Fedor Emelianenko isn’t what he was during the prime of his legendary career, when he was dominating the greatest heavyweights in the world during an unmatched run in the Pride Fighting Championships.
But Emelianenko still has thunder in those fists and used it to overpower Chael Sonnen on Saturday to advance to the finals of the Bellator heavyweight Grand Prix tournament. Emelianenko, who stopped Sonnen with ground-and-pound at 4:46 of a wild first round, will meet Ryan Bader in the finals on Jan. 26 at The Forum in Inglewood, California, for the title.
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“He hurt me early and everything he did hurt,” Sonnen said in the cage. “Everything had bad intentions. I was trying to recover. He was very fast, very powerful. He looked like he looked when I watched him on TV. I was impressed.”
Sonnen’s game plan was clearly to take the fight to the ground in a bid to neutralize Emelianenko’s power. If he didn’t believe in it before the fight, he learned to respect it about six seconds in when Emelianenko dropped him.
Sonnen took Emelianenko down several times, but he had difficulty controlling him. Emelianenko was able to reverse and get up and Sonnen had no answer when they were on their feet.
Emelianenko, who had stopped Frank Mir in his first-round victory, began the final sequence with a short left that dropped Sonnen. Sonnen covered up, but Emelianenko was on him quickly and throwing big shots from the top.
Referee “Big” Dan Miragliotta gave Sonnen every chance, but called it off when Sonnen didn’t move and was just turtled trying to block Emelianenko’s blows.
It sets up the fight that Bellator probably had hoped to get when the tournament began. Bader is the light heavyweight champion who advanced with victories over Muhammed Lawal and Matt Mitrione.
“He had good power,” Sonnen said. “Him and Bader is going to be a great fight.”
Emelianenko, typically, had little to say. He noted that Sonnen worked hard and was well-prepared, and said he believes Bader is “a great and serious opponent.”
Many have tried to count the old dog out numerous times in the last several years, but he’s once again in the spotlight as he goes for yet another championship against one of the best fighters in the world.
Sonnen was a middleweight for most of his career and wasn’t much of a threat to Emelianenko, but Bader will pose plenty of threat, particularly with his wrestling.
But Emelianenko, who has a Sambo background, will no doubt be prepared for it. For nearly two decades, he’s done it time and again.
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