Fedor Emelianenko makes his way to the cage at Fedor vs. Henderson on Saturday, July 30, 2011 in Hoffman Estates, Ill. James Law, MMA Fighting
This Thursday, The Last Emperor returns for another fight as Fedor Emelianenko (33-4(1)) takes on fellow MMA legend Pedro Rizzo (19-9). The fight takes place in St. Petersburg, Russia and is the main event for this M-1 card which also features Jeff Monson in action, along with M-1 Heavyweight champion Guram Gugenishvili. The show begins at 12:00 p.m. ET / 9:00 a.m. PT Thursday, June 21, and be sure to come by Bloody Elbow for live results.
While this fight has received a lot of criticism, it's easy to see why it was set up. M-1's primary goal remains Fedor Emelianenko and doing whatever they can to protect his legacy. As a result, Rizzo is the perfect opponent - one that possesses a very minimal degree of actual danger while still holding some semblance of legitimacy. It's the kind of fight Fedor detractors have accused him of taking for years now, and in all likelihood, the only kind of fight we'll see him in for the rest of his career.
The legend and fall of The Last Emperor has been well documented. At one time the best MMA fighter on the planet (and don't let any revisionist history tell you otherwise), Fedor dominated the Heavyweight scene during his spectacular Pride run. With wins over the likes of Mirko Cro Cop and Minotauro Nogueira among many others, Fedor was seen as invincible. That all came crashing down on June 26, 2010 when Fabricio Werdum submitted him with a triangle. The Fedor mystique cracked that day, but it was his subsequent loses to Antonio Silva and Dan Henderson that forever shattered it.
After parting ways with Strikeforce in 2011 (and leaving behind an abysmally un-Fedor like record of 1-3), Fedor looked to rebuild, primarily in M-1. His first fight after Strikeforce was against Jeff Monson last November. While Fedor did earn a win there, it was not impressive, as he took a dull decision victory. Fedor followed that up with a better win over Satoshi Ishii last New Year's Eve in his most impressive performance in over 2 years.
Our rankings still have Fedor as the #11 Heavyweight in the world, but in all honesty, he probably shouldn't be, and that's coming from a big Fedor fan. It's hard to evaluate just where he stands in the modern landscape of MMA, and, for those who watched his amazing run, a bit depressing to even contemplate.
More on Rizzo and how they match up in the full entry.
Pedro Rizzo is one of the pioneers of the UFC Heavyweight division. His 2001 UFC Heavyweight title fight with Randy Couture is among the best fights in MMA history, and absolutely must be seen. He's also had classic fights with the likes of Josh Barnett and Tra Telligman.
But those fights were long, long ago in an MMA galaxy far, far away. Since that fight with Couture, Rizzo has never quite gotten back on track. And to repeat, that was 2001 we're talking about. He walked away from the UFC in 2003 and has competed only sporadically since then, including a surprisingly bad 0-2 run in Pride.
A few years ago, he had a bit of a resurgence, defeating Justin Eilers and Jeff Monson before losing to Barnett and Gilbert Yvel. In theory, he's currently on a three fight win streak, though considering the fact that he has not fought in nearly two years, it feels odd calling it a streak. His last bout was another legends fight as he defeated Ken Shamrock in Australia. That fight showcased what Rizzo does best and what he will always be known for - leg kicks. One of the first men to use leg kicks effectively, Rizzo is the master in MMA, and few have improved on his work. That proficiency with leg kicks still gets him name dropped semi-regularly on UFC shows by Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan. Expect him to try and use those leg kicks extensively against Fedor.
Rizzo is undoubtedly an important heavyweight in the evolution of MMA, but he never quite made it to the level of champion. A win over Fedor, even the 2012 version of Fedor, would probably be the biggest of his career.
Betting lines have Fedor as a ridiculous -2000 favorite for this fight - one of the most lopsided lines in the history of MMA. And to be honest, that's not entirely inaccurate. Fedor has fallen quite a ways from his lofty heights, but it seems unlikely that the 38 year old Rizzo has much to offer at this point.
And should the unthinkable happen and Rizzo pull off the win? There's a bit of talk circulating that Fedor could retire if he loses, which would probably be the right choice.
Either way, we're on borrowed time in our ability to watch both The Last Emperor and The Rock compete - two of the sport's true legends, and two of my personal favorites. This fight isn't relevant, and it really never would have been relevant, as by the time Fedor began his rise, Rizzo was already on the decline. But I will be tuning in anyway. Why? Because it's Fedor. And because it's Rizzo. Both men have given me plenty of great MMA moments, and I'll give them the chance to try and deliver one more.