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Spurning UFC Damages Fedor’s Legacy

Fedor Emelianenko
Kristian Ibarra, Today's Knockout

The mixed martial arts world nearly exploded Saturday night, all thanks to Dynamite.

The folks inside the SAP Center in San Jose didn’t really know anything was coming, seeing as they were unable to hear the television commentators hint at the announcement that would be made later on in the broadcast. Fans watching on TV knew, though — they just weren’t sure what to expect.

“Get ready, because tonight at [Bellator Dynamite 1] we’ll be making an announcement that will change the landscape of MMA,” Bellator president Scott Coker tweeted before making the big reveal.

Only that Coker wasn’t accurate in his social media posting; there’d be two announcements to change the landscape of MMA.

The first came as Nobuyuki Sakakibara, the man who was once at the helm of PRIDE FC, would be making his return to mixed martial arts to promote a show in Japan on New Year’s Eve. That one wasn’t quite as groundbreaking as the promotion would have hoped, but the second announcement made up for it in spades.

As fate would have it, former PRIDE announce Lenne Hardt — whose talents were purchased for the Dynamite event — took to the microphone in what few ways she knew how. Screaming at the top of her lungs, the “Crazy PRIDE Lady’s” words echoed in (figuratively) historic proportions inside the SAP Center. Just like she’d done 15 times prior, Hardt announced a name not only familiar to her, but to the millions of diehard MMA fans around the world.

“Fighting in the main event of that night, ladies and gentlemen ‘THE LAST EMPERRRORRR’ FROM RRRRRUSSIA with love EEEMMEELIANNEENNNNKOOOO FEEEEEDOOORRR!”

The Dynamite curtains went up and there he was.

As Fedor Emelianenko made his walk to the Bellator cage in front of the promotion’s record-setting number of screaming fans, the night’s overwhelming rumors were confirmed: The sport’s (arguable) greatest fighter of all time would be reuniting with his former PRIDE boss in his return to mixed martial arts.

That strayed far from what the public expected, given Emelianenko’s hard-to-ignore hints at a looming deal with Dana White and the UFC.

With that, here we sit — typing words onto a screen just a few days removed from the announcement struggling to make sense of the deal. There’s no way of telling how close the UFC came to winning the 2015 Fedor sweepstakes. Again, the hints would have you assume it was closer than ever. Assuming those rumors — planted by both Emelianenko and the UFC president on social media — were true, you’d have to bet the corner-office tenants at Zuffa headquarters were relatively unhappy. Unhappy to say the least.

But Emelianenko didn’t just spurn the UFC, he spurned himself.

Sure, his marketability in the Land of the Rising Sun is greater than it is on red, white and blue soil. Like, way, way greater. But at this point in his career — a point that sees him as one of the few icons in the sport to not take his talents to the UFC — Emelianenko needed more.

Darryl Dennis/ICON SMI

Darryl Dennis/ICON SMI

You can’t really blame Fedor circa early-to-mid 2000s for staying in Japan; that fighter was surrounded with some of the best heavyweight talent available at the time. The Herrings, Cro Cops, Nogueiras, Colemans and Randlemans all resided in PRIDE’s heavyweight division.

But Fedor circa 2015? You can blame him quite a bit. Even with as much of a wasteland as Zuffa’s heavyweight division has become, it still boasts the most talented crop of big men in all of the land.

There goes the rematch against the first man to break that historic run of invincibility in Fabricio Werdum. Even a rematch against the first man to defeat him via non-flukey finish in Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva would have sufficed, really. No, he won’t be fighting Cain Velasquez in an end-all, be-all matchup to determine the greatest heavyweight of all time. A rematch with a better-than-before Mark Hunt? Forget about it.

Go ahead and look at every single heavyweight fighter within the UFC’s top 10 and tell me it isn’t one hell of a matchup. Seriously, go ahead and try.

Now try and come up with one viable heavyweight candidate to further Emelianenko’s star outside of the UFC. No, Kimbo Slice doesn’t count.

Because, when you look at it, this was an opportunity for Emelieanenko to cement his legacy. An opportunity to prove to the world that he’s righted all the wrongs he showcased in that three-fight losing streak under the Strikeforce banner. An opportunity to remind people he isn’t the same fighter who took three straight fights against laughably beatable competition to rejuvenate his career just before that first sunset hit.

This, if nothing else, was a chance for Emelianenko to remove Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva and Jon Jones from the “greatest of all time” conversation. There can only be one and, with this move, it certainly won’t be Emelianenko.

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