As he faces Dan Henderson this weekend in the main event of Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson, Fedor Emelianenko reaches a crossroads in his career. This could be the fight that tells us just how much Fedor has left, and whether or not the former number one heavyweight has another run at the top left in him. Regardless of the result, however, Fedor’s has been a career filled with highlights and with his explosive power complimented by an unnervingly nonchalant aura, “The Last Emperor” once seemed invincible.
Picking just one defining moment for Fedor is no easy task and the fight I have chosen may have its detractors. But a fighter’s defining moment is not necessarily the same as their greatest one. It isn’t about achievement, it is about what best encapsulates them as a combatant and, in this case, as a legend.
Fedor Emelianenko’s defining moment came in June 2004, when he faced Kevin Randleman in the second round of the Pride 2004 Heavyweight Grand Prix.
Having beaten Randleman’s training partner, Mark Coleman, by armbar in the first round of the tournament, Fedor was set to meet a Kevin Randleman who was coming off of the biggest win of his career. Randleman had shocked the entire sport with his crunching knockout win over Mirko “CroCop” Filipovic in the first round and was looking to do it again, this time against the heavyweight champion.
Randleman began the fight aggressively, clinching with Fedor, pressing him into the corner of the ring and scoring an early takedown. As Fedor turned his back in an attempt to scramble to his feet, Randleman adjusted with him and hoisted Fedor into the air. In one of the sport’s great moments, Randleman suplexed Fedor over his own body and down, headfirst into the canvas. It was a shocking moment that left fans unconcerned about whether the fight was over or not, they were more worried about Fedor being seriously injured or worse.
Hauled into the air by an elite athlete, suplexed into the mat head first and with such force that his body almost folded in two, Fedor’s expression never changed. The champion steadied himself, fended off a couple of half-hearted knee attempts from Randleman and went straight back to work.
Before you were even confident that he was physically okay, Fedor Emelianenko was back in control again. He adjusted his hips slightly while in north south position and then, in what looked like an almost routine manner against a former NCAA Division 1 champion, Fedor calmly reversed position as his opponent overcommitted, sweeping Randleman and landing on top.
From there it was academic. Fedor landed some crushing blows to the side of Randleman’s head, the sound of which drew audible gasps from the audience, before isolating Randleman’s left arm and locking in a kimura for the submission win. Expressionless, Fedor stood in the centre of the ring with his arm raised as his team rushed to celebrate with him. The entire fight, the journey from near obliteration to victory, had lasted just over a minute and a half.
This is the moment, this ninety-something seconds, that best defines Fedor’s legend. It best defines his legacy not just as the greatest heavyweight the sport has seen, but also as its most enigmatic, almost mythical figure.
For ten years Fedor Emelianenko was seen as an unbeatable Russian machine and this fight is the epitome of that legend. He was picked up like a rag-doll, slammed head first into the floor with untold force by an athletic specimen like Kevin Randleman, and Fedor didn’t even wince.
Look at Fedor’s face as Randleman slams him. You wouldn’t even know he was in a fight. There was no sign of fear, no sign even of effort. Fedor didn’t need to struggle valiantly towards a momentum shift like other great fighters would, he simply steadied himself and did what Fedor Emelianenko always did; he won.
Even now, with the apparent myth broken and Fedor coming off of back to back losses, this is still a fight that inspires the most pure feeling of awe. And when it comes to a feeling like that, it doesn’t matter if Fedor drops another fight this Saturday; it doesn’t matter if he never tastes victory again.
Because the days when Fedor Emelianenko ruled effortlessly over the heavyweight division will always be there, and we can still look back and remember the legend of Fedor that was, and the day he came back to win after being suplexed straight to hell - we can still remember a time when he was invincible.
This article was written by Jack Barrington for FightLockdown.com