There were quite a few names being thrown around as a potential opponent for Fedor Emelianenko after he announced his return to competition nearly two months ago. Former UFC heavyweight champion and newly minted free agent Junior dos Santos was interested. A former professional wrestler turned MMA fighter in Jake Hager was also keen. However, the one name that lay claim to the most riveting option for Emelianenko was none other than Josh Barnett, who was supposed to fight the ‘Last Emperor’ years ago under the now-defunct Affliction Entertainment banner.
However, none of those names got the call from Bellator. It was later revealed that Emelianenko would be fighting Tim Johnson in the headliner of the promotion’s first-ever event in Moscow, currently scheduled for October. The decision to make the fight with Johnson was one met with a lot of disappointment, but Bellator president Scott Coker has explained why that was the route they opted to take.
Talk of a fight between the two heavyweights was actually initiated earlier this year by Emelianenko, who specifically asked for Johnson after he fought his pupil, Valentin Moldavsky at Bellator 261.
“So, we start taking these names and Fedor was really thinking about it,” Coker told Nolan King of MMA Junkie. “Then, when he came here for the [Valentin] Moldavsky fight, he pulled me aside and said to me, ‘If Moldavsky loses, I want to fight Tim Johnson’. In his mind, I think he already had a focus on somebody that was ranked, somebody that is relevant in today’s fighting. Maybe he could’ve gotten that shot against [Ryan] Bader in that sense, right? He wanted to fight Tim Johnson if he won, but he lost. I think in his mind, he just had this fight in his mind.
“He went home and thought about it. We gave him all the names and really it was up to him. To me, he deserves to be able to choose who he wants to fight in his last couple of fights. He’s going to retire after he fights this fight and then he has one more and he’s going to retire. To me, he’s the greatest heavyweight of all time. He’s accomplished so much and done so much for the sport.”
Coker believes that Emelianenko would like to fight for gold again, which served as a driving force behind his choice of Johnson. In his most recent fight against Moldavsky, Johnson was vying for the interim heavyweight championship, but lost by way of unanimous decision. He still remains a ranked contender in the heavyweight division, and Emelianenko prefers to fight someone that can lead him to a championship rematch with Ryan Bader.
Coker praised Emelianenko for that reason and was more than happy to fulfill his request.
“I give him a lot of credit,” said Coker. “Tim Johnson is no joke. He beat Cheick Kongo. He knocked out Tyrell Fortune. He goes five rounds with Moldavsky, who’s a tough, tough guy and now he’s gotta go fight Fedor. So, Fedor didn’t pick the easiest opponent. He could’ve picked somebody much easier — guys that are on losing streaks — or had a legit fight.
“I would’ve loved it because you get to see these names, but Fedor wants to fight somebody that is at the top. I think in his mind he still wants to fight for the belt and fight Bader again. I think that’s what his goal is. We haven’t had that conversation. I just said, ‘Okay, you want to fight Tim Johnson? We’ll have you fight Tim Johnson. Then, we’ll take it from there.”
Emelianenko last competed at Bellator 237, where he defeated Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson by way of first-round technical knockout.