Last September, Fedor Emelianenko announced his return to MMA and set off a firestorm of speculation about who he opponent would be. News “leaked” that Emelianenko’s promoter, Japanese upstart Rizin, would match him up with Singh Jaideep, a kickboxer with 2-0 pro MMA record. Reaction was apathetic at best, with most finding the Jaideep matchup a waste of time. Rizin began the process of denying reports and insisting their search was ongoing, but the matchup was made official in December (and in true Japanese fashion, a mere two weeks before the New Year’s Eve date). Emelianenko would go on finish Jaideep by submission to strikes.
Two weeks ago, Fabio Maldonado was revealed to be the second opponent in Emelianenko’s “comeback.” Unlike Jaideep, Maldonado is an experienced MMA fighter. Outside a short-notice fight against Stipe Miocic and a catchweight fight against Quinton Jackson, Maldonado has fought his entire career (at the elite level, anyway) at light heavyweight. His career record is respectable (22-9), but he was nothing more than a fun action fighter during his UFC run as his 5-6 record in the promotion shows.
Leave Fedor alone
Naturally, the Maldonado matchup has been met with this same apathy and eye-rolling as the Jaideep matchup. Maldonado will likely pose little problem for the aging Russian, and it’s expected he’ll be dispatched in short order. Calls continue for Emelianenko to sign with the UFC (and he continues to dangle that possibility in public) or, at the very least, find more suitable competition.
But for what purpose? While the UFC heavyweight division has seen a renaissance of old, he’s in no position to challenge for the division’s title. Could he be competitive against the bulk of the division? It seems likely, given that contemporaries like Andrei Arlovski and Mark Hunt have rightful spots in the top ten. But if he’s getting a comparable amount to fight the likes of Jaideep and Maldonado, what would he gain from fighting in the UFC?
It’s easy to forget that Emelianenko turns 40 in September. It’s harder to forget that he’s already retired once. He’s fighting for paychecks. That was clear after his run of three losses in Strikeforce, when his retirement tour consisted of fights against Jeff Monson, Satoshi Ishii, and Pedro Rizzo. His post-retirement docket has been more of the same.
The irony, of course, is that if Emelianenko suffered losses in more “appropriate” matchups, the calls instead would be for him to return to retirement. And that’s the sort of Catch-22 aging vets find themselves in. Fans don’t want to see their heroes take a beating, but they also don’t want to see them taking fights they’re “above” (even if they’re no longer above those fights based on talent).
This is not to say that you should be interested in Emelianenko and Maldonado if that’s not your thing. But if Emelianenko’s going to continue fighting, he’s better off doing so against the likes of Maldonado.