In December, arguably the greatest fighter to ever grace MMA returned to the cage for the first time in almost three years. Once Fedor Emelianenko made the announcement of his return, the buzz started. Who would the great heavyweight fight? Would he be able to overcome the time he had spent in retirement to make a successful comeback? There were a lot of questions arising that made his return all the more anticipated.
Emelianenko eventually signed with newly formed Japanese promotion Rizin Fighting Federation, and fans clamored for knowledge of whom the heavyweight would face in his return. Names were tossed around. Most notably, there was Randy Couture, a fighter that fans have wanted to see take on the Russian since the two were the best heavyweights on the planet almost a decade ago. However, the match-up ended up being a bit of wishful thinking. Instead, the best heavyweight fighter ever ended up facing Jaideep Singh, a fighter who has made more of a name in kickboxing and only holds two wins in MMA.
It wasn’t exactly a legitimate match-up that would make fans jump out of their seats. The interest in the fight laid solely on Emelianenko’s return. There will always be fans that are purely interested in seeing the 39-year-old fight. The outcome was extremely predictable: Emelianenko quickly dispatched of Singh in the first round.
It was Emelianenko’s return fight. Let’s chalk it up as a tune-up fight. We’ll call it a fight just to see where “The Last Emperor” was in a winnable fight to get back into the sport.
Now, though, we’re heading to the second fight of this return for Emelianenko. This means a more legitimate name should be presented. And that’s why Rizin should utilize the roster of Bellator to field Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal as Fedor’s next opponent.
It’s a fight that should be made to help to brew more interest in the second run of one of the biggest fighters of the sport. Lawal would be a great step in the right direction to bringing Emelianenko a legitimate fight outside of the UFC.
In his first go-around, Emelianenko fought some head-scratchers, guys that you could call tomato cans. Why all of a sudden should it matter that he fights somebody legit? Well, even back then Emelianenko had some serious opponents that helped alleviate the idea of the Russian always fighting men at the bottom of the barrel. There were guys like Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, to name a couple. These were extremely compelling fights amongst the best in the division and the fights helped to legitimize Emelianenko’s standing as one of the all-time greats.
In more modern times, all of the best heavyweight talent resides in the UFC. There really aren’t many guys who can be considered at the top of the division competing outside of the UFC. Lawal is an exception, however. He is one of the better fighters on Bellator’s roster. Lawal fought on the same card as Emelianenko and was able to win Rizin’s Heavyweight Grand Prix. In the Bellator cage, Lawal was able to notch a win against former UFC veteran and divisional gatekeeper Cheick Kongo in a heavyweight fight where he gave up tremendous size to the French striker.
Lawal is the perfect second fight for Emelianenko. There are only so many Jaideep Singhs that Emelianenko can fight before interest truly does wane. Emelianenko is the best MMA fighter of his generation and he shouldn’t be fighting guys only in their third pro fight. His opponents should be experienced and skilled enough to make us question whether or not Emelianenko could pull out the victory, just like in the old days when Emelianenko went undefeated for so long.
Emelianenko had his foils in Cro Cop and Nogueira, guys who were truly equals. Lawal doesn’t carry the “greatest of all-time” tag like Emelianenko, and it’s hard to even compare him to Pride-era fighters like Cro Cop and Nogueira, but Lawal is the best that Rizin has at its disposal. It would be an interesting fight. We would be able to see if Emelianenko could stop Lawal’s wrestling or if Emelianenko can land that power shot to drop Lawal. The most vital point, though, is that it should be a veteran who steps up to be Emelianenko’s next opponent, and Lawal is the perfect dance partner for the Russian’s sophomore fight.