If you were an MMA fan in the early 2000s, you couldn’t help but know the name Fedor Emelianenko. You could even pronounce it correctly. However, with nearly all of his losses coming after the start of 2010, many argue that Fedor’s opportune moment to retire has already passed.
Scott Coker, CEO of Bellator MMA, has expressed his support of the Last Emperor’s retirement following his recent loss to Ryan Bader in the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix. Though fans were heartened to see Fedor make it to the final round with two dominating performances, he lost at just 0:35 in Round 1.
At 42 years old, Fedor Emelianenko has fought – and defeated – some of the biggest names in MMA. Many of these victories came via submission or knockout in the very first round, making Fedor a fan favorite for the duration of his career. Notable wins include Mirko Cro Cop (in defense of the Pride Heavyweight Championship belt), Tim Sylvia (via Rear Naked Choke), former UFC Heavyweight Champion Andrei Arlovski, Renato Sobral, Heath Herring, and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (three fights with Fedor taking two wins and one no contest due to an accidental cut).
Despite Dana White’s best efforts, Fedor has yet to step inside the Octagon for a fight. In 2010, White was quoted by MMAjunkie.com as saying, “He [Emelianenko] has become my obsession. I want it [Fedor in the UFC] worse than the fans want it,” and proposed a matchup with then-UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar. This fight was destined not to be, as negotiations failed between Fedor’s management and the UFC, in part because Dana White insisted on contract exclusivity. They pushed for M-1 Global to be included in the contract, and perhaps Fedor felt he couldn’t argue against his own country’s major MMA promotion. M-1 Global has since partnered with the UFC (as of July 2018) to serve as a sort of “minor league” for the UFC in Russia, as well as help organized events in Russia.
2012 saw the first retirement of the Last Emperor. Going out on a knockout victory to a relatively unknown fighter, Fedor offered his family as the main reason he would not fight again. Three years later, he stepped back into the ring and scored another first round knockout for his record.
With this impressive MMA resume, it’s easy to forget that Fedor Emelianenko began as a Sambo martial artist. Sambo originated in Russia as a by-product of their war with Japan, and many (including Russian President Vladimir Putin) continue to push for its inclusion in the Olympic Games. Khabib Nurmagomedov is another practicer, notably wearing a t-shirt bearing the words: “If Sambo was easy, it would be call jiu jitsu.” It’s tough to argue with the current UFC Lightweight Champ’s success in the Octagon, and Fedor’s success outside of it. Fedor holds a record of 11-4 in Combat Sambo competition, and also credits the sport for his success in MMA.
Outside the fighting world, Fedor has a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and nearly appeared on an Ultimate Fighter-like reality TV show produced in part by current US President Donald Trump.
So what exactly is so special about Fedor Emelianenko? He rose to popularity in the early 2000s, when MMA was still being banned in states throughout the US. The UFC was struggling to carve out a foothold and garner mainstream popularity; in short, the UFC was not the face of MMA. Several other promotions were vying for top spot, but all struggled to get sanctioned anywhere but Nevada. In Japan, however, enthusiasm for the sport could not have been higher. Pride FC had taken hold and is still missed by many an MMA fan. Fedor took on all challengers and eviscerated them – including former UFC fighters. This dominance piqued the interest of fight fans and many became lifelong fans of Emelianenko’s dominant style, which was one of the first fully mixed styles to appear on the MMA scene. Where the UFC and similar promotions were still pitting strikers vs. grapplers, Fedor was one of the first few who were not only competent but excelled at both. In short, Fedor, like most noteworthy Pride FC fighters, was exciting.
But Fedor was more than just exciting. Fedor was impenetrable. Fedor was the GOAT.
Fedor is the Last Emperor.