When the name Fedor Emelianenko is mentioned to Mma fans, opinions are split. In fact, I don’t think you’ll find another fighter out there that will split opinions quite as much. Since he’s recently retired I thought now would be a good time to look at the last emperor’s career and give my two cents on where I place him in mma history.
Is he a Mma pioneer that crushed all comers and reigned over the Mma world for the longest time? Or is he simply a tubby disinterested looking fighter with little skill, but a lot of clever management whom protected their golden goose by feeding him a series of ‘has been’s’ and ‘never was’s? I’m going to try and sort through all the issues and arguments that have been placed at the last emperor’s feet over his 11 year career.
Let’s first look at the people who said Fedor was really an overweight LHW that should have lost some of the fat and dropped to fight at LHW. I agree with them in the sense that, perhaps in the latter part of his career, Fedor probably should’ve dropped some of the excess and a division, but rather than detract from his greatness I think this just added to it. I think the Mma world would have stopped spinning if Fedor had turned up for one of his fights with a six pack – It just wouldn’t of been right and just the thought of it freaks me out! That was Fedors way and like many of the things that didn’t seem quite right about him, it just happened to work. That being said, although he won fights against bigger guys like Mark Hunt and Brett Rogers, I thought you could tell he struggled somewhat with the extra weight of these guys. This really showed in Fedors loss to Big foot Silva in the Strikeforce HW tournament back in Feb of 2011. That really was a case of a good big UN beats a good little UN.
So, what about Fedors skills as a Mma fighter?
People are of the opinion that Fedor hasn’t got your ‘typical’ Mma style of fighting’, the way he fights does look somewhat- ‘sloppy’- but one of the reasons is because Fedor has mastered the art of being relaxed which often gets misconstrued as ‘sloppy’. Watching Fedor for the first time you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re watching a tubby, disinterested looking guy, throwing wild haymakers with reckless abandonment. I’d agree Fedor is not the most ‘text book’ of fighters but what you have to remember about his ‘sloppy’ style is that it was accurate… very accurate!
If you watch some of his fights back you’ll see what I mean about Fedor being relaxed. He walks down to the ring, then he has the face off (where he won’t look at his opponent as he says it ‘tense’s him up’). When the fight starts it looks as if he’s just woken up from hibernation! Being relaxed works well as it allows him to throw his whole body into the shots he’s throwing and he reacts quickly to anything coming back in his direction, not to mention if he’s slammed (see video below) staying relaxed has more than likely saved him from the confines of a wheel chair and taking his food in liquid form. If you think I’m I’m over exaggerating then please watch the video below and tell me that Fedors ability to turn into jelly upon a massive impact, didn’t literally save his neck.!!
Going slightly off topic for a second, Fedor and his ‘relaxed state’ (which is really only a hop, skip and a jump away from a coma victim) is what convinced me to try and relax a lot more in my own fights. To see how well this ‘relaxed state’ works you only have to have eyes, and then move those eyes in the direction of my first Pride fight – funnily enough – against Alexander Emelianenko (Fedors brother) If you watch this fight back it shows the contrast in the way me and the Emelianenko brother approached the fight. Alexander looked like he’d just be thawed out from the deep freeze, whereas I looked like I’d just been systematically injected over the course of the last month with a heavy cocktail of caffeine and class A drugs!
Needless to say, the Emelianenko way of approaching a fight was far superior to my early misguided efforts.
I could talk all day about Fedors fighting style the pros and cons of etc. . . . But what I really want to get into is his legacy, what he leaves behind and the criticism he has faced.
Most of the criticism directed at Fedor is because- it is said that- he hasn’t always faced the best opponents and that the people he has fought have looked like escaped members of a traveling freak show! I would say this is true to a certain degree. If you cast your minds back to when Fedor was the king of the hill and ruling over Pride’s HW division, then you’ll remember how he fought whoever was put in front of him. We all know the Japanese love a ‘freak show’ fight and when you take the painfully ordinary looking Fedor and put him against monsters like Ho man Choi and the scary looking Zulu (who was untested at the time) you have the typical ‘skill V size’ battle which the Japanese can’t get enough of. I think it’s a pretty safe bet to say that neither Fedor or his manager were selecting these opponents, it was just a ticket seller and the way the Japanese roll.
Let’s fast forward a bit to when Pride shut up shop for good. Now Fedor was accused of not fighting the best competition (which I say was true) but let’s be fair to Fedor here, the best competition was in the UFC and to give him due Credit- he fought the best around e.g. former UFC champs Andre Arlovski, Tim Silva and let’s not forget he was willing to fight Randy Couture in the fight hat unfortunately never happened.
I don’t know much about what happened with the UFC as I’ve only heard what I’ve gleamed from various articles/interviews etc, but what I think happened is this.
Dana White gave Fedor an offer for tremendous amounts of money to sign away his rights, his soul, his family’s souls, neighbours souls, pets’ souls and every other person he has ever met souls over to the UFC. Fedor and his manager, not 100% keen on this, angled for more control and his manager (Vadim Finkelstein) knowing he had something very special with Fedor, used this to try and broker some kind of cross Promotions with the UFC and Finklesteins M1 Mma promotion. Now, I’m not sure what Finklestein was smoking but it must of been strong if firstly he thought that this was in some way fair on Fedor or in his best interests, and secondly if he (in my best Phil Baroni voice) EVER,EVER thought that Dana White- or anyone connected with the UFC- would ever go for that. It’s just not realistic: so the fact Fedor didn’t fight the best people around falls at the feet of three people.
1. Vadim Finkelstein -Fedors management. The fact he think he thinks he deserves to cross promote with the UFC is just laughable. Plus he was looking out for his own interests rather than the interests of the person who was paying him to look after his, Fedor.
2. Dana White- I’m laying a proportion of the blame at his feet as the contract he would have wanted Fedor to sign would have been so tight it would have made his very being ache. Dana might argue that it was the same contract all UFC fighters sign, just with a lot more zero’s on the money part. It’s a fair argument but the reality was that if he really wanted to sign Fedor, like the UFC they say they did, then Dana White should have eased up on the contact side of things to get the deal done. In the same way that Fedor would have had to ease up on his side, and relinquish the sort of control he was afforded in Pride.
3. Fedor -you have to blame the man himself. Even though he passes all the negotiation side of his fighting to Vadim (so he can concentrate on his training/fighting) he as the fighter has to know that whoever is representing him is speaking for him. So, when that guy representing him is talking about co- promoting in order to make it a possible for him to fight in the UFC, Fedor should have stepped in and realised it’s wasn’t going to happen unless he took control of the situation. Fedor didn’t and so we never saw him in the UFC.
I don’t think it’s as simple to just blame one person, that we never saw Fedor in the UFC to face ‘the best competition’ as I’m sure it’s far more complicated than for the blame to fall at just one person’s feet, but it was a great shame for all Mma fans everywhere.
After Fedor didn’t sign with the UFC things started to slide for him. He lost three fights in a row to Fabricio Werdum, Antonio Silva and Dan Henderson. The Fedor Haters will say this is because he started fighting ‘proper competition’ but when I watch all these fights I see elements of bad luck, bad judgement and most of all I see a fighter that’s lost some of his love for the sport. I’m glad Fedors retired now, just because I get the feeling it’s what he wanted to do and as much as I love seeing him fight… I don’t want to see it if he doesn’t want to be there as it would only tarnish his legacy.
Summing up, to answer my original question goat or g.o.a.t, I would say neither. As much as I respect Fedor, I can’t call him the g.o.a.t as he never made it to the UFC where towards the end of his career, that was where the best competition was. When you’re talking about g.o.a.t, I think Anderson Silva, GSP, and maybe one day John Jones, would get the nod before Fedor. That being said, Fedor is not too far behind as you have to remember that Fedor ruled the Mma world for a good amount of time. He beat some great people. Whether he could have continued to this in the UFC, or whether the wheels would have fallen off, is something we’ll never really know. Due to politics and disagreements behind the scenes, we can only surmise and wonder what would have been. What I do know is that I was very fortunate honoured to fight on the same card as Fedor a few times in Pride and I was always astounded at how overwhelmingly down to earth and friendly he was. He had time for everyone and struck me as a person who hadn’t let being the no1 HW in Mma go to his head- I always feel that is a sign of a legit champion. So thanks Fedor for giving us so many hours of great fights and amazing moments in Mma… you will go down in Mma history as one of the all-time greats… (Certainly one of my own all-time greats)
I’ll leave you with a story of mine from when we both fought on Pride shock waves 2006. I had beaten Yoshida on the NYE Pride show and had come back to the hotel early from cerebrating as I was drained and I’d had enough for the night. As I entered the hotel lobby Fedor was standing front and centre swaying from side to side, he straightened up as I came through the doors and looked up towards me. I started moving from foot to foot as if he was still swaying and he burst out laughing at this and beckoned me towards him. As I approached him he lightly grabbed me and we started play fighting in the lobby, it was only messing around however I’d be lying if didn’t say a small part of me was praying he wasn’t a violent drunk and that he wouldn’t snap and sambo throw me on to the cold hard floor of the hotel lobby. If the Truth be told I was actually checking the floor during our ‘play fight to see if there was a softer part of it for me to land on should things have started to go wrong!
After we’d stopped with the play fighting, Fedor beckoned me towards his table which was in a kind of Lounge area with sofas and chairs crowded around a coffee table. I said hello to the inhabitants who were all Russian males that didn’t speak any English- apart from Fedors manager Vadim Finkelstein who spoke good English. Fedor picked up a sports bag and placed it on the coffee table in front of us all. I could tell from the clinging and clanging of glass that his Mma kit wasn’t in it. A couple of his Russian mates went to get glasses & Fedor started to produce these strange shaped glass bottles from his kit bag. What struck me as odd was that none of these bottles had labels on and you could tell that they weren’t bought down the local off license; they reminded me of bottles you might find in a pharmacy. As Fedor brought out all these bottles of different shapes and sizes I could tell which ones were the strongest (or the favourites) by the gasps and applause each bottle would receive. Fedor delved in to his bag of tricks once again and produced a square bottle which had Smokey dark blue glass and a long narrow neck. But what I really noticed was the reaction of the group, as for a second they were silenced- before hushed gasps of shock and Awe reverberated around the table.
Fedor held this bottle up as if it was the world cup before cuddling it in his arms as if it was a new born child and this brought laughter. He poured a large amount in to one of the glasses -I’m not sure if smoke came off the liquid as it was poured or if I’m just embellishing that part for the story, but what I do remember was that the liquid was clear and handed over the table to me by Fedor with great care. All eyes were now focused on the Englishman and I felt like I was part of some experiment and seeing that I know how seriously Russians take their drinking; I didn’t want to spoil my street cred by asking if they had any Orange juice to mix with it. I was somewhat nervous of the drink that lay before me, so I pictured that what was in the glass was the ‘secret elixir to what made Fedor great’ and by consuming what was in the glass, it would have the same effect on me. With these thoughts I threw back my head and downed it in one.
Now bear in mind this wasn’t a shot glass, it was a normal sized glass filled half full (not half empty). As the contents of the glass filled my mouth, my tongue recoiled and looked for a place to hide. The burning sensation I felt in my mouth, then throat, then chest was overwhelming but I’m English and we too pride ourselves on our drinking ability and even if It was petrol that he’d given me to drink (which is not completely impossible judging by the taste) I was downing this fucker of a drink, not just for my own honour but for the honour of England! I slammed down my glass, gave my head a shake and with the machoness I thought eastern Europeans would recognise, I tipped my glass implying that I wanted another one… which was the last thing I wanted. My new Russian friends loved this and patted my head as I ran my tongue over my teeth to check were still there. Fedor laughed at this and poured me another healthy glass of evil.
With that Josh Barnett came into our drinking area, he had fought Big Nog earlier and lost a close decision. Josh and Fedor had talked and straightened out some problems they’d had the day before and in the process they realised they actually got on very well (I knew this as my trainer/manager at the time had arranged their talk). Fedor greeted Barnett like a long lost brother. He pulled up a chair for him and poured him a drink. I was pleased with this as it meant the Russians had a new westerner to experiment on, plus it gave me a minute to collect myself- which was needed as whatever it was that had been pushed in my direction a minute earlier was coursing though my veins and making me blink a lot for some bizarre reason!.
I talked to a mixture of people for 30 minutes or so which seems strange when I look back as there were only three people that spoke English including myself! I was still tired and I had to be up early in the morning for a stupid o clock flight home. My room (which was my original destination) for the second time that night, became my goal. I was saying my goodbyes to all my new friends when Fedor appeared and pointed to the (my) glass which I hadn’t touched since giving it the ‘big un’ half an hour previously in front of everyone. I felt a massive weight suddenly hang over my head again, I looked at Fedor pleadingly but he just held his glass up and tipped it just like I had done. I pick up my glass clinked it with Fedor and once again downed this un-godly liquid. It again felt like I was trying to down hot coals and I half expected my liver to write me a note whilst I slept that night stating that he could no longer take the abuse!. Fedor tried to make me have another drink but I’d said my goodbyes and I stumbled off to my room… I’m sure this thing I call the ‘Russian turpentine ordeal’ wasn’t a big deal for Fedor as he was just being himself and I doubt that he would hardly even remember all this, but for me it was a big deal and I love my story and appreciate Fedor taking the time and just being able to have a laugh. For me, this doesn’t make him a great champion…but it definitely adds to it.
Check out the Fedor tribute Video below