On the heels of my Combat Press colleague Neil Rooke breaking the news that Fedor Emelianenko has signed with the UFC — news which has yet to be confirmed by the organization, though their recent courtship of Fedor is no secret — it’s also rumored that his first fight in the UFC would come against Mark Hunt.
For the record, I said Fedor should sign with Bellator MMA and fight Randy Couture. But hey, no one bats 1.000. Following Fedor’s first rumored UFC fight with Hunt, here are some fights that I believe must be made for “The Last Emperor’s” journey into the Octagon:
1. Frank Mir: Mir has expressed a desire to fight Emelianenko before and is a noted submission and grappling expert, as the broken arms of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Tim Sylvia can attest. Emelianenko’s background is in sambo, so we could be treated to either a grappling clinic or to Mir adding Fedor’s arm to his illustrious collection.
2. Cain Velasquez: Despite losing the UFC heavyweight title to Fabricio Werdum in June, Velasquez is still one of the very best heavyweight fighters in the world and was considered by many as the heir to Emelianenko’s throne as the greatest heavyweight of all time. If Velasquez can stay healthy, his cardio is second to none and could probably wear out Emelianenko. If you want a classic new school vs. old school heavyweight fight, this is one you should want to see.
3. Fabricio Werdum: The quick submission victory by Werdum over Emelianenko in Strikeforce in 2010 basically shattered the mystique that Fedor was unbeatable. Now Werdum is the UFC heavyweight champion, and the allure of Emelianenko avenging that loss and fighting for a UFC title in the process is all the company would need to ensure a huge live gate and buyrate.
4. Junior dos Santos: Emelianenko has the ability to end a fight in one punch, as guys like Andrei Arlovski and Brett Rogers can confirm. But dos Santos might be the best pure puncher in the UFC. Standing in the middle of the Octagon and trading blows with a legend like Fedor is something all fans should happily plunk down $60 to see.
5. Daniel Cormier: True, Cormier is the UFC light heavyweight champion. And it’s true that Emelianenko fights at heavyweight. However, Fedor has always been on the lighter side of the heavyweight spectrum and probably would not have much problem dropping weight. I also don’t think Cormier would need much convincing to go back up to heavyweight for a possible big payday. The paths of Emelianenko and Cormier almost crossed in Strikeforce when both took part in its World Grand Prix heavyweight tournament in 2011. Cormier won the tournament, but Emelianenko was eliminated in the quarterfinal round. Could Cormier’s wrestling keep Fedor grounded? Would Emelianenko show Cormier what he avoided facing in Strikeforce? This would be a very interesting match-up.
6. Ben Rothwell: In addition to adapting a Darth Vader-esque persona that flabbergasts people like UFC commentator Jon Anik, Rothwell is undergoing a career renaissance thanks to four wins in his last five fights, including back-to-back first-round victories. A win over Emelianenko would propel Rothwell into instant title contention and probably lead to some entertaining promos from someone who’s embracing his inner wrestling heel.
Currently, denials that suspiciously sound like non-denials are already pouring in about Fedor’s reported signing with the UFC:
Response from UFC PR on Fedor signs story: “There is nothing to report.”
— Steven Marrocco (@MMAjunkieSteven) September 1, 2015
No @UFC deal with Fedor at this point.
— Kevin Iole (@KevinI) September 1, 2015
However, as we already know, UFC President Dana White and the company thrive on keeping fans guessing. Once they reveal that Fedor has been welcomed into the Zuffa fraternity, we as fans will have the opportunity to witness some epic fights.