We know Dana White doesn’t think that “The Last Emperor” is deserving of being atop anyone’s pound-for-pound list, and ranks below his current crop of heavyweights in the rankings right now, but in the history of the sport, where does Fedor Emelianenko fall?
Top 10? Top 5? Top of the Mountain?
Note to Dana White: you might want to stop reading right about now.
While there have been many greats, there has been none greater than Fedor Emelianenko. He is, in my opinion, the best fighter in the history of mixed martial arts. Just for clarification, “history” in this case means “over the last twenty years.”
There are going to be many who debate this statement, some more ferociously than others. The Great Fedor Debate is always one that gets good and nasty pretty quickly, and I expect no less from this installment. Knowing the arguments that will be coming to counter-strike my placement of the Russian heavyweight atop the list of all-time greats in this sport, let’s tackle them both head-on.
He’s never fought in the UFC
Some people believe that to be considered the best, you have to have competed in the best organization in the business. Essentially, you can’t be the best baseball player in the history of the sport if you only played in Japan or never made it passed Triple-A Pawtucket. But MLB and UFC aren’t the same animals.
While there hasn’t been a legitimate challenger to the dominance of Major League Baseball in eons, the UFC hasn’t always been the premier organization in mixed martial arts, as much as admitting that fact will sting the UFC loyalists out there. During the height of Fedor’s dominance, he was competing in the best organization in the sport, Japan’s Pride Fighting Championship.
The UFC may be the reigning king of companies right now, but it hasn’t always been that way. Seeing as all it would take was his name on a contract to eliminate this argument from the list, let’s move on, shall we?
Quality of Competition
Anti-Emelianenko groups are quick to point a finger at Fedor’s recent string of opponents as sub-par competition, extrapolating that not facing the best of the best now means he’s never faced anyone of substance in his career. That logic baffles me; it’s like saying because DeNiro’s last couple films have been mediocre, he’s never made a good movie in his life.
Yes, fights with Brett Rogers, Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia are not on the same level as competing against Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez. Victories over Zuluzinho and Hong Man Choi make the argument a little more challenging, but the truth is that during the glory days of Pride, there wasn’t a better collection of heavyweights competing anywhere in the sport, and Emelianenko beat them all.
Before we get into that, let’s address the revisionist history being applied to Arlovski and Sylvia in the wake of their recent struggles. While they’re not the same fighters they were at one point not all that long ago, they were still viable Top 15 heavyweights when Emelianenko left them beaten in the center of the ring. The same can be said of Rogers, a Top 20 fighter on par with Lesnar’s beating of Heath Herring and superior to the trio of not-so-noteworthy opponents Shane Carwin beat before stepping in with Gabe Gonzaga.
In terms of the Pride years, Fedor fought and defeated Cro Cop and “Minotauro” Nogueira in their primes, as well as Mark Coleman (twice) and Kevin Randleman before they were nothing but names, Gary Goodridge, Mark Hunt, Herring, and a bunch of fighters who are deemed “cans” because casual fans are unaware of their exploits.
Add in wins over Matt Lindland, Ricardo Arona and Renato Sobral and you have a collection of conquest that cannot be topped by anyone in the sport. No one has racked up as many name-brand wins as Emelianenko.
The argument could be made that the “unbeaten” mythos many Emelianenko supporters push is also a point of contention for those questioning his place in the sport. Truthfully, regardless of your stance on the outcome of his fight with Tsuyoshi Kohsaka in the RINGS King of Kings tournament – or even the validity of his decision win over Ricardo Arona before that – there is no other fighter on the planet who has put together an eight-year unbeaten streak like Emelianenko.
Say what you will about who he fought and where he fought them, but the fact is that since that first meeting with Kohsaka, no man has had their arm raised in victory while standing in the ring with Emelianenko, and that is something no other fighter competing at the highest levels can claim.
Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre, two of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world and both destine for a place in the Greatest of All-Time discussion, have both suffered similar losses; Silva was submitted by Ryo Chonan and Daiju Takase, while St-Pierre was stunned by Matt Serra in what is universally recognized as one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport.