Now that Fedor Emelianenko has finally chosen a new home and signed with Strikeforce, the question becomes who he'll fight and whether any of his potential opponents would have a legitimate chance to beat him.
Strikeforce's heavyweight champion is Alistair Overeem. Its best heavyweights are Brett Rogers, Paul Buentello and Fabricio Werdum. If Strikeforce manages to sign light heavyweight Gegard Mousasi, he too may wind up in the Emelianenko mix.
Emelianenko would be an immense favorite in each bout against the heavyweights. Here's a quick look at how an Emelianenko fight would play out for each:
• Emelianenko-Overeem: Overeem has good hands and would have a size advantage on the Russian, but Overeem has been highly inconsistent in his career while Emelianenko has been the very definition of consistency.
You can't rule a guy with Overeem's power, strength and grappling skills out, but Emelianenko is far more gifted and would defeat Overeem in the first round.
• Emelianenko-Rogers: Until he faced Andrei Arlovski, Brett Rogers had never beaten anyone of note and it would have been a huge stretch to suggest he would ever be in a fight against Emelianenko.
Rogers knocked out Arlovski in just 22 seconds in June and proved his power is legitimate. But he has nowhere near Emelianenko's all-around game. Rogers could win if he could hit Emelianenko with a wild shot, but the more likely scenario is that the fight gets to the ground and Emelianenko submits Rogers early.
• Emelianenko-Buentello: Buentello isn't close to having the kind of all-around game to defeat "The Last Emperor."
• Emelianenko-Werdum: Werdum has a good all-around game, but you never know what you will get from him. He has good jiu-jitsu and judo and his stoppage of Gabriel Gonzaga proves he has the power.
But he looked horrific in a loss to Arlovski in 2007 and was blown out by Junior Dos Santos last year.
A focused Werdum has the complete game to make it a fight, but Emelianenko would find a way to win around the midpoint of the bout.
Before we delve into the mailbag and I respond to your questions and comments, I'd like to remind you to follow me on Twitter. You can send me questions for the mailbag there or just choose to talk some mixed martial arts.
You couldn't have said it better in your column dealing with Fedor's decision not to sign with the Ultimate Fighting Championship! It is Fedor's fault that the UFC and his camp can't negotiate a deal. I actually think he might be hesitant to step into the octagon with heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar. Fedor will never let the fight happen between Lesnar and himself.
Thanks, Mark. I don't think Fedor is dodging Lesnar, though who actually relishes the thought of a guy 285 pounds with fists the size of canned hams charging at you? I don't think he looked at it at that level. But a lot of people now are questioning him on that very topic. It can't help him, that's for certain.
Kevin, I love your stuff and think you a great asset to the MMA world. I am one of the biggest Fedor fans out there and sadly I couldn't agree with you more. I felt that finally we would get to see my favorite fighter prove unequivocally that he is the greatest heavyweight in the world. The UFC said they devoted all of their resources to get a deal done and I truly feel they did. They offered him the world, and he could have taken it and become an international superstar mentioned in the same breath as Michael Jordan, David Beckham and Tiger Woods. But now it looks like he's going to be competing in the minor leagues or Japanese freak shows. Fedor is not only cheating us as his fans but cheating himself as a competitor. If he doesn't sign in order to help pad M-1's pockets then you are right, shame on him.
West Valley City, Utah
One of the great things about MMA is that most of the fighters seek out the toughest bouts they can find. I'm a boxing fan of more than 40 years and I can assure you that is definitely not the norm in boxing. It would have been nice to see Emelianenko say he wanted to face the biggest challenges, but it's his life and he's free to choose.
Congratulations on having the stones to stand up to the Fedor hype. Make no mistake, Fedor is an amazing fighter, one of the best in the world, but I'm sick of his fans acting like he is unstoppable when he hasn't faced a top contender in their prime possibly ever. The only thing I'm really upset about is that if Fedor never fights in the UFC and retires, people will always be able to speculate that "He could have beaten [Randy] Couture" or "He could have beaten Lesnar" when the truth is that if he really cared about being the best in the world, he had nothing but opportunities to step up and do it. What do you think about speculation that Fedor just isn't very smart and is being led to poor decisions? I know Wanderlei Silva made a reference to him being a simple man with poor handling.
When Emelianenko was in his heyday with PRIDE, it was roughly equal to the UFC in terms of fighter talent. Now, however, that has dramatically changed and most of the top fighters are contracted to the UFC. None of Emelianenko's potential opponents in Strikeforce really gets the heart going. Don't discount him. He has an amazing record and is a gifted fighter. That said, he hasn't had it very difficult over the last four years or so. This is very much a what have you done for me lately business. When you're ranking fighters and speaking of greatness, it's a fluid thing. Things change and while it may have been a slam dunk that Emelianenko was No. 1 in 2005, it's not so certain now. I wouldn't rule it out, but given the dominant wins guys like Anderson Silva, Miguel Torres and Georges St. Pierre have had over quality opposition, it's a definite horse race.
Kevin, might Emelianenko have been deferring to manager Vadim Finkelchtein for reasons our culture doesn't completely understand? Russian loyalty is a different thing from what ours is here; neither better nor worse, just different. Fedor has said his legacy doesn't matter to him and that he just wants to be remembered as a good person. That's remarkable, really, and the reason I'm a fan.
It's a good point, Moses, I'll concede. Interesting take.
I think you missed the biggest gaffe in your rant and blaming Fedor for messing things up. I think the biggest point to make would be that Fedor and his agent are under the close eye of the Russian mob. Who else could keep the world's elite fighter under wraps as if he were a mime?
Interesting, though there's been no evidence of that. However, given the rumors that the Russian mob being involved with some NHL players, I wouldn't totally dismiss any suggestion.
Calling Fedor fans clapping seals is crazy! Whether or not mainstream American fans know about him or not is irrelevant. He is without question the No. 1 heavyweight fighter in the world and will remain that way until he loses. His record and opponents he's faced speaks for itself. He could retire today and most people who follow and understand MMA (not just the UFC) would recognize him as the greatest fighter ever.
Long Beach, Wash.
I should clarify that when I referred to the fans as clapping seals, it was not intended to cast a net over all of his fans, but a small, very vocal portion of those who have given him God-like qualities. Having said that, it's not irrelevant that most mainstream fans don't know him. This is a business – you're not paying him, but someone is – and he's left a string of failed promotional companies in his wake because fans here didn't know of him and weren't willing to pay to watch him fight.
As per your piece on Fedor: "Emelianenko has been so successful in his career as arguably the sport's best heavyweight ever that he's developed a cult following that is little more than a group of clapping seals who blindly approve of his every move." Group of blind, clapping seals? He's a cult hero for a damn good reason! Did you see him become the first person to not only beat, but dominate Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic? Did you see him almost get knocked out by Kazuyuki Fujita, only to finish the fight seconds later? Did you see him get suplexed by Kevin Randleman, possibly the most spectacular head drop in MMA history, only to arm bar him 30 seconds later? Did you see him knock out Andrei Arlovski in mid-air? Did you see him dispose of Tim Sylvia in 36 seconds? How about his wins over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira during Nog's prime? The man is the dominant heavyweight on the planet and has been so for nearly 10 years.
The issue Josh is that you can't rest on what you did two, four or six years ago. If you're a fighter and want to be regarded as the best in the world, you need to fight the best on a consistent basis. I just wanted to see him step up and prove it against today's best fighters. That's not denigrating what he's done, it's calling him on a refusal to fight on the biggest stage against the best active heavyweights.