The highly anticipated return of Fedor Emelianenko was expected to be a glorified sparring session – one that would have fight fans salivating for the greatest MMA fighter who has never fought in the UFC to finally appear in the Octagon.
It was anything but.
The legendary Russian fighter barely survived a savage first-round assault by Fabio Maldonado to win a controversial decision in the main event of EFN 50 in St. Petersburg, Russia. It aired live on UFC Fight Pass.
Emelianenko, who is widely regarded as the greatest heavyweight of all-time and once went unbeaten for 10 years, appeared to be on the verge of signing a UFC contract after negotiating with the most prominent MMA organization for several years. All that he had to do was get past Maldonado, a durable fighter but not one who was considered a threat to a fighter the caliber of Emelianenko.
The 39-year-old opened the fight with an overwhelming onslaught of punches in an attempt to take out Maldonado before he knew what happened. But Maldanado remained composed and caught an overanxious Russian charging in with a thunderous right hand and followed with a left hook, which put Emelianenko down. The Brazilian quickly dove in with heavy shots looking for the finish, and in most cases may have earned the stoppage,
For the next several minutes Maldonado clubbed "The Last Emperor" with a bevy of power shots that had the former king of Pride FC champion out on his feet. One could argue that the fight could have been stopped at anytime during the furious pounding that Maldonado delivered, but to his credit, Emelianenko remained upright and refused to give up.
It was a bizarre, one-sided display of action that showed the tremendous heart of Emelianenko but also some partiality from the Russian official.
Nevertheless, Emelianenko survived the first-round blitzkrieg and sought to capitalize on a drained Maldonado, who had certainly punched himself out in the opening stanza.
Fedor would have a much better second frame where he measured and landed powerful punches and trademark knees that were reminiscent of his glory days. But this was clearly not the same fighter who owned victories over the most dangerous heavyweights in the history of the sport.
The same cycle happened in the third round but Maldonado would occasionally crack Fedor with a hard counter shot. In one particular sequence, Fedor seemed to have the Brazilian hurt but a counterpunch from Maldonado briefly stunned the Russian and paused his attack.
The fight unexpectedly went the distance and it was widely assumed it would be a draw, with Maldonado earning a 10-8 first round and Emelianenko evening things with a pair of 10-9 rounds. However, the judges gave Emelianenko a majority decision, much to the shock and chagrin of those watching.
Whether his performance will earn him a UFC contract is yet to be seen but it’s certainly not the dominant performance that many observers anticipated from the great Sambo fighter out of Russia. He has now won his fifth straight fight after being stopped in three fights in a row. Maldonado has lost his last three fights.