5 reasons why Fedor Emelianenko remains a legend of MMA

Fedor Emelianenko will hope to add to his legend when he fights for Bellator gold this weekend
Fedor Emelianenko will hope to add to his legend when he fights for Bellator gold this weekend

This weekend sees the legendary Fedor Emelianenko challenge Ryan Bader for the Bellator heavyweight title, and while he isn’t likely to win, it should still be a fascinating fight.

It’s fair to say that Fedor Emelianenko had his best days a long time ago, but ‘The Last Emperor’ still deserves to be seen as a true legend of MMA.

Sure, the Russian has never competed in the UFC and is never likely to at this point, but that doesn’t make him any less deserving of the respect of the fans.

Here are five reasons why Fedor Emelianenko remains a legend of MMA.


#5. Fedor Emelianenko is still a threat despite being past his prime

It’s fair to say that, at the age of 46, Fedor Emelianenko is miles past his prime. In fact, it’s arguable that he should never have returned from his initial retirement back in 2012.

However, while his contemporaries – the likes of Tim Sylvia, Mirko Cro Cop, and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira – are all long gone or have little to offer, that isn’t the case with ‘The Last Emperor.’

Fedor is coming into his bout with Ryan Bader this weekend on a two-fight win streak, and he’s won four of his last five bouts overall. Sure, it’s fair to say that three of those four opponents – Frank Mir, Chael Sonnen and Rampage Jackson - were also miles past their prime, but that’s beside the point.

The fact is that Fedor remains a major threat, even to fighters in their prime. He’s slower than he once was, of course, but he still packs power in his punches, and his grappling game remains dangerous.

‘The Last Emperor’ will go into his Bellator title bout with Bader this weekend as a major underdog, mainly because ‘Darth’ stopped him in under a minute in 2019. But would it be a total shock to see the Russian pull off a win? Definitely not.

Therefore, the fact that he’s still a threat as he approaches 50 years old adds to his legendary status.


#4. Fedor Emelianenko has always been an exciting fighter to watch

Fedor Emelianenko was responsible for some truly legendary bouts
Fedor Emelianenko was responsible for some truly legendary bouts

The majority of fighters who are considered all-time greats in the world of MMA were generally exciting to watch, too, and in that sense, Fedor Emelianenko is no exception. The Russian’s overall record stands at an impressive 40-6-1, and it’s safe to say that it’s difficult to find any boring fights among those 47 bouts.

Remarkably, Fedor has only gone the distance on nine occasions during his career, never losing a fight that went to the judges’ scorecards.

More to the point, of those nine longer fights, a number of them are considered among the greatest heavyweight fights in MMA history, namely his two wins over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and his victory over Mirko Cro Cop.

Putting on exciting fights doesn’t necessarily make a fighter great, per se. Diego Sanchez and Jim Miller, for instance, wouldn’t be considered all-time greats because they didn’t hold major titles during their careers.

However, they should be considered legends based on the number of epic wars they produced during their time, and the same can be said for Fedor. In this sense, the fact that ‘The Last Emperor’ held major titles is almost secondary.


#3. Fedor Emelianenko has beaten a who’s who of his generation

Fedor Emelianenko beat plenty of other legends, including Mirko Cro Cop
Fedor Emelianenko beat plenty of other legends, including Mirko Cro Cop

While Fedor Emelianenko never competed in the UFC during his career, it didn’t stop him from defeating a who’s who of his generation in the heavyweight division.

When ‘The Last Emperor’ was in his prime – probably the period between 2002 and 2007 – he was competing in Japan’s PRIDE promotion. At the time, with the UFC in the financial doldrums, PRIDE was largely considered the best MMA promotion in the world and thus was home to most of the world’s top heavyweights.

The likes of Mirko Cro Cop, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Heath Herring, and Mark Hunt, all of whom went on to some success in the UFC, were all defeated by Fedor during this period. The Russian also defeated a pair of former UFC champions in Mark Coleman and Kevin Randleman in PRIDE at this point too.

While he didn’t cross over to the UFC once PRIDE fell, that didn’t stop him from fighting some of the promotion’s top fighters, either. Fedor stopped Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski – both former UFC champions – under the Affliction banner in two of his best performances.

Sure, he eventually lost to the likes of Fabricio Werdum and Antonio Silva in StrikeForce, but those fighters could be considered part of the next generation of heavyweights, along with Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos.

Overall, ‘The Last Emperor’ destroyed basically every other top heavyweight around at the time, making him a genuine legend of the game.


#2. Fedor Emelianenko was often outsized by his opponents

Perhaps the wildest thing about Fedor Emelianenko’s run at the top of the heavyweight division was the fact that, arguably, he’s never been a natural heavyweight in comparison to many of his peers.

‘The Last Emperor’ tended to weigh anywhere between 230 lbs and 240 lbs during his prime years, but he was never heavily muscled or even svelte. If anything, it could be argued that he looked out of shape at points.

Sure, not all of MMA’s top heavyweights are ripped like their smaller counterparts, but those who aren’t very muscular tend to be on the heavier side in the first place.

In the modern era, if a fighter emerged as Fedor did, weighing around 230 lbs with visible body fat, they’d be encouraged to move down to 205 lbs.

‘The Last Emperor,’ though, regularly fought and defeated opponents far bigger than him, including genuine giants like Semmy Schilt, Tim Sylvia, and Brett Rogers, all of whom cut weight to make 265 lbs.

The fact that this undersized heavyweight has emerged as the greatest of his generation basically tells its own story and stands as another reason why he ought to be considered a true legend.


#1. Fedor Emelianenko never bowed down to Dana White and the UFC

Fedor Emelianenko snubbed Dana White and the UFC more than once
Fedor Emelianenko snubbed Dana White and the UFC more than once

The biggest knock against Fedor Emelianenko’s legendary status in the world of MMA is the fact that he never fought in the UFC.

In reality, though, while he might’ve gained a little more prestige had he joined the promotion to face off with the likes of Randy Couture, Brock Lesnar, and Cain Velasquez, it shouldn’t be considered such a huge slight against him.

Firstly, had Fedor joined the UFC, it would’ve been towards the tail end of his career, meaning that he probably would not have hit the same heights as he did in PRIDE, in a similar vein to his rivals Mirko Cro Cop and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.

Secondly, and more importantly, the fact that he was the only fighter of his generation not to bow down to the demands of the UFC and Dana White should arguably count towards his legendary status rather than against it.

It would’ve been easy for ‘The Last Emperor’ to chase the big money that the UFC offered, but with that would’ve come a number of caveats.

Fedor would’ve lost some of the control over his career that he loved, and he would’ve lost a lot of his mystique, too. Once he’d suffered the inevitable defeats that happened to every aging fighter, he would’ve become just another part of the UFC machine.

Sure, he might’ve been entered into the promotion’s Hall of Fame, but he definitely wouldn’t enjoy the semi-mythical status he still holds today. In that sense, for standing up to the corporate power of the UFC, he deserves praise rather than scorn – adding to his legendary aura.

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Edited by Allan Mathew
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