Fedor Emelianenko vs. Frank Mir headlines Bellator 198 this April 28, 2018 at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois.
One sentence summary:
David: Clunky Old Men
Phil: Frank Mir comes out of the mist to bag the last and greatest of the Pride legends for his trophy cabinet
Record: Fedor Emelianenko 36-5-1 NC | Frank Mir 18-11
Odds: Fedor Emelianenko +130 | Frank Mir -140
History / Introduction to Both Fighters
Phil: It’s difficult to really recount what the Prime Fedor years were like to people who weren’t there, because they were simultaneously impressive to watch and annoying to hear about. There have been many irritating fanbases over the years, with McGregor stans being the latest to stake their claim as the most obnoxious, but the Fedor superfan was its own unique breed, doggedly claiming that Fedor was the best grappler, the best striker AND the smartest fighter in the sport. That being said, the man himself was an absolute joy to watch. I think Jordan Breen put it best when he compared him to Tool: “I’ll rock to their music any time, but their fans make you want to down Drano at warp speed.”
That being said, it was still tough to watch his decline, which was equal parts physical and strategic. I didn’t ever need to see The Last Emperor get knocked cold by a man called Meathead, an outcome made even more depressing by how inevitable it felt.
David: Fedor never struck me as the ‘fight for money until the money’s paying for hospital bills’ type, but then he never struck me as the ‘women should stay in the kitchen’ type either. So here we are, lamenting the presence of a once-proud icon, turning toward a ploughed horizon.
Phil: Frank Mir has been an overachiever. He was considered an exemplary prospect by the dismal standards of early 2000s US HW MMA, but when the “modern” era rolled around, he was revealed to be neither particularly fast nor particularly strong. He was a poor wrestler, and a average-to-decent boxer, whose strides in the area would always be constrained by the fact that he wasn’t very durable either. He made his way as one of MMA’s great opportunists, able to snap off submissions (and limbs) at a moment’s notice. His claims to fame are his rivalry with Brock Lesnar, his two wins over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and his improbable career recovery after a brutal motorcycle accident. His philosophizing rubbed some people the wrong way, but we both always appreciated his candour and technical insight.
David: I loved Mir’s philosophizing. He’s like a fight version of Ayn Rand; fantastically wrong, but intoxicating for some. I was never “some” but it’s rare to see or hear fighters really do a deep dive into analysis while sprinkling said analysis into broad ideas. Together with his Miguel Torres fandom that you could hear exploding when he lost to Brian Bowles, Mir’s a personality I do kind of miss. “I want to rip the skin off his face” is an all timer for me, and the fact that he said with zero irony or self-awareness makes it even better (?). Fight wise, we know who he is: a guy who is really good at submissions, still an experiment on the feet, and not much else.
What’s at stake?
Phil: Next phase of the heavyweight tournament, I guess, which is progressing with typically glacial speed. The SF tournament, which was also organized by Scott Coker, took something like 15 months. So who would the winner be up against... *checks schedule*... Chael Sonnen. Ohhh. So this is the “old person” side of the bracket. Yeah, I guess either one of these guys could win that fight... or not? Could Fedor seriously lose to Chael? That is a heinous thought.
David: I forgot this was even part of a tournament that’s not the punchline to a joke. There’s nothing real at stake; just whether or not some fans can wax nostalgic over a win, or a loss.
Where do they want it?
Phil: Late career Fedor has been an odd duck. There have been flashes of the old brilliance- the blazing handspeed in the later rounds against Maldonado, the takedowns and ground and pound against (yes, yes, I know) Jaideep Singh. The main thing that really seems to be missing is defense. In his prime Fedor was an incredibly quick heavyweight who, while never a defensive mastermind, would slip his head back and parry incoming shots. Now he simply looks surprised that people are even punching back, and his head stays rigidly upright. My personal theory is that everyone around him is too scared or respectful to spar hard with him nowadays, so that when punches get thrown, they’re a pure surprise.
David: Fedor used to enjoy the feeling out/dopminate period with his striking. Using piercing speed, and upper body movement, he’s always been hard to defend. He’s like a Russian hockey forward who likes to shoot on their offwing; not eccentric, but just off-kilter in their attack to truly disrupt traditional methods of defense. Those ridge hand punches still carry quite a bit of pop, which is why he’s still fun to watch. Fedor hasn’t changed in the way he attacks, sprinting through his punch entries; instead he’s just gotten worse defensively, which was never good in the first place, and so that’s why he can’t even fight Fabio Maldonado without getting knocked out repeatedly.
Phil: Frank Mir has been out for a good couple of years following a Turinabol test and his proclamation that he didn’t know how it could have got there because “I don’t take performance enhancing drugs” and... sure, Frank. That muscle suit that you put on for the Kongo and Carwin fights and then equally promptly lost again was just hard work. Look, we don’t care.
Enhanced or not, and as previously mentioned, Mir has simply never been a top-shelf physical specimen. Almost every part of his game was worked on and developed into an effective finishing threat: he wielded a strong 1,2 from orthodox and an underrated cross and body kick from southpaw, he became increasingly effective in the clinch, and his submission game was always threatening. He could also be reliably outgunned in literally every one of those areas. Carwin and Barnett mashed him in the clinch, Dos Santos and Hunt whacked him on the feet, and Lesnar brutalized him from top position. This wasn’t helped by his tendency to freeze into a single phase. As a thoughtful fighter, you often got the impression that he was running through potential options with the care of a finicky restaurant patron while the punches rained down and his consciousness slipped away.
David: Mir never really evolved so much as he simply learned, and became tactical. His punch mechanics didn’t magically transform; he just took a different approach, staying effectively patient when he’d otherwise panic, and effectively panicking when he’d otherwise ineffectively panic. Soothing his mind on the feet brought him some big wins without sacrificing what made him special, but now he’s in the twilight of his career, and there’s nothing much to be said. He’s not a shell of his former self, or anything.
Insight from past fights?
David: Mir’s last several fights are much more encouraging than Fedor’s. If Fedor fought Hunt and Arlovski, I’m pretty sure we’d be mourning the departed instead of previewing a retirement tour. Mir’s biggest strength as he grew older was becoming more strategic, scouting his opponents, and infusing that strategy with different tactics (even within rounds). Because of that, I have to believe that he’ll win this one. Fedor was a great fighter, but even at his best, his only real strategic win was the rematch against Nog, and his bout with CroCop. Both fights saw him use his striking in harmonic conjunction with his takedowns. I think that was the byproduct of being challenged more than a display of what Fedor is capable of. For the most part, he’s never been a real tactician, and his flaws (defensive grappling, range management) are more or less where they’ve always been.
Phil: Mir’s late UFC career was not fantastic, but there was a baseline level of fighter which he did not lose to. Everyone who beat him was a legitimate top 10 heavyweight, for whatever that’s worth. What I’m saying is that in recent memory, he’s never done anything remotely as damning as losing a 10-7 round (Russian MMA Federation judges aside) to Fabio Maldonado. I like Fabio Maldonado more than most people, but that was not a good look at all.
Phil: Nothing immediately springs to mind. Senescence and general issues of motivation are sizable ones for both fighters. It’s notable that Mir looks a lot better on the scales than Fedor does. While Emelianenko always rocked the dadbod, it was traditionally a compact version. He looks a little doughy now.
David: Despite Fedor’s physique, he was always a brilliant athlete. Now he’s less of an athlete with Carl Winslow weight. That’s not a good combination for a fighter who really was the sum of his “athletic and explosive” abilities (that’s kind of hot take, so lay it on him wonderful readers).
David: I’ve said what I needed to say above. Mir’s tactical and strategic advantages might have even overcome a more athletic Fedor, but now? Not only would Mir be a threat on the ground at any stage in Fedor’s career, but at this stage of the game—while both guys are probably dealing with brittle hips and arthritis—he’s basically poison. Frank Mir by armbar, round 1.
Phil: Mir’s decline feels tightly coupled to his physicality. I always felt like he was getting the most out of his frame, limited and ageing as it was. Fedor’s decline does not. Ever since the Brett Rogers fight, I felt like he was drifting away from what made him an effective fighter and I don’t think he ever really found his way back. He’s deteriorated physically, but even then I never feel like I’m seeing a canny veteran struggling against the boundaries of age, but a man who simply can’t make himself remember how to win in the way that he once did. As such his decline has been more stark and unmanageable than Mir’s. In their respective primes, Emelianenko would be an absolute nightmare for Mir, and perhaps he can still find that big shot on a fighter who has never absorbed damage very well. On balance, I think Mir picks up another greying Pride veteran scalp Frank Mir by TKO, round 1.