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Truth of Fedor matter lies in the middle

You can follow Kevin Iole on Twitter at @KevinI

For a guy who rarely shows any emotion, Fedor Emelianenko sure has a way of sparking emotions in others.

Frankly, it's getting sickening, from both sides.

Emelianenko will fight Fabricio Werdum on Saturday on a Showtime-televised card at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., in the main event of a Strikeforce show.

It's getting beyond wearisome listening to Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White repeatedly bash Emelianenko and demean his skills. White speaks as if Emelianenko were a reject from a reality show and not a guy who hasn't lost in nearly a decade and who holds wins over former UFC heavyweight champions Kevin Randleman, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mark Coleman, Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski.

Much of White's attitude has been colored by his inability to sign Emelianenko to a contract. White gets particularly infuriated when media refer to the solemn Russian as the best fighter in the world rather than his own, UFC-contracted Anderson Silva.

If you believe White, choosing Emelianenko over Silva on a pound-for-pound list would have been the equivalent of choosing Ryan Leaf over Peyton Manning in the NFL Draft. White is correct in that Emelianenko does not walk on water and that he has fought substandard competition in the last four years.

But he also hasn't lost since Dec. 22, 2000, when he was elbowed 15 seconds into a fight by Tsuyoshi Kosaka and suffered a bad cut on the eyebrow.

He's ripped off 27 consecutive victories since then (with one no-contest), many of them coming against some of the greatest fighters in the sport's history. In a sport in which there are so many ways to lose that it's notable when a fighter wins as many as five bouts in a row, to reel off 27 consecutive victories is sort of like hitting safely in 100 baseball games in a row.

He's clearly earned his legendary status.

But calling him a legend isn't quite enough for some parts of the MMA universe, a small but exceptionally vocal fan base that worships Emelianenko without reservation and which refuses to acknowledge he possesses even the most minute of flaws.

Anyone who has ever written a sentence about mixed martial arts and hasn't worshipped Emelianenko as if he were a higher power has gotten at least one email from Fedor fans that are filled with invective, questioning your sanity.

Emelianenko built his reputation and did his best work while MMA was still in its so-called dark ages. The sport began to gain mainstream acceptance in 2005 after the UFC's reality series, "The Ultimate Fighter," became a ratings hit on Spike TV.

After 2005, more state athletic commissions began to regulate the sport and mainstream media began to pay it attention. Large daily newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register and the Las Vegas Review-Journal provide extensive coverage, as do Yahoo! Sports and ESPN.com, the two most heavily trafficked sports sites on the Internet.

CBS broadcasts MMA fights in primetime. White has become a mainstream celebrity who is a regular in gossip columns as well as on sports pages. ESPN2 has a weekly news and information show dedicated to the sport.

Emelianenko remains a mystery, though, to much of the sport's burgeoning fan base. The Fedor Fan Boys are part of a group of long-time, hard-core fans who represent less a tenth of one percent of the sport's overall fan base.

The rank-and-file fan, who has begun to follow MMA in the last five years after the increase in the sport's notoriety and media coverage, hasn't seen the Emelianenko who has become an almost mythical figure.

Most of Emelianenko's greatest victories came in 2005 or earlier. He beat Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic in 2005 and Nogueira, Randleman and Coleman in 2004. Starting in 2006, his wins have been over:

• Coleman, who at the time was two months short of his 42nd birthday;

• Mark Hunt, a massive kick boxer with a sub-.500 record;

• Matt Lindland, who has spent most of his career as a middleweight and is still competing at 185 pounds;

• Hong Man Choi, who is 7-feet-2 and more of a curiosity than a real fighter. He's most notable for having fought Jose Canseco;

• Sylvia, who in his fight after losing to Emelianenko was beaten by 48-year-old boxer Ray Mercer, who himself was making his MMA debut;

•Arlovski, who lost his next two after losing to Emelianenko;

• And Brett Rogers, who only months before meeting Emelianenko had given up a job changing tires at Sam's Club to train MMA full-time.

It's a fairly non-descript bunch.

What it comes down to is that White wants to judge Emelianenko solely on what he's done from 2006 until now. The Fedor Fan Boys want to judge him on his work from 2000 until 2005.

The truth, as it usually does, falls somewhere in the middle.

Emelianenko remains among the sport's elite fighters and deserves a position alongside the greatest who have ever lived. Even if he's not what he was when he was at his peak in PRIDE, he still may be the best fighter in the world; maybe, he's only fifth-best. Who really knows for sure? It's an opinion that can never be proven.

Emelianenko manages to stir passions on both sides despite the fact he says little. A devoutly religious man who on Tuesday attended a church service in San Francisco, Emelianenko lives in Starry Oskol, Russia. It's so remote that it's a 12-hour train ride to Moscow.

Emelianenko pays little heed to what is said about him, good or bad. He couldn't care less about the attention and the debate his abilities have created half a world away from the small village where he lives quietly.

When White blasts Emelianenko, as he often does, the gist of the information manages to eventually make its way back to him from outraged friends or business associates.

"I often get second-hand information and my friends will tell me stuff because I don't pay attention to it or seek it out," Emelianenko said. "So that's how I usually get information about what people are saying. As far as my reaction, I don't have any reaction. I don't respond to any compliments or criticism. It's not something that's very important to me and I don't really like to seek out information on what people are saying about me. I'm more interested in spending quality time in my every day life with my family and friends than cruising the Internet or listening to rumors or call-outs."

Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker signed a partnership deal with M-1 Global last summer to serve as Emelianenko's co-promoter when it seemed that Emelianenko at long last would land with the UFC.

Coker had watched Emelianenko when he was in his heyday in the PRIDE Fighting Championship and knew he was watching a guy who he would one day tell his grandchildren about.

When the opportunity to promote him arose, Coker knew he couldn't mess it up. The fight fan in him would have never forgiven himself.

"There's an aura about him," Coker said. "His nickname is 'The Last Emperor,' and he is truly appropriately named. He's the guy I would want my kid to be able to say, 'I saw Fedor in person.' Ten years from now, 20 years from now, we're going to talk about what he could do and people are going to think we were exaggerating.

"Just having him around and being part of Strikeforce has made a huge difference for us. Just being able to associate our league with him has been incredible for us. What he has done in his career speaks for itself."

He doesn't deserve to be bashed the way White has bashed him the last five years. Nor, though, should he be deified, as the Fedor Fan Boys would have it.

The truth is, he's among the greatest fighters who ever lived. He remains one of the greatest active fighters.

Were he to fight Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin, Junior dos Santos, Cain Velasquez and Frank Mir in his next five fights, he'd likely come out with at least one loss.

But he'd also come out with more than one win.

It's time to appreciate him as a fighter, because he's not going to be around all that much longer, and stop all the mind-numbing banter.

He's a great fighter in a sport filled with great fighters.

That's good enough for me.

I'll be watching on Saturday.