June 26th, 2010 will forever be a historical day in the sport of mixed martial arts. It wasn't a monumental day of greatness for an eclectic band of hockey players joining to win the coveted Stanley Cup, nor was it a day in which a group of hard-hitting monsters, a visionary pigskin thrower, a stout, physically superior, speedy runner, and a elite squad of tall, high-jumping football receivers captured the hearts of a sports nation by winning the Super Bowl. On the contrary, it was a day in which one of the greatest athletes to have ever lived in the landscape of a sport that pit one individual against another in the rawest form of competition... finally lost.
To many enthusiasts of this complicated, yet uncooked sport, it was a day of validation, anger, denial, or disappointment. Many fans felt the need to pontificate the point that Fedor Emelianenko has always been a lesser competitor than today's newest stars. Others felt he should be relieved with the complete disappearance of the pressure that must have built up over the years of living up to an impossible legacy. And some were truly disappointed at the fact that his reign had ended as this living, breathing example of perfection.
Perfection is perhaps the wrong word to describe Fedor Emelianenko as a pugilist however. As we've seen over the years of excitement and suspense he's brought to our hearts, Fedor wasn't always perfect, but he did possess qualities that lifted him on a pedestal above all other fighters of his time. Resilient, relentless, a destroyer of guards, a menace to peace of mind, a stoic, mysterious Russian-born man of little wealth who found a way to live a comfortable life by the power of his fist. He was the ultimate amalgamation of martial arts, each skill honed to a point in which he was considered a favorite against fighters who had spent years becoming the consummate practitioner of their trade.
But mixed martial arts is unforgiving and unpredictable. Kazuyuki Fujita nearly knocked out Emelianenko at PRIDE 26, Kevin Randleman dumped Fedor with a spectacular throw that could have put even the toughest fighter in a coma, Mark Hunt nearly submitted "The Last Emperor" by using his massive weight advantage, and even the prime Mirko "CroCop" Filipovic peppered some flashy jabs that seemed to daze the champion. Today, most newer fans dismiss these fights, or worse, use them to support some greater argument that Fedor nearly lost to a bunch of aged veterans who are horrible or completely done in this sport. The fact of the matter is that the unpredictable nature of this sport reared its ugly head, and this man somehow prevailed through the tough circumstances to come out victorious.
Unfortunately, mistakes can also be the means to an end, and for Fedor -- it produced a means to an end of an era. Or perhaps we're getting ahead of ourselves. To put everything into perspective however, let's think about what exactly Fedor has achieved. He's the only fighter to produce a near immaculate record in a sport that can be filled with mistakes, miscues, and unforeseeable knockout blows, all within an almost decade-long reign. As former PRIDE and UFC fighter turned commentator Frank Trigg once stated, any fighter who can run through opponent after opponent consecutively in the manner in which Fedor did is miraculous, especially when booming overhands and powerful slams can seemingly come out of nowhere. Love him or hate him, Trigg is right. It is miraculous, even if you truly believe the competition isn't up to par.
Let's not be hasty. Fedor remains one of the very best heavyweights in the sport. He still has one of the most well-rounded skill-sets the sport has ever seen in a division that isn't well-known at having complete champions, and age is always a factor creeping up on the current stable of competitors including Fedor. This isn't some sort of declaration to the world that people need to calm down, but it is the first time we've seen a dominant champion like Fedor fall. As Fedor Emelianenko so calmly and humbly stated in defeat, the one who doesn't fall, doesn't stand up. Like many before him, it's finally Fedor's time to fall, will he stand up?
For me, it seems more and more likely that we'll see Fedor come down to Earth, and as the criticism rolls in from fans that we've overblown his greatness for years -- he's aging and every single great champion in this sport will meet a time in their career in which age becomes a factor and losses begin to pile up. If Fedor can actually stave off the effects of age or the progression of every single fighter around him into a mold that mimics his own, he's even more of a phenomenon than we thought. He'll always be a great, and I imagine we'll see others become as great as he is in our lifetimes. For now, he has nothing to prove, but if he blesses us with his presence in the cage -- I'll still be giddy at the idea of seeing "The Last Emperor" once again. People seem to forget -- Fedor doesn't care about the expectations we've set on him. We should all be happy to see what he brings into the cage every time he fights.