Bellator MMA’s heavyweight grand prix continues this weekend with Fedor Emelianenko vs. Chael Sonnen Saturday at Bellator 208. The winner will move on to the finals to crown Bellator’s first heavyweight champion since 2016. But this tournament is for more than just a belt for Fedor. A chance at Bellator’s heavyweight championship would cement his legacy as one of the greatest to ever do it.
Despite who you think is the greatest of all time in MMA there is no denying Fedor had one of the most impressive runs in the sport’s history from 2001-2010. During this time, he went an undefeated 27-0-1, with 21 of those wins coming by knockout or submission. He did this fighting with some of the best fighters of his generation, all while being an undersized heavyweight.
During his prime, Fedor was known as the most complete marital artist in the world. Coming from a sambo and judo background, Fedor was one of the most dominate grapplers of his time, but also possessed the striking skills to dethrone some of the best kickboxers of his era. As a small heavyweight, Fedor had to use his aggressiveness and speed along with the threat of his grappling to overwhelm opponents in the pocket with his wild hooks and 1-2s.
Although known for leading attacks on the feet, Fedor also has a sneaky good countering game. Opponents were rarely foolish enough to come forward first, but when they did Fedor made them pay for it with a counter right. Something to note about Fedor’s countering game is how he generally attacks with combos instead of a single precision strike, like most.
Fedor is a fantastic striker, but his best work by far is still done on the ground. Although known for his grappling, Fedor rarely shoots and generally likes to duck under opponents strikes for a counter takedown. This not only makes takedowns easier to secure but it also dissuades opponents from coming forward first in fear of his grappling. Notice how most of his takedowns come from body lock slams or trips and throws in the clinch. When you think of dominate grapplers, you imagine them shooting for power doubles and singles, but Fedor is the exact opposite. If he does shoot for a single leg, he will use it to transition to a body lock where he can look for slams and trips.
Once on the ground, Fedor has the most relentless ground-and-pound in the sport and is considered by many the greatest ground striker ever. Often grapplers will be too concerned with passing guard instead of striking and end up getting stood up by the ref and negating all the hard work they did on the ground. Fedor is the exact opposite and is content with posturing up in full guard and dropping bombs. He’s never cared much about passing guard to get in better positions.
Something that doesn’t get talked about enough with Fedor are his submissions. In fact, Fedor has six more submissions than knockouts, with most of them coming by armbar or kimura. Few fighters have found themselves on top of Fedor in full guard, but those that have immediately regretted it when they were caught with a lightning quick armbar. Although he doesn’t have any Brazilian jiu-jitsu belts, sambo is much more submission-based than many think. When sambo was being created in Soviet Russia, Victor Spiridonov and Vasili Oshchepkov were tasked with merging the best techniques form marital arts around the world to create an all-in-one combat system similar to today’s MMA. Since Oshchepkov was physically limited from war injuries, he had to focus on softer styles that he could do in his limited state such as jiu-jitsu, which is how sambo adopted submissions.