The End of an Era

Fedor after Silva loss

Photo by Esther Lin/Showtime Sports

If he walks away, he does so as one of the best ever

My reaction to Fedor Emelianenko’s crushing defeat and subsequent talk of retirement falls somewhere between the smiley face tweeted by UFC President Dana White and the thousands of obscenity-laced responses that followed.

I’m neither a Pride loyalist nor do I live in a UFC vacuum; I’m an MMA fan.

As such, watching the end of the Emelianenko era was both a reminder of why I love this sport and a moment of sadness, as one of the all-time greats spoke reflectively about walking away.

Antonio Silva’s win over Fedor is another example of how the sport has evolved and continues to grow. Just as Wayne Gretzky stopped being unstoppable on the ice and Michael Jordan looked human as a member of the Washington Wizards, Fedor was no longer the unbeatable Russian icon Saturday night. That’s okay.

For the sport to keep moving forward, new stars need to emerge. While Silva will never be an icon on Emelianenko’s level, his win served notice that he is a force to be reckoned with in the heavyweight ranks.

Seeing Fedor’s eye swollen over and the defeated, disinterested look on his face after the fight was also pretty hard to take.

When you strip away tough Tweets and the rose-colored glasses of whatever organization you pledge allegiance to, one thing should remain undeniable if you’re a true MMA fan: Fedor Emelianenko is one of the best ever.

Beyond who he has fought over the last five years, and outside the borders of Pride vs. UFC battles that should have been put to rest long ago, only one fact is needed to illustrate just how impressive Emelianenko was over his career.

From April 6, 2001 until June 26, 2010, Emelianenko fought 28 times without losing; the only thing standing between “The Last Emperor” and a perfect 28-0 mark during that time is a No Contest in his second meeting with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.

For more than nine years, no one was able to beat Fedor.

Say what you will about some of the names he faced over those years or where he beat them, but when you can show me another fighter who went nine years without a loss while competing 28 times, I’ll accept that what Emelianenko accomplished during that time period wasn’t historic.

To put it in perspective, Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre are currently regarded as the 1 and 1A in the pound-for-pound debate; they are, for all intents and purposes, the two best fighters in the sport today.

As tremendous as Silva’s run through the UFC middleweight division (with a couple of vacations to light heavyweight) has just reached the halfway point both in terms of fights without being defeated (14) and duration (four-and-a-half years) in comparison to Fedor.

While St. Pierre has faced the best combined competition of anyone in the sport over the last three-plus years, he also has an unavoidable blemish in the middle of his impressive run – his 2007 defeat at the hands of Matt Serra.

Yes, he’s avenged said defeat in impressive fashion and put on seven additional clinics since then, but it is still one more loss than Emelianenko incurred over a nine-year stretch.

In a sport where the accepted wisdom is that everybody loses, Fedor went nearly a decade proving otherwise.

Regardless of whom he fought, regardless of where he fought, no one else in the sport has gone 28 fights over a nine-year span without a loss. If we’re being honest with each other, he beat some pretty solid competition during that time too.

Emelianenko beat “Minotauro” Nogueira when he was at his very best, then beat him again a year-and-a-half later after their second meeting ended in a No Contest.

He defeated Mirko “CroCop” Filipovic when the Croatian kickboxer was 16-2-2 and at the height of his “right leg hospital, left leg cemetery” days.

There were certainly a handful of “gimmes” mixed in there; professional wrestler Yuki Nagata, Hong Man Choi, and Wagner “Zuluzinho” Martins come to mind.

While detractors point to a good-but-never-great Heath Herring or an over-the-hill Mark Coleman as evidence of the lesser competition Emelianenko has faced over the years, let’s put all the cards on the table: the UFC heavyweight division at that time featured Tim Sylvia, Frank Mir and Andrei Arlovski as champions, and Justin Eilers, Paul Buentello and Jeff Monson as title contenders.

But all of that is beyond the point.

No matter who he fought or where he did it, Emelianenko should be viewed as an icon in this sport.

If Saturday night was indeed the last time we see him compete, an important era in the history of mixed martial arts just ended, and we won’t see it duplicated any time soon.

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