. Pride came to Las Vegas in the fall of 2006 and brought with it a sort of preposterous match-up between Fedor and aging former champ Mark Coleman. Fedor had already defeated Coleman in April 2004, during the opening round of the GP tournament and, for their rematch, Coleman showed up with both Phil Baroni and Wes Sims in his corner. Not exactly a recipe for success. Fedor, who’d suffered from a broken hand that required the insertion of a metal plate in the months leading up, battered Coleman with punches before securing an arm bar in the second round. After the fight, he sheepishly all but admitted he could’ve beat Coleman in the first, but took it easy on him because he didn’t want to embarrass him too badly in front of his family.
That plan didn’t fully pan out, as the above heartbreaking/uncomfortable exchange between Coleman and his two young daughters took place in the ring after the fight.
In which Our Hero gets cut, grabs a little rope & kicks a little ass (4/14/2007):
After the demise of Pride, Fedor entered into a series of quizzical career decisions, including fighting for both the ill-fated BoDog organization as well as Affliction. During his one appearance for BoDog he took on former UFC middleweight Matt Lindland at an event located in the beautiful confines of the ICE Palace in St. Petersburg. The card also included Eddie Alvarez, Fedor’s brother Aleksander as well as current Sengoku middleweight champion Jorge Santiago and was attended by Russian President/Real Life James Bond Villain Vladimir Putin.
Lindland came out firing in their bout, landing a left hook that cut Fedor above the right eye (starting to see the pattern?) and elevating him for a body-lock takedown. Emelianenko put off the takedown by grabbing the ropes – he was, in fact, warned by the referee for rope-grabbing eight different times during just a few seconds – and succeeded in ending up on top of Lindland once the fight hit the mat. From there, he pretty much overwhelmed the smaller fighter before hooking up an arm bar. All in all, it was one of the stranger performances of Emelianenko’s career and showed – despite his pure-as-the-driven-snow image – he’s not above bending the rules a bit when it suits him.
In which Our Hero crushes Tim Sylvia in 35 seconds … and wins the WAMMA title! (7/19/2008):
After a string of wins over guys like Lindland, Hong Man Choi, Zuluzhino and Coleman, there started to be whispers that Fedor wasn’t exactly fighting the best heavyweights in the world. Enter: Tim Sylvia. Poor, bedraggled Tim Sylvia, who at this point had lost recent fights to Nogueira and Couture but was still at least considered credible. Much of that credibility vanished on this night in Anaheim, when the former UFC heavyweight champion looked totally out of his depth against Emelianenko. It looked, in fact, like Sylvia didn’t even try, succumbing to a wild barrage of punches after the opening bell before tapping out to an iffy-looking rear naked choke.
The win captured Fedor the WAMMA heavyweight title, which we believe he’ll still be carrying around with him when he comes to the cage tonight. The belt is basically meaningless, and if Werdum were to somehow defeat him tonight, it remains unclear if the belt would even change hands, or simply cease to exist. Such is life when your management group can’t come to terms with the world’s largest MMA promotion.
In which Our Hero proves he’s still got it … whatever it is (11/7/2009):
Brett Rogers may have still been something on an unknown commodity when he entered the cage for Fedor’s Strikeforce debut late last year but he was rolling on the strength of 10 straight wins, including his most recent KO victory over Andrei Arlovski. The big striker from St. Paul, Minn. also afforded himself nicely in the first round against Emelianenko. He bloodied Fedor’s nose early and appeared to have the WAMMA champ on the ropes when he rattled his head with a few hard shots on the ground. As always, however, Fedor recovered and knocked Rogers stiff with one of his trademark, winging overhand murderball punches in the second.
The more cynical analyst could point out that Fedor appeared to be losing both of his two most recent fights – against Rogers and Arlovski – but that sentence must always end with the clause: Before he knocked them out. In fact, at 33 years old, no one is quite sure exactly how much Fedor has left, how he’ll react to the bigger, more athletic, more skilled heavyweight fighters of the modern era or if, because of his odd business relationships and unknowable personality, we’ll ever even get to see him fight them.