While fight fans have known for a while now that the Fedor Emelianenko we’ve seen inside the cage over his last four or five years isn’t nearly the fighter many of us grew up watching in Pride, it wasn’t until about a minute into his recent bout with Fabio Maldonado that it truly became clear that father time has caught up to the man once considered to be the greatest fighter in MMA history.
After rushing in and getting caught by a big shot from the former UFC 205-pounder, “The Last Emperor” was stumbling around the cage like he’d been on a week-long drinking binge. He was left attempting to cover up and pray he could pull himself back together before the fight was stopped. While Fedor ultimately survived the early onslaught — with more than a little bit of help from the referee, who basically stood by and watched Emelianenko get mauled for three minutes — it wasn’t easy to watch an MMA legend who once sported a nearly unrivaled ability to take a punch get blasted around the cage by a guy who only won two fights by stoppage over 12 bouts and five years in the UFC.
Not to throw shade at Maldonado, who had a pretty remarkable UFC tenure for someone who ended up going 5-7 in the organization, but most people thought the Brazilian was essentially a “gimme” fight for Emelianenko. Maldonado was there to provide a little entertainment while “The Last Emperor” got back into a groove in front of a partisan Russian audience, but he was never really considered a threat by the majority of fight fans.
For years now, Maldonado has been known for his brawling style and ability to take a good deal of punishment. He’s not exactly known for dishing out quite as much as he takes, though. This seemed like the perfect recipe for an opponent signed to fight Fedor, who at one point was able to eat a Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic high kick like it was a breakfast sandwich. What we expected to happen and what actually went down in the cage are two very different things, however. Yes, Emelianenko ended up surviving the first round and was eventually awarded a decision win, but this felt like an afterthought after watching the Russian get thoroughly beaten up.
Despite earning maybe the ugliest win of his long career on that night over a guy who had just suffered three straight losses before getting dropped by Zuffa, Emelianenko may be heading to the UFC. The rumors are picking up steam — for what seems like the 100th time — and “The Last Emperor” himself seems more confident than ever that the deal could get done. Yet, for the first time, it feels like many fight fans would rather he stay out of the lion’s den and finally embraced retirement.
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson may not be the guy that comes to mind when people think of someone who has their finger on the pulse of the MMA community, the former UFC light heavyweight champion probably said it best when it comes to Fedor. When asked about his fellow Pride legend in an interview with MMA Junkie last week, Rampage said what most MMA fans having been thinking since Emelianenko was getting blasted by Maldonado: there’s no reason for Fedor to compete inside the Octagon.
The UFC is going to make him fight against its top guys. UFC President Dana White is going to target Emelianenko’s legend status and, as he has been attempting to do for years, debunk Fedor as a true great. The timing is perfect, too. As sad as it is to admit for the fans, Fedor isn’t on that level anymore.
If Emelianenko truly wants to keep competing, then his best bet is to follow Rampage’s advice and continue to fight guys who are “in the same bracket.” Maybe Fedor doesn’t have what it takes to fight the best in the world or even any of the up-and-coming heavyweights in the sport — judging from the Maldonado fight, that’s a decent assumption — but fans could probably get behind Fedor with Bellator or somewhere similar, where he’d fight guys like Rampage and Wanderlei Silva.
It’s much harder for fans to get behind the idea of Emelianenko in the UFC. While there might be a small cluster of fans that wouldn’t mind seeing one of the former greats get into the cage with someone like Junior dos Santos, anyone who watched Emelianenko get wobbled by Maldonado over and over again can probably figure out that this is not the wisest of ideas.