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The Rise and Fall of “The Last Emperor” (Part 3)

Fedor Emelianenko announced his retirement from MMA following last week’s win over Pedro Rizzo at M-1 Global: Fedor vs. Rizzo. “The Last Emperor’s” career began in Ekaterinburg and ended, ironically, in St. Petersburg. MMAFrenzy concludes our look at Fedor’s career and legacy by examining the fighter’s legacy. Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of our series.

So what is the real legacy of the Fedor Emelianenko? Is it that he was the greatest fighter to ever live, an overrated “can crusher,” or something else entirely? Each person is entitled to his or her own opinion, but I think it is important to examine Fedor’s career by separating oneself from fandom and being objective. Fans need to understand that Fedor’s peak, while fantastic, ended years ago and age is the only permanently undefeated opponent in this sport. Many of his detractors, who also have ammunition, need to consider where MMA was when Fedor was in his prime.

Over the years I have found that most divisive issue when it comes to Fedor is whether he is the best MMA Fighter of “All Time.” Personally, I have despised such questions over the years, in all sports, because it is a subjective argument that is impossible to definitively prove. With that said, it would be hard to argue that Emelianenko is not the best heavyweight of his generation. The difference being that the appropriate context is given to frame the title. Few realize that the term ‘best of all time” is really more of a promotional tool used by promotions and the media to generate interest but it the end the title means little and will be worn by many fighters. Fedor could be included in those discussions based on his accomplishments, but does it matter? Not really, and there is nothing wrong with just being the best heavyweight of his generation.

Fedor’s career will always beg the question of “what if” in regards to having never fought in the UFC but that should not be held against him overall. Timing is everything, and Fedor’s reign in Japan took place while the UFC was trying to regain a foothold here in the states and conversely, his decline took place as the UFC was improving drastically in terms of competition. In many ways, I believe Fedor’s UFC career would have mirrored fellow PRIDE champion Wanderlei Silva, since both fighters spent the best days of their careers in Japan.

In the end, Fedor’s legacy is, like his career, compounded by his accomplishments in all of martial arts and the drama that arose from those surrounding him. While a dominant champion when he was in top form, he is also the poster boy for how influential certain people in the media can be in construing a fighter as something more or less than he is. Fedor was a humble champion and he was just as humble in defeat. Even after his first real loss he politely congratulated Fabricio Werdum and thanked the fans for coming. There were no taunts or complaints, he remained just as gracious in defeat as he was in victory and there is a lot to be said for that in today’s MMA climate.

Fedor accomplished something truly amazing in his long career and his rags-to-riches story is inspiring. While it is impossible to avoid “what if” questions when looking at his career, it is possible to accept Fedor for what he is, and that is the greatest heavyweight of his era. He defeated Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira twice and Mirko Cro Cop when they were both in their primes. He defeated five UFC champions in his career, picked up multiple “fighter of the year” and “fighter of the decade“ awards. He won multiple world titles in SAMBO and placed 3rd in the world in Judo twice. The idea that Fedor was overrated in his prime is simply ridiculous and at the end of the day it does not matter to Fedor. Fedor is the type of person who would be content to raise his children and let them enjoy the life he never had growing up. The Russian will still compete in SAMBO and will likely be asked to consider politics, like many of Russia’s sports heroes. Whatever he decides will always depend on his family, because they will always be first for him. While rumors will always persist of him possibly returning to MMA, his legacy is already written.

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