Fedor Emelianenko is on the verge of adding one more world title to his illustrious mixed martial arts career.
The former PRIDE FC, Fighting Network RINGS and World Alliance of Mixed Martial Arts champion is one victory away from earning Bellator gold. He advanced to the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix finals on Saturday night with a first-round TKO victory over Chael Sonnen.
“I am very grateful to God that he gifted me this very victory,” Emelianenko told the press after the fight through a translator. “That’s why I am happy. I know how many people prayed for me and cheered for me and I’m very grateful to everybody.”
Emelianenko vs. Sonnen
Emelianenko dropped Sonnen early in the bout with a left-hand. Sonnen, “The American Gangster,” was able to stay in the fight. He took control when he dived for a low single-leg takedown. After some back-and-forth exchanges on the ground, Sonnen attempted a dive roll that allowed Emelianenko to assume mount and land heavy ground and pound.
“I was going to lose that position anyway,” Sonnen said of his decision to attempt the maneuver. “I was falling over the top, so I tried to tuck his chin real fast and go. So, I used to do that move all the time in college and always got it. But I missed it tonight and rolled right over.”
The finish came with 14 seconds remaining in the opening round. Emelianenko was pounding Sonnen from the top. While Sonnen was blocking most of the punches with his hands, referee Dan Miragliotta felt he wasn’t adequately defending himself in that bad position and waved off the contest.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been ground and pounded like that,” Sonnen said of Emelianenko’s power. “The referee warned me. He said, ‘If you don’t move, I’m going to stop this.’ I didn’t think he would because [the punches] were going into my hands. I thought I was blocking them and having a rope-a-dope moment. I thought I was luring [Emelianenko] in. That was a bad strategy it turns out. That was a bad plan.”
Emelianenko capitalized on Sonnen’s botched dive roll attempt and moved his MMA record to 38-5. He didn’t see Sonnen’s attempt coming, but he was prepared to deal with it.
“I work in all different positions,” Emelianenko said. “That’s why I have to feel really good in all the positions. Chael is a very good wrestler and we were prepared for that.”
Emelianenko vs. Bader
Emelianenko will fight another wrestler in the Grand Prix finals in Ryan Bader. Bader fought Matt Mitrione in the tournament’s other semifinal bout Friday night and took a dominant unanimous decision win after employing a wrestling-heavy offense. The pair met in the cage for a face-off immediately following Emelianenko’s victory over Sonnen.
“It’s kind of surreal but not,” Bader said. “I’ve been in there with guys like that. Guys that I kind of idolize coming up. To stand across the cage with them, it’s no different with Fedor. It’s one of those things that when you get that opponent, you know you’re fighting a guy, it’s just a man, a name and somebody standing in your way.”
While Emelianenko will be looking to add a Bellator title on the back-end of his career, Bader will look to accomplish a rare feat in MMA. He entered the tournament as the promotion’s light heavyweight champion, and he could finish it as its heavyweight champion as well. Being a simultaneous two-weight champion is an extremely rare occurrence at high-level MMA—Conor McGregor and Daniel Cormier are the only two to do it, both in the UFC. Bader will look to become Bellator’s first concurrent two-weight champion after welterweight champ Rory MacDonald failed in his bid a few weeks ago.
Emelianenko will take on Bader in the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix final on January 26 at The Forum in Los Angeles.