The expectations created by Fedor Emelianenko’s media profile make it impossible for him to perform in a way that pleases everyone: if he had crumbled Brett Rogers Saturday in a manner akin to Tim Sylvia -- women sobbing cageside, Medivacs hovering overhead -- fans would sigh and complain that Rogers never belonged in the ring with him.
In taking nearly seven minutes to finish Rogers off, gushing blood all the while, Emelianenko is instead viewed by a portion of the audience as a less-than-prime fighter. The paint, some would argue, is coming off the pedestal.
There is some truth in the idea that we don’t yet know how impressive it really was to beat Rogers: maybe he’s a devastating heavyweight who hasn’t had much of a chance to show off. (His lone win over a top-10 opponent, Andrei Arlovski, earned him this slot.) Maybe he’s a one-dimensional athlete who won’t go much further.
So we go on what we do know: that Emelianenko overcame nearly a 50 lb. size differential against an undefeated opponent, weathering an early storm and the ring age of his 31 fights to spin Rogers 90 degrees with a socking right hand. Fans still scratched their heads. This is what we get for making the guy sit on a literal throne.
The heavyweight division, while not as talent-rich as the others, leaves one of the smallest margins for error. A man who hits as hard as Rogers, sporting those pathetically tiny gloves, does not need much of an opportunity to jar a brain. And Emelianenko has been in serious danger before: against Kazuyuki Fujita, he looked like he was walking on ice; against Mark Hunt, a highly suspect ground fighter, he was pinned to the mat for minutes.
His ability to escape, to back off the edge of the cliff, is what should impress. Fedor makes concessions, but he does not make fatal errors. He looked like himself. Rogers looked like what he is: tough. And there’s your fight.
If Rogers had a more imposing resume -- if he were a frightening heavyweight who had destroyed huge names -- Emelianenko would be applauded with any footnotes. Rogers may be that guy. He may not be. It’s to Emelianenko’s credit that he never gives his opponents -- or us -- much of a chance to figure it out.
Next for Emelianenko: Fabricio Werdum narrowly defeated Antonio Silva Saturday, but there’s nothing in his striking or jiu-jitsu that Emelianenko hasn’t seen and smothered before. In Strikeforce, only Alistair Overeem is intriguing enough to add something to his resume.
Next for Rogers: A chance to show everyone how good he really might be: Antonio Silva would be a start.
Next for Jake Shields: Recent acquisition Matt Lindland brings a reputation earned outside of the promotion, but he fights December 19; a bout with Frank Shamrock would elevate Shields’ name, which may have gotten dinged in a semi-sleepy bout with Jason Miller. (I happened to like the fight.)
Next for Gegard Mousasi: Strikeforce has a solid but small roster: bouts with Mike Whitehead or Kevin Randleman are filler material. Muhammed Lawal needs to fast-track it.
The CBS broadcast was the top-rated program in adults 18-49 during its 9-11 p.m. ET timeslot Saturday, but total viewers (nearly 4 million) slotted it last place among the big four networks in overall viewers. Ratings for the Emelianenko/Rogers bout, which began after 11 p.m. and was the fight the entire program was built around, have not yet circulated… Emelianenko injured his left hand in attempts to separate Rogers from his win purse: the Russian has had issues with his fists throughout his career…Jake Shields, who defeated Jason Miller for the middleweight belt, would like to pursue the welterweight title; where this leaves teammate Nick Diaz is a conversation for their gym…Cung Le vs. Scott Smith is official for Strikeforce’s December 19 Showtime event: Le vacated his middleweight title when film roles began conflicting with his training; Smith recently lost to Nick Diaz. If Le only has enough sweat for a couple more fights, Smith wouldn’t be in my top five choices…UFC play-by-play announcer Joe Rogan declared Emelianenko “got exposed a bit” in a Tweet; Rogan is not typically a company line-tower, but even if the feeling is genuine, it’ll still be seen as sour-grapes propaganda; Fedor was “exposed” no more than St. Pierre was against Serra or Anderson Silva was in a round against Travis Lutter. It’s a testament to Emelianenko’s reputation that looking human is seen as a disappointment.