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Opinion: Fedor Emelianenko no longer good enough to fight in the UFC

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Fedor Esther Lin

The term “greatest of all time” is one that is branded about all too often in the world of sports. It seems like every few years that a new “GOAT” emerges and while some linger on and make waves in the sport of mixed martial arts, others fade into obscurity. There is always objectivity when discussing the greats of sports. Soccer fans will argue on end about the respective merits of Maradona and Pele, but in the heavyweight division of mixed martial arts, discussions surrounding the greatest of all time usually center around one man, Fedor Emelianenko.

From the former fortress town of Stary Oskol, came a fighter so ferocious that he would become for a time, the most feared man on the planet. Over the course of a decade, Emelianenko would make warriors look like mere mortals. He would stand with kickboxers and grapple with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belts. Emelianenko, ever stoic, faced the best fighters that he could for 10 years and came through it unscathed, other than a doctor’s stoppage loss due to a cut against Kohsaka.

Fedor’s reign on top of the heavyweight division was plagued by doubts, while dominant in Pride FC, Emelianenko never graced the fabled UFC Octagon and many doubted his legitimacy as the number one heavyweight in the world. To me, any doubts about Fedor’s reign as the heavyweight kingpin are preposterous, one needs only to look at his wins over Cro Cop, Nogueira, Hunt, Arlovski and Sylvia. Fedor’s claim to greatness is untouchable, in my opinion he is the greatest, but like all greats, Fedor has fallen.

The Strikeforce years were not kind to Fedor Emelianenko. While Fedor did score a win over Brett Rogers, his run under Scott Coker will ultimately be remembered for 3 nights; the first night shocked the world, Fabricio Werdum tapped out the sambo master. The second night was disturbing, the much-bigger Antonio Silva pounded out Emelianenko, and the third night was stunning, Dan Henderson, a much smaller 40-year-old man, knocked out Emelianenko in the first round. Those 3 moments in Strikeforce should have shown the world that Fedor’s turn on top was over, but us combat sports fans are greedy and wanted more.

After leaving Strikeforce, Fedor fought 3 more times, scoring 3 dominant wins before deciding to leave the sport of mixed martial arts to pursue politics. When Fedor retired I breathed a sigh of relief, it seemed like he had left the sport on a positive note, something that few fighters ever do, but Fedor got the itch to return to the sport and it was at that point that I knew things were going to end up badly.

Following a dominant win in a mismatch against Jaideep Singh at Rizin 2, the ever-lingering rumours regarding Fedor signing for the UFC rose from the periphery and this time, it appeared that both sides were genuinely interested in making a deal. Before a UFC deal could be signed though, Emelianenko decided to fight in his native Russia for EFN and this is a decision that he will likely regret.

Fedor, was once again given an opponent that he was expected to beat. Fabio Maldonado, a hard-working, but ultimately uninspiring fighter, who was not up to scratch in the UFC’s light heavyweight division was Fedor's chosen foe. Maldonado, the “easy-win fight”, ended up beating Fedor up so badly that it pained me to watch. The first round of EFN 50’s main event was brutal, Maldonado dropped Emelianenko and pounded him into a bloody mess. Fedor somewhat recovered and lasted the 15 minutes, and was given a decision by judges that his own organization had chosen. Everyone who watched that fight knew who the real winner was though.

With his controversial victory included, Emelianenko is on a 5-fight winning streak and at the post-fight press conference he stated that he wants to continue fighting. Whether Fedor continues to fight or not is ultimately up to him, but I contend that Fedor does not warrant a place on the UFC roster.

Fedor was once the greatest, but he is now a shadow of his former self, chasing dreams of former glory, while slipping further into mediocrity. Against Maldonado, Emelianenko showed his fight IQ isn’t there anymore, he jumped in with hooks, didn’t set up his attacks, nor did he look to take the fight to the ground, where he would have had the distinct advantage. Emelianenko looked slow, soft and his chin was not up to taking a punch from a blown-up light heavyweight, who couldn’t cut the mustard in the UFC. Fedor Emelianenko did not look like a fighter worthy of a UFC contract, and his compatriot Vitaly Minakov seems to have taken the mantle of the toughest heavyweight in Russia.

I doubt very much that there is anybody in the UFC heavyweight top 10 that Emelianenko could defeat, his decline is ongoing and it is only going to get worse. While some want to see Fedor fight in the UFC as some kind of fulfilment of a dream, this dream would be a nightmare for everyone involved. Emelianenko would be brutally battered, and fans would have to watch and his legacy would be further tarnished. Signing Fedor to the UFC in his current state is more morally questionable than hiring Brock Lesnar, a man who hasn’t fought in 4-and-a-half years. Lesnar, at his worst, looked better than Emelianenko looked on Friday night.

All that is good has to end and I, for one, would rather see a legend like Emelianenko drift off into retirement on a win, rather than see him get dominated by a young UFC fighter. One thing that is certain in the life of a fight fan is disappointment. All the legends fall, but let’s hope Emelianenko will fall no further.