There are few fighters in the short history of mixed martial arts that have risen to the status of sports icon, but Fedor Emelianenko is one. Emelianenko has been described by many in the know as the greatest MMA fighter that has to date competed in the sport. With his fanbase ranging from such lofty heights as Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva, Mike Tyson and Jose Aldo.
The question as to who is the greatest will no doubt remain as the sport continues to evolve. But with talk of his formal retirement tour taking place at Bellator 237. Fedor is finally closing the curtains on one of the greatest mixed martial arts careers the sport has known.
During a time when mixed martial arts was very much in its infancy. The Ultimate Fighting Championships paved the way for the sport to evolve and flourish, particularly in the United States. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, a lesser-known promotion, at least to the US mainstream fanbase, was that of Pride Fighting Championships.
While fighters such as Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture had become household names Stateside. Athletes such as their fellow countrymen Quinton Rampage Jackson, Kevin Randleman and Mark Coleman had taken their wears across the Pacific ocean and were now making a huge name for themselves in the Japanese MMA scene.
While the UFC held many of the accolades and star power amongst fight fans in the US. There was a whole crop of fighters on the other side of the world that many looked to as their equal and even better than their US-based counterparts. And amongst those, sitting at the very top of the heap was the one and only Fedor Emelianenko.
The Pride FC Heavyweight Championship
Standing at an even 6 foot tall and weighing in at a somewhat tubby 225 lbs wet. From an early stage, Fedor set himself apart from the pack on the Pride FC roster. Entering the promotion as the Rings heavyweight champion, Emelianenko’s first fight saw him taking on and defeating by decision the former K1 champion, the 7 feet tall Semmy Schilt.
Just two fights later he would take on the reigning Pride Heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira for the title. Nogueira at the time was seen as the most dominant, if not almost unbeatable champion. But in a turn of events in which the rising Russian entered the fight as the underdog. Emelianenko relentlessly blasted the champion with vicious ground and pound. While escaping each and every attempt made to secure a submission.
When the final bell rang, a beaten a dejected Nogueira could only look on as his heavyweight championship had been brutally ripped from his grasp. Pride FC and the world had witnessed the beginning of what would become one of the greatest championships and longest winning streaks in the sport’s history, only recently eclipsed by Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Emelianenko’s destruction of Nogueira not only sent shockwaves through the Pride heavyweight division. But also around the globe as a warning to other champions and prospects, that a new kingpin had arrived to claim his throne. And with many of his peers looking on with keen interest. The cold and calm Fedor began to build his empire within the Pride FC promotion.
Fedor The Heavyweight Killer
As the wins began to rack up, so too did the interest from further afield and the UFC. President of the UFC Dana White looked on with envy at both their heavyweight champion and promotion. White along with UFC owners Zuffa, who were dominating the US MMA market, viewed fighters like Fedor and Pride FC as their direct competition.
And while Emelianenko continued on his heavyweight destruction in Japan. That niggling question of which promotion and which fighters were the best out there was always going to be up for debate.
Fedor’s run in the heavyweight division would push on unabated with notable wins over Mark Coleman and Kevin Randleman. He would once again face off against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in 2004. Their first fight in August that would end in a no contest, with a follow-up a rematch in December that would once again see Fedor beat the former champion.
Fedor’s 2005 matchup against Mirko Cro Cop Filipovic is often sighted as the greatest ever Pride FC fight. In a battle where Emelianenko turned the tables and outstruck the elite striker. For many, it was the biggest test of his championship and one that he came through, albeit badly bruised.
Pride FC The Final Years
Following on from the win over Filipovic and cementing him as without question the best heavyweight Pride had ever known. Fedor would go on to fight three more times for the promotion. Once again defeating Mark Coleman via armbar, all but crushing his hopes of ever seeing the Pride title.
And then his very final fight against The Super Samoan Mark Hunt. In which the former K1 kickboxer brought the champion further than many more seasoned MMA fighters had been able to do, losing by Kimura late in the first round.
The star of Fedor Emelianenko would rise and fall many more times over the following years. As the former Pride heavyweight champion moved from promotion to promotion. But it will always be his years from 2002 to 2006, that will forever be etched in the memories of MMA fans around the world.
As we debate and argue on forums as to who is truly the MMA GOAT? You will be sure to find the name of The Last Emperor Fedor Emelianenko is always there or thereabouts in any discussion. While he might not have fought in the UFC, it’s equally applicable to say the best of the UFC did not compete in Pride. So it is a question to which we may never find an answer.
But what we can do is look back in awe at one of the very best. His career speaks for itself, as its the only way the man of very few words would have it. For generations of fighters and fans alike, we say thank you for all that you achieved, both in and outside the sport. And hail to a true legend of the fight game and The Last Emperor.