In the past two weeks we've seen two of the all time greats continue their falls from grace. For one, it's been a five year struggle to remain relevant in an ever changing light heavyweight division. For another, the fall from grace was much more sudden and completely unexpected. For both Fedor Emelianenko and Tito Ortiz, two men who one ruled their respective divisions, the most recent years have been unkind. At one point both were considered the best, now only shells of the men they used to be. Let's take a look at their legacies and how these most recent string of losses have affected how fans and media view their accomplishments.
It's easy for fans to write off Tito Ortiz. He's become a caricature of his once great self and honestly, his recent record is dismal. For those that are Ortiz fans, they are quick to point out that his losses have only been to the top light heavyweights the UFC has to offer. They will attempt to argue that he almost defeated Rashad Evans if not for the point deduction and came extremely close to finishing Lyoto Machida by a triangle choke when the two squared off. For those that hate everything about the Huntington Beach Bad Boy, it's easy to hate the most decorated light heavyweight champion in history. A loss to Matt Hamill is inexcusable. Claiming to have a cracked skull after fighting Forrest Griffin is more so.
The excuses following every fight were more than enough for MMA fans to begin writing Ortiz off. He gained back some good will with his gutsy win over Ryan Bader and for stepping in on short notice against Rashad Evans, but it is hard to ignore the shenanigans he's pulled over the years with his excuses and poor performances. The fight game is one where it's not what you have done, it's what you have done lately, and for Tito Ortiz, his recent history has been underwhelming.
For Fedor Emelianenko, his fall from grace has been much more sudden. Long considered not just the best heavyweight but also pound for pound the best fighter in the world, dropping his last three fights has surprised many fight fans. Fedor is one of those fighters that people either love or hate, there really isn't a middle ground. His fans have such an unadulterated love for him, that they aren't willing to accept that the sport may have passed him by. In contrast, his detractors are unable to reflect on his record and see that he has been at the top of the sport for the greater part of a decade. This division in fandom is based on the excuses from both sides. In order to justify their arguments, they are willing to write off any opponent he faces.
The two fighters differ in who makes the excuses. For Ortiz, it is the fighter who makes the excuses following losses. For Emelianenko, his fans are those that make the excuses. For both, their legacies are at risk should they continue fighting. Many expected that Fedor would retire following his third straight loss, the most recent to the Strikeforce light heavyweight champion. Dan Henderson's stoppage in Chicago was a cause for concern. Fedor's losses to Fabricio Werdum and Antonio Silva could be viewed as a fighter no longer able to compete with a much bigger and talented heavyweight division. The loss to Henderson showed that Fedor's speed had faded as well.
When both men choose to walk away from the sport is anyone's guess. But when they do, how will they be remembered? What will UFC fans choose to remember about Ortiz? Will he be the man who ruled the light heavyweight division and showed that above average wrestling mixed with competent grappling could dominate his peers? Or will fans choose to remember him as the fighter who ducked Chuck Liddell for years and get stopped by his rival twice? For Emelianenko, his fans will choose to remember him as the best. But what about the rest of us? When the dust settles and the gloves are hung up, will Fedor be on the MMA Mount Rushmore? Is he the prototype for future heavyweights or was he just a fighter who benefitted from matchmaking?
A fighter's legacy will always have two points of view. Both Tito and Fedor have their fans who will always remember their high points. But for those that don't share that kind of love, the legacy is one where it really comes down to a view on history. For both, the longer that they choose to stick around means that they have a greater chance to justify the detractors. There is nothing left for either to accomplish in the sport. A run at a title is unlikely for both at this point and it would be far more beneficial to keep whatever name they have left than become fodder for young stars to be built upon. It is better to walk away with dignity than tarnish a legacy with beneficial outcome. I hope that both fighters can realize this.