I will never forget crossing paths with the great Fedor Emelianenko, if only for a moment. Backstage in Chicago, waiting like the rest of the MMA world for the peerless champion to face Brett Rogers in the main event, he brushed my camera as he walked towards the cage. As he waited to make his entrance, I was shocked by what I saw. The stoic champion, so emotionless in front of the media, was pacing back and forth. As he marked his territory like a jungle cat, wearing a path in the cold Chicago cement, he periodically let out a yell.
M-1 personnel asked me to stop filming. This was not part of the public face of Fedor Emelianenko. It was the first sign I'd ever seen that the man was even human.
There were more signs that evening as the Fedor myth started to be put to bed. Rogers, who unless things change dramatically, will go down in history as an average fighter. And average fighters aren't supposed to give the greats such a struggle. Emelianenko was slowing down it seemed. He would be caught in his very next fight against Fabricio Werdum and again last night against Antonio Silva. If it wasn't clear against Rogers, it's crystal now: Fedor Emelianenko is no longer the world's best fighter.
Of course, that doesn't mean critics should dismiss a decade's worth of accomplishments. Last night UFC President Dana White took to Twitter to do just that. In a series of posts cursing at fans and mocking the Russian star, White attempted to recast Emelianenko as someone he never really though was any good.
"wtf has he done for the sport!? Ur f**kin nuts," White said in response to a fan asking him to show a little respect to the fallen fighter. "I honestly believe he has been done for a while but he would have at least gone out fighting the best."
I's funny to watch White try to rewrite history, pretending he and Lorenzo Fertitta weren't so desperate to sign Emelianenko in 2009 that he was willing to blow up the UFC's salary structure to do it. You don't tender the biggest offer in the history of your company to a fighter you think is washed up. People inside the UFC were just as excited as the fans to see how Emelianenko would match up with Randy Couture, Brock Lesnar, and others in the company. His decision to sign with Strikeforce was a bitter pill for White to swallow.
In the end, we didn't always get the matchups we wanted from the sport's all-time best heavyweight. The UFC stock contract was just too restrictive for the Russian's tastes. Sometimes money talks, but the UFC pay scale, one promising comparatively low pay to even the biggest stars, less than Sugar Ray Leonard commanded in the pre-pay per view 1980's, wasn't enough to convince the proud Emelianenko to sign with a promoter he didn't respect.
I would have loved to have seen Fedor in a dream bout with Couture or struggling to solve the mysteries of an enormous Lesnar laying on top of him. But I'm happy with what we got from him as well. The two men who beat the legend are both solid professionals who handled their rise to fame with class and respect. Last night Fedor Emelianenko passed the torch to whoever wins the Strikeforce tournament. I can't wait to see who it's going to be.