Known as “The Last Emperor,” Fedor Emelianenko is widely regarded as the greatest heavyweight mixed martial artist fighter of all-time. His impressive track record includes wins over some of the greatest fighters of this era, most of whom he defeated in their prime, and many of whom he completely manhandled.
After nearly a decade of destruction he suffered his first legitimate defeat in June of 2010 when he was caught in a triangle arm bar by submission ace Fabricio Werdum.
The former ruler of the heavyweight ranks has failed to return to his winning ways with back-to-back stoppage defeats to Antonio Silva and Dan Henderson that forced his exit from the Strikeforce organization.
Since fighting outside of North American soils he has collected two-straight victories over former UFC title-challenger Jeff Monson and Olympic gold medalist Satoshi Ishii.
On June 21, after 39 trips to a fighting circle he will call his fighting career quits while facing three-time UFC title-challenger Pedro Rizzo.
In his heyday the stone-faced Russian beat some of the best that this sport has ever produced, in this piece I’ll take a look at the ten most important fights in the ex-Pride champion’s career.
#10 vs. Dan Henderson
We always discuss them but rarely do they ever come true – Dream matches between iconic figures of the past from varying weight classes.
While Fedor has spent his entire career competing at heavyweight, Henderson has bounced between middleweight and light-heavyweight and now was packing on the beef to put on a fight to make the Pride diehards salivate.
While Fedor was seemingly on the decline of his career Henderson seemed to have got a second wind, at 40 years-of-age he had looked better than ever capturing the light-heavyweight title and having won four of his last five outings.
Both men understood how important this bout was to their careers and didn’t take a step backwards with 252 seconds of action.
For the first four minutes they exchanged leather with both men giving as good as they got before Fedor buckled the Olympian with a big right-hand and looked to finish him off.
But before he had the chance Hendo utilized his Greco-Roman wrestling ability to reverse position and get behind Fedor where he caught him with a big uppercut, a few grounded strikes later and that was all she wrote.
#9 vs. Renato “Babalu” Sobral
With only 15 months as a professional fighter behind him, Emelianenko ran into one of his stiffest challengers in “Babalu” Sobral.
Sobral is probably most known for his run in the UFC which culminated in him challenging the seemingly unstoppable Chuck Liddell for the light-heavyweight crown at UFC 62 but he is a veteran who has been around the sport since 1997.
When he met up with the Russian it was in RINGS, while RINGS is still considered a mixed martial arts promotion it had different rules to what we are used to seeing today. Most notably combatants were unable to strike opponents while on the mat.
Sobral was sporting a daunting 19-2 record at the time, having been toe to toe with the likes of Maurice Smith, Valentine Overeem, Kiyoshi Tamura and Dan Henderson.
Both men battled to the judges’ score cards where Emelianenko was declared the victor after controlling most of the bout. However, the Brazilian showed off his submission game nearly catching him on two occasions.
#8 vs. Mark Coleman
Mark Coleman had a rollercoaster ride of a career filled with highs and lows. He first burst onto the scene as a NCAA Division I wrestler out of Ohio State.
The godfather of ground and pound captivated audiences with his unique style and won two UFC tournaments as well as the UFC heavyweight title in only eight months.
However at UFC 14 his Achilles heel that would haunt him his whole career shined through – his suspect gas tank. After dominating Maurice Smith in the beginning of his first title defense he tired down the stretch allowing Smith at 4-7 to become the best heavyweight in North American MMA.
In 2000 he made the move over to Japan competing in PRIDE where he revitalized his career winning their first ever open-weight grand prix with wins over the likes of Igor Vovchanchyn and Kazayuki Fujita.
Coleman would win two of his next three bouts before squaring off against the top heavyweight in the opening round of the 2004 PRIDE heavyweight grand prix.
From the opening bell Coleman looked to utilize his wrestling and control Emelianenko while striking from guard but the moment he left an opening he paid for it and was submitted a little past the two minute point of the match.
#7 vs. Ricardo Arona
Two influential figures in the history of MMA met up in the opening round of the RINGS King of Kings tournament at the beginning of this century.
At the time Emelianenko only had three fights under his belt and his adversary had only two.
However, “The Brazilian Tiger” was considered to be one of the top grapplers in the world after his impressive showing in the 2000 Abu Dhabi Championships where he defeated quality competition like Tito Ortiz and Jeff Monson.
Their first and only meeting is in my opinion one of the most underrated bouts in either man’s career – From the get go it seemed that the Brazilian had the upper hand, handily taking care of Emelianenko on the mat but was unable to catch a submission.
The judges at ring side decided that their opening round scrap would go into overtime to determine a winner which was when Fedor turned up the heat.
“The Last Emperor” was able to remain on his feet, stuffing the takedowns of the relentless grappler and out-point him on the feet to earn a decision on all three score cards.
#6 vs. Heath Herring
“The Texas Crazy Horse” was one of the most popular combants in the early part of the century after bullying the likes of Enson Inoue, Igor Vovchanchyn and Mark Kerr.
At this stage in the game he sported an impressive 20-7 record and was less than a year removed from his unsuccessful bid to take the Pride heavyweight championship from Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in one of the best heavyweight title bouts in the organization’s history.
Much like an episode of Bully Beatdown, the man known for bullying around his opponents was the one of the opposite side of a beating.
Emelianenko was able to suplex the American, put him on the mat and proceed with some of the most vicious ground and pound you will see in a lifetime – After ten minutes of this beating the ringside physician ruled that Herring was unable to continue.
#5 vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira I
While most look to the third and final encounter as the pinnacle of the Nogueira-Fedor feud, it would be a travesty to ignore the original meeting.
In their next two meetings the Russian was considered to be the favorite but it was a different story when they first met.
At the time Nogueira was the reigning Pride heavyweight kingpin with a 19-1-1 record and his lone defeat being to Dan Henderson, a fight he avenged three months before this encounter.
Punters believed that for Fedor to have a fighting hope against one of the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners the world has to offer he would have to avoid hitting the mat.
To the shock of many, this bout mostly took place on the mat with Fedor taking it there on several occasions.
While Nogueira was always working for the submission and nearly caught him with a triangle-choke on several occasions it was the ground and pound from Fedor that sealed the deal and got him the nod from the judges.
#4 vs. Kazayuki Fujita
If you’re a newcomer to the sport you must be thinking, who the hell is Fujita and what is he doing so high up on this list?
Fujita was selected to be the first challenger for the newly crowned heavyweight champ because of his popularity in Japan from competing in New Japan Pro Wrestling.
However, he had also competed as a MMA fighter with notable wins over Ken Shamrock, Mark Kerr, Yoshihiro Takayama and Gilbert Yvel.
It was expected that Emelianenko would steam roll over Fujita who was known to have practically zero stand-up game and very limited if placed on his back.
From the opening bell it seemed to go to plan, Fedor looked for a takedown early but Fujita was able to scramble back to his feet before Emelianenko opted to exchange on the feet with the clearly over-matched pro wrestler, or so we thought.
When Fedor pushed Fujita against the ropes, he was met with a furious overhand right that sent him wobbling all over the ring. When we thought we were about to see the biggest upset in this sports history he was able to get the fight to the ground, recover and submit the Japanese combatant with a rear-naked-choke.
This bout embodies what Fedor was all about, his ability to take punishment, excite the audience and still leave with his hand raised.
#3 vs. Kevin Randleman
Much like the above fight, the Kevin Randleman bout is another example of the determination or “The Last Emperor”.
A former two-time Division I NCAA Champion at Ohio State University, Randleman is one of the most powerful and decorated athletes to ever compete in mixed martial arts.
“The Monster” was a former UFC heavyweight champion who tested the waters at light-heavyweight but after two consecutive defeats to Kazushi Sakuraba and Quinton Jackson he decided to step up and play with the big boys again.
In the opening round of the heavyweight grand prix he collected the biggest victory of his career defeating Croatian kickboxing star Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic in the opening period to advance to the semi-finals.
In the second round, though, Randleman would face the toughest task of his career in the Pride heavyweight champion.
It took seconds for Randleman to take the back of Emelianenko, lifting him in the air and driving his head into the mat with a variation of a German suplex and stamp his place in the history books with one of the most replayed highlight-reels in this sports history.
While most feared for his safety, Fedor shook off the cobwebs like nothing had happened, got top position and rained down with hammer fists before getting the opening and securing a kimura to advance.
#2 vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira III
The two top heavyweights in the game were slated to face-off in the finals of the heavyweight grand prix at Pride Final Conflict 2004 however merely minutes into the bout both men clashed heads which caused a gash on the Russian’s forehead and caused a no contest.
Four months later at their annual year end super-show they were set to face off for the third and final time.
Since their first encounter in 2003, “Minotaro” had not suffered a defeat with quality wins over Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Heath Herring and Ricco Rodriguez.
The first two frames were evenly matched, while exchanging on the feet the slimmed down Nogueira was much quicker than their first bout with technical boxing but struggled to take the fight into his wheelhouse on the mats.
As the fight wore on Fedor continued to throw his heavy hands of leather and was doing damage to the former champion before finishing the bout strongly with his trademark ground and pound on the tired Brazilian.
#1 vs. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic
It was the fight that fans all over the world had wanted for almost two years, after being teased on several occasions – Most notably the heavyweight grand prix with both men on the same side of the brackets but Kevin Randleman tipped over that apple cart.
When August 28, 2005 finally arrived it was like all my Christmases had come at once, it was MMA’s Ali-Frasier – The clash between the unstoppable heavyweight champion and the beloved Croatian kick boxer.
Filipovic won seven straight victories over top heavyweights in Josh Barnett, Kevin Randleman and Mark Coleman to set up this dream match.
The bout opened with Fedor stalking the K-1 champion with his looping right-hand looking to put him to sleep. Although he was effective at the start it seemed Mirko had his number landing with his counter-strikes before Fedor took the fight to the ground.
Fedor tired “Cro Cop” out on the ring floor with his ground-and-pound game and before not too long Fedor had proven to be far too much for the Croatian star leaving with a unanimous decision on all three judges’ score cards.
Fedor will always be a man of legend; it’s hard to write a history book of the sport without mentioning him after his reign of dominance that stretched almost ten years – Whether you love him or you hate him, you cannot deny him.
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Great write up, #1 vs. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic WHAT a fight.