Fedor Emelianenko already called it a career once following a first-round knockout of Pedro Rizzo in Russia in June 2012, but if “The Last Emperor” gets his way, his next retirement won’t be in the near future.
“Like every other fighter I would like to fight as long as I can, as long as I am physically capable and my body allows me to do it,” Emelianenko said through a translator during a conference call on Friday. “But it’s God willing and we’ll see. I have three fights signed with Bellator, so hopefully no injuries and I’ll continue to fight.”
The 40-year-old Russian will make his promotional debut at Bellator NYC “Sonnen vs. Silva” on June 24 in the heavyweight co-main event against Matt Mitrione at Madison Square Garden in New York. The fight was originally scheduled for Bellator 172 on Feb. 18, but Mitrione was forced to withdraw at the last minute due to kidney stones.
While there was no shortage of suitors willing to step in and face Emelianenko on a few hours’ notice, the promotion ultimately opted to pull the Russian from the card. This time, Mitrione says he feels healthy, and Emelianenko sees no need for a contingency plan.
“Don’t worry about the details, the fight with Mitrione is going to happen,” he said.
When questioned as to why he continues to fight after a career that many believe established him as the sport’s pound-for-pound best, Emelianenko replied simply: “Because I am a fighter.” And while he admitted that money is certainly as important now as at any point in his professional tenure, it isn’t the sole driving force behind his desire to compete.
“For every fighter money plays an important role because that’s your job and you have to make sure you’re providing for your family, paying expenses for your training and everything else,” he said. “Whenever you make certain negotiations for a fight you have to take this into consideration. Of course, you’re always looking for the best financial deal you can make.”
Emelianenko has won his last five fights, including a controversial majority decision triumph over Fabio Maldonado at a Fight Nights Global event in St. Petersburg, Russia, last June. In that bout, Maldonado, a natural light heavyweight, appeared to be on the verge of earning a stoppage against Emelianenko after flooring his foe with a combination and swarming with ground-and-pound. Somehow, the Pride Fighting Championships veteran survived and managed to win the final two rounds on the judges’ scorecards.
When looking back on his most recent appearance, Emelianenko claims that it is extremely rare for someone to catch him as Maldonado did.
“It was basically the second time in my entire fighting career where I didn’t see and I didn’t feel the punch,” he said. “I just didn’t see it coming. Something like this happens. If it’s happened only twice [ever], it’s not that bad.”
In a week, Emelianenko will be fighting a true heavyweight in Mitrione, who has earned 10 of his 11 career victories by way of knockout or technical knockout. Never the largest man in his division, Emelianenko has nonetheless prevailed against many of the sport’s best over the course of his decorated professional tenure. He says that Mitrione ranks up there with anyone he has faced.
“Matt is the top echelon of MMA fighters and especially the elite group I used to fight. I think this fight is very dangerous,” Emelianenko said. “He is very skilled, strong and has a good punch. He belongs in the top tier of those fighters.”