This past Saturday, an era in combat sports history came to a close.
Former Pride and UFC Heavyweight Champion Fedor Emelianenko called it a career following his TKO loss to Junior Dos Santos in this past Saturday's UFC 127 main event. It was the 2nd straight TKO loss for Emelianenko after "The Last Emperor" dropped the UFC Heavyweight title to Cain Velasquez this past October at UFC 121.
And true to form, Fedor went out on his shield. After a close first round, a Dos Santos blitz in round 2 raised a dangerous amount of swelling on the former champ's left eye. Ringside doctors decided the swelling was too great and Fedor could not continue. Once again, Fedor was denied victory by the intervention of the ringside physician. Unlike his controversial doctor's stoppage loss to Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, however, there was no doubt the sledgehammer fists of Dos Santos had carried the fight.
Sitting on his stool as UFC officials and doctors poured over him, Emelianenko was calm and stoic as ever - even as he prepared to tell the world he was walking away from MMA.
Emelianenko looked strong early, knowing a win would set him up to rematch Velasquez once the HW champ is fully healed up. He came out aggressive, looking to land his trademark overhand right, the same one that put out Brock Lesnar's lights at the landmark UFC 100 in 2009 and won Emelianenko the UFC heavyweight championship he had sought his whole career. It was the pinnacle of Fedor's fighting career - the moment the dreams of a few Pride fanboys turned into the reality of millions of TapouT wearing fight fans the world over.
It was that dramatic victory that catapulted Emelianenko to super stardom in North America. Once a mostly unknown fighter to American fans, Fedor's public profile exploded following his title victory and with the full weight of the UFC's promotional muscle behind him. Appearances on the Jim Rome show, on Off the Record, and a marquee feature in ESPN fueled Fedor's rapid rise to fame.
And who could ever forget his memorable and hilarious appearance on "Entourage", following in the footsteps of Chuck Liddell? Certainly not Ari Gold, who will probably think twice before he gets mouthy with "those crazy fu*king Russians" again.
Of course, an unfortunate hand injury kept Emelianenko on the sidelines for much of the next year. Such is the price to pay for cracking the "ball peen hammer" that is Lesnars noggin. A high profile gig as coach on TUF followed, as he led team Russia to victory over Lesnar's team America (f*ck yeah!).
Then tragedy struck the MMA world. Lesnar came down with diverticulitis, a consequence of his dangerous, high-protein diet, and he never recovered. Tragically misdiagnosed, Lesnar died in a hospital in Brandon, Manitoba, only the latest victim of Canada's 3rd world health care system. The MMA world reeled from the loss of its biggest star, and the loss of its biggest HW rematch in Fedor/Lesnar 2.
Fully healed, Emelianenko took the next best fight, with UFC legend Randy Couture this past July, while critics claimed he was ducking powerful slugger Shane Carwin. Fedor defeated Randy but struggled mightily with the Greco-roman wrestler at times, leading many to question his dedication, and the fall off of his skills. His shocking blowout loss to Cain Velasquez the following October only amplified those calls.
And now this latest setback closes the book on Fedor Emelianenko's career.
"I've had a good sporting life. Maybe its time to step down. If its God's will" an (almost) emotional Emelianenko told Joe Rogan through his translator after the fight. Rogan himself seemed surprised, and the crowd erupted when he asked them if they'd like to see Emelianenko back in the Octagon again.
"They love you. Everybody loves you. I know you're always welcome in the UFC if you decide to keep competing. You're a legend of the sport and if this is the end then its been a honor to watch your career and we wish you all the best." Rogan enthused while the crowd cheered its appreciation.
Then an emotional moment became an indelible one when UFC President Dana White made a surprise entrance into the Octagon.
"I just talked to Lorenzo [Fertitta] and we decided that we're going to induct Fedor into the UFC hall of fame. Its been a long time in coming man, congratulations!". The announcement sent the crowd into chants of "Fedor! Fedor!".
After the event, White spoke to MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani about his surprising decision.
"Look, this guy is the best fu*king heavyweight of all time. He is. Anderson Silva is the pound-for-pound best for [all] he's done, but at heavyweight, this kid has done it all. Look at who he's beat, look at
the wins he has. If you don't think this guy is the greatest ever heavyweight your fu*king crazy, that's all I can say. He's the best and he deserves to be in the hall of fame with guys like Couture, Coleman, and Hughes. No question".
White hinted that Fedor would be inducted into the HOF at the next UFC Fan Expo in Toronto, where he will be honored alongside former UFC champion Evan Tanner, who recently returned to the New York Times bestseller list with the release of his memoir entitled "I Was Champion...The Evan Tanner story.".
Any chance we see Fedor pull a Brett Favre and come out of retirement?
Not likely, says Emelianenko manager and UFC Russia president Vadim Finkelstein.
"Fedor makes his own decisions. He calls his own shots, no one sits over his shoulder telling him what to do while keeping him insulated from the true facts." Vadim joked after the event
"If Fedor wants to retire its entirely up to him, and I support the decision. I'm not interested in being the guy who rides one cash cow completely into the ground because I have nothing to fall back on. Thanks to the trail Fedor blazed in the U.S, there are now lots of opportunities for Russian fighters here in the U.S. We're going to be starting an "Ultimate Fighter Russia" series soon, and feature all the great up and coming talent coming out of Russia. Plus I hear Dana and [The Ferttita's] are thinking of building a big stadium in Russia, and maybe even having a UFC show here, so who knows?".
For his part, Fedor only walked quietly into the sunset, head bowed, crowd cheering in a show of respect for the legend. No excuses, no continuing after his moment has passed, no shallow accusations of cheating or attempt to squeeze every last penny out of a body that just can't compete anymore. For Fedor, there's just the quiet of Starry Oskol, the company of his friends and family, and the knowledge that his legacy and place in the sport of MMA are forever secured.
By Elton Hobson