Fedor is back: Make of it what you will

Fedor Emelianenko fails to inspire confidence entering Bellator debut

It has been more than six years since Fedor Emelianenko’s rule over heavyweight mixed martial arts came to an end in San Jose, California — courtesy of Fabricio Werdum’s clever guard.

Prior to tapping to a Werdum triangle choke in June 2010, Emelianenko was practically undefeated and a popular candidate for being considered the best in the world. The stoic, well-rounded big man from Russia had been deemed all but invincible up to that point.

It has been a different story post-Werdum. Emelianenko went on to lose his next two fights (badly) in the United States before returning to an easier lineup of opposition in Russia. He retired in 2012, but re-emerged in 2015. Since returning to competition he has fought twice, in Russia and Japan.

On Saturday, Emelianenko, 40, will be back inside the SAP Center, the same building in which he suffered that iconic loss to Werdum. He faces Matt Mitrione in the main event of Bellator 172.

Exactly what Emelianenko is fighting for at this point is hard to pin down. He says he wishes to glorify God. Presumably, Bellator is paying him well, too.

When asked recently how the Fedor of now compares to the Fedor who last fought in the U.S. back in 2011, Emelianenko raised an eyebrow and took a long, hard look at the floor before responding in Russian.

“The only thing I can say for sure is that I didn’t become any younger,” he said.

That revelation doesn’t inspire confidence, considering Emelianenko already looked a bit past his prime the last time he fought stateside.

And he didn’t exactly look young in June, when he won a controversial unanimous decision against Fabio Maldonado in St. Petersburg, Russia. Emelianenko was badly hurt in the first round. In fact, it appeared as if he was briefly knocked out.

Whether or not Emelianenko even won that fight is up for debate, depending on whom you ask. The Russian MMA Union that oversaw the contest ruled it a victory Emelianenko. Another body, the World MMA Association, reviewed the fight and called it a draw.

Regardless, that’s not the performance Emelianenko, Bellator and even Mitrione want potential viewers to focus on. As is the case with any aging legend, it’s far more fun to discuss the past.

When asked to name his favorite Emelianenko fights, Mitrione rattled off his contests with Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Kevin Randleman and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira — all of which occurred about 12 years ago.

No one can blame Mitrione (11-5) for wanting this fight, which he specifically asked for. Leading up to it, he said he views Emelianenko’s last two fights as essentially warmups to a bigger matchup like Saturday and he expects Emelianenko to be himself. Or is at least hopeful of it.

“I prepped for the early 2000 Fedor and that’s really what we expect,” Mitrione said. “It may not be that way and it will be a shame if it’s not. I’m as good as I’ve ever been and if he comes out and is not that way, it will be a shame. It will be a letdown.”

Either way, the event should pull good ratings for Bellator — because after all, it has been proven in this sport that the bodies of legends wear down well before the value of their names.

Emelianenko, one of the greatest fighters to ever live, will compete on U.S. soil on Saturday. And he’s “not becoming any younger.” Make of it what you will.