Image via M-1 Global.
This Sunday, M-1 Global plays host to one of the most notable fighters of our modern era in MMA: Fedor. Sunday morning (if you are in the US, Sunday evening if you are live) Fedor Emelianenko faces Jeff Monson in the main event of an M-1 show from Moscow, Russia. The show is available on PPV and for purchases online starting at 8 a.m. EST Sunday morning, with all the details at M-1's site.
With all due respect to Monson, this is clearly a fight focused on one man, and it's not the American. Fedor Emeliananko was for years held up by many fans and analysts as the greatest fighter on the planet today. From 2002-2006 he ruled over the talent-rich Pride Heavyweight division, dispatching men like Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Mirko Cro Cop to establish his dominance. After Pride folded, Fedor made the move to America, starting strong with wins over Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia (back when those were both very impressive wins).
And then... Strikeforce. Fedor debuted for Strikeforce in 2009 on network television as part of a CBS deal, defeating Brett Rogers that night. Little did fans know, that would be the end of the road for the Fedor mystique. He's 0-3 since then, with the submission loss to Fabricio Werdum, the stoppage against Antonio Silva, and the big KO loss to Dan Henderson. Now, the former king of MMA, the once essentially undefeated 32-1 fighter, is on a 3 fight losing streak.
Looking to make it 4 in a row for Fedor is Jeff Monson. Monson is one of those fighters who has been everywhere and fought everyone. In his 14 years in the sport he has over 50 pro fights against everyone from Forrest Griffin to Chuck Liddell to Kazuyuki Fujita. His biggest fame came in 2006 when he put together a 3 fight win streak in the UFC that earned him a title shot against then UFC Heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia. Monson lost that fight via decision and has not fought in the UFC since, though he did have a brief return to the US spotlight earlier this year when he lost to Daniel Cormier in an alternate bout as part of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix.
One of the big talking points about Monson is that he is an anarchist, but frankly, I only find that an interesting talking point if you are sitting around your college dorm room. The real interesting point about Monson is that, despite his stocky, muscular frame, he is actually an extremely skilled submission artist. He's competed in submission tournaments throughout the world, and is a multiple time champion at Abu Dhabi. In particular, Monson is very good with chokes, with the North-South choke being his specialty, and can give any fighter a tough time on the ground.
All that said, this is Fedor's fight to lose. Monson has been very active lately, but not against anyone of note. For his last win over a remotely credible opponent, you have to go all the way back to April 2009 when he defeated Sergei Kharitonov in Dream. He's just not at the top of his game any more.
He's also the exact kind of opponent Fedor has chewed up and spit out in recent years - a somewhat notable name thanks to a UFC run, impressive credentials that look good on the resume, and not a serious threat to win. That last point is key, because despite Monson's experience, he's doesn't have good tools to win here. He doesn't have Henderson's KO power, doesn't have Silva's ground and pound, doesn't have Werdum's ability to use submissions against top level MMA opposition. He's hand picked by Fedor's M-1 business partners to rebuild the legacy of The Last Emperor.
So what if the unthinkable happens? What if Monson locks those arms around Fedor's neck and we see the former pound for pound king fall for the fourth straight time? What if Fedor can't even beat the perfect opponent? If that happens, it will be the crowning moment in Monson's 14 year career, and a black day for fans who still believe in the legacy of The Last Emperor - the Great Fedor.