In June of 2010 we saw something happen for the first time; we saw Fedor Emelianenko lose a mixed martial arts fight legitimately. Practically unbeaten over a ten year long career – the single blemish being a loss to Tsuyoshi Kohsaka due to a cut caused by an illegal elbow, widely deemed a no-contest in all but name – Fedor had reigned over the heavyweight division for an unparalleled seven years. After winning the PRIDE Heavyweight title at PRIDE 25, where he battered the consensus top ranked heavyweight, Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira, for twenty five hard minutes, Fedor went on to defend his status as the sport’s best heavyweight against a string of contenders including several former UFC champions.
He was considered the best by many, unbeatable by some, yet on that summer night of last year, his reign ended when he was submitted in just over a minute by the un-fancied and underrated contender, Fabricio Werdum. Now, as he prepares to face Antonio "Big Foot" Silva on Saturday, Fedor finds himself in an unusual position. This will be the stoic Russian's first ever time entering the MMA arena with the fresh taste of defeat in his mouth.
The impact of the loss itself should not overly concern fans of Fedor. Not only is he mentally strong – you have to be to reign over a division for seven years – but given his comments immediately after the Werdum fight, it is clear that Fedor had taken the loss well and was already moving past it. It is the manner of the defeat that gives Fedor fans cause for trepidation. While it can hardly be described as a devastating loss physically, as least not in the way a knockout or prolonged beating would be, the mental aspect is certainly worrying. Fedor was outwitted brilliantly by Werdum when the challenger dropped to his back following an exchange as if hurt. Fedor’s trademark killer instinct got the better of him and he lunged into the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black-belt’s guard and, ultimately, a triangle-armbar from which he could not escape.
A loss like that can have a troubling effect on a fighter’s psyche, particular a fighter like Fedor, whose gift for swarming hurt opponents and finishing them is one of his greatest assets. You have to wonder what impact it will have on him leading into the Antonio Silva fight, whether we will see a more cautious, careful performance from him and how that may affect his ability to succeed in the Stikeforce Tournament.
Throughout his career it has been this killer instinct, along with his explosiveness, which has most demarcated Fedor from his peers as the sport’s best heavyweight. From his beginnings as a straight ground-and-pound fighter, where his aggression and intensity from top position set him apart from others, through his evolution to a dangerous guard player, known for his explosive hips when working sweeps or armbars, to the one punch knockout artist he has become in recent years, Fedor’s constant effort to finish fights, and the aggression with which he pursues those finishes, has not wavered. Will being duped by Werdum’s trickery change what the entire evolution of his skill-set did not? Has his natural killer instinct been quelled?
Unfortunately I can provide only speculation. Given the facts we have on Fedor: his cool disposition, his ardour for adapting and improving as a fighter, his professionalism, and above all his experience all suggest that while we may see a slightly cagier performance from him, he will still aggressively pursue the finish against Silva if the opportunity presents itself. In recent training footage, Fedor’s stand-up appears a lot more technically sound, with clips of him showing a much more conventional striking game, straight punches and all.
Given Silva’s poor striking defense and what seems like a penchant for being punched in the face, Fedor should have ample opportunity to answer these questions come Saturday night. If the fight hits the mat then you would expect Fedor to be as aggressive as ever from bottom position, but it is the striking game that is the most interesting. If Fedor hurts Silva standing his reaction will tell us a lot about just how much the loss to Werdum has impacted "The Last Emperor". This will be a mental battle as much as a physical one, with Fedor not only fighting without the "invincible mystique" his name once carried, but also against the psychological challenge invoked by Werdum.
Lesser men would crack under this pressure, but this is Fedor Emelianenko, the man who took on all comers and reigned over a division for the best part of a decade. I say he takes the loss to Werdum in the same nonchalant stride with which he took the numerous wins before it; I say he’ll be just fine.
This article was written by Jack Barrington for FightLockdown.com