Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was both the lineal world heavyweight champion and the interim Pride heavyweight champion in 2004, both courtesy of an amazing submission win over the dangerous Mirko "Cro Cop" Filopovic. Fedor Emelianenko had an even more important title in his possession - the actual world title, won in a previous bout with Nogueira.
When the two clashed at Pride's Final Conflict event in 2004, Emelianenko's title was on the line. Both of Nogueira's certainly were as well, our prerogative as purveyors of a fictional title lineage. Emelianenko may have had the real life bragging rights, proving himself the better man the prior year at Pride 25, but there would be no lineal title switch that night in the Saitama Super Arena.
The two men met in the finals of the best heavyweight tournament in MMA history. The sixteen men contending for all the marbles in Pride's 2004 Heavyweight Grand Prix included four current or former lineal world champions, a former UFC champion, a future K-1 ace, an Olympic medalist, and perennial contenders like Sergei Kharitonov and Heath Herring.
That August night, Nogueira eliminated the persistent Kharitonov by unanimous decision while Fedor submitted Naoya Ogawa in less then a minute. That result set up the showdown most fans expected all along - Emelianenko versus Nogueira. The Nogueria camp was confident going in, knowing their man had been less than his best in the first bout. Of course, a Nogueira loss certainly wouldn't have been without controversy. The Brazilian had been to hell and back against a Russian star at the height of his powers. Fedor had barely broken a sweat.
The point was moot, irrelevant the moment the two men cracked heads as Fedor attempted a huge punch. Blood gushed and the fight would be declared a no contest. Emelianenko would have to wait four months for another opportunity at the lineal title. Nogueira's wait for a second chance at regaining his Pride title was equally as agonizing. Finally, on New Year's Eve in front of millions of Japanese fans watching at home on television, Emelianenko beat Nogueira in a dominating fashion.
In their first match he had fearlessly waded into the jiu jitsu specialist's guard, laying down wicked ground and pound and avoiding anything that even resembled a submission attempt. In the third fight, he looked to stay standing. He pounded Nogueira with power punches, tossing him to the mat occasionally and then allowing him back to his feet. Nogueira had thought to win the bout with superior speed. Instead, after the bout, he proclaimed Fedor the fastest athlete in the heavyweight division.
Amazingly, the Russian star surpassed Mirko Cro Cop's record of eight lineal title defenses, winning ten in a row before falling victim to a Fabricio Werdum triangle choke last year on a Strikeforce card in San Jose. Fedor's conquered included former champion's Mark Coleman and Cro Cop and former UFC champions Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia.
The current lineal champion is Werdum, a Brazilian grappling expert who is one of the best heavyweight jiu jitsu players on the planet. Werdum had mixed success in the UFC, losing a high profile bout to Junior dos Santos before moving on to Strikeforce where he's won three straight fights. His fight with Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem will be his first lineal title defense. It's part of what makes this tournament so exciting. Unless Werdum has to withdraw with an injury, the winner of this high profile tourney will not just be a real contender for the title of world's baddest man - he will also be the legitimate lineal champion of the world.
Bloody Elbow Presents the history of the lineal MMA title: