In a little over one week, PRIDE's greatest champion and one of mixed martial arts' greatest of all-time fighters, Fedor Emelianenko, will step into the cage at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. A dominant career that spans an entire decade and an era that saw an irrelevant Ukrainian-born welder's son emerge as one of the most well-rounded and devastating forces in the sport of mixed martial arts could potentially come to an end. With two consecutive losses on his record, a rising number in the age column, and a commitment to his religious beliefs and his family, Fedor may call it quits next Saturday night if Dan Henderson proves he has the skills to defeat "The Last Emperor".
But before we say our goodbyes, Fedor still has the opportunity to make a lasting impression on the mixed martial arts fanbase. It isn't definitive when he'll choose to step away from the sport at this time, and a win over Dan Henderson will likely keep the retirement talk to a minimum. What we do know is that Fedor's motivation seems to be in high gear as he's brought his brother Aleksander Emelianenko back into his training camp along with making trips to Holland to train with Ernesto Hoost and sparring with professional boxer Denis Ledebev.
Peeping the footage of his sparring sessions with Ledebev, there are signs that Fedor has progressed when many felt the stereotypical stubbornness that has been thrust upon the Russian people for years was more evident in his recent losses. The light-on-his-feet footwork and angles that Fedor finds is a comforting thing to watch unfold against a legitimate boxing talent. Taking the initiative to see the holes in his defense and striking, he sought the help of one of the very best K-1 fighters to ever grace the ring. Another positive move in the right direction. Is this finally a sign that Fedor Emelianenko is evolving, and more importantly -- can we finally throw away the notion that one of Russia's greatest fighters isn't what many Americans would believe is fitting into the stereotype of a stubborn man?
Vladimir Voronov's most recent comments that Fedor is simply increasing the intensity of his camp and never going to "run away" from the bigger fighters in the heavyweight division reeks of that sort of stubbornness. To many readers, the interview with Lowkick.com's Anton Gurevich hinted that Voronov may be questioning Fedor's desire to continue fighting, and as you might expect -- some fans jumped to conclusions that Fedor will likely get trounced by Dan Henderson and his career will be over.
Perhaps we should take a step back from the situation and look at it from another angle. For a fighter who has successfully defeated nearly every single opponent in his path for over a decade, it's hasty to suggest he completely re-work his entire training regiment after losing to Fabricio Werdum. His standard training camp suddenly didn't matter because he was caught in a triangle choke by one of the most feared grapplers in mixed martial arts and in the grappling world.
Antonio Silva perpetuated the discussion, moving the focus from Fedor's training regime to his overall size in a division filled with bigger fighters who are more evolved mixed martial artists. Some of the talk that size matters in the heavyweight division has dwindled, mainly due to Cain Velasquez's crowning as UFC champion and the performances by some of the larger fighters at the upper crust of the division. Will all of the talk that Fedor should move suddenly shift because of that trend? Probably not.
It's a mixed bag of solutions for a moving target, complicated even more by the failed hypotheses by fans and media alike of where the division is heading. Stubbornness may be a minor problem in the grand scheme of things, but it shouldn't be the focal point of a discussion involving Fedor's future in the sport. Evolution is something Fedor needs to go through, but it's difficult for us to have an opinion when Fedor is one of the least visible fighters on the planet. We know he isn't showing up in Brazil and rolling with ADCC champions. We only know what we see when he steps into the cage. Unfortunately, that's why some fans are beginning to lump him into a stereotype as stubborn.
July 30th will provide fans with many answers to the myriad of questions surrounding Fedor's future. Will Fedor go down as an aging fighter who had the heart of a lion, but a stubborn mind that didn't evolve with the times? Will fans blame his management instead? Or will Fedor Emelianenko succeed and give us one last moment of greatness? My inner fandom hopes for the latter.