Fedor vs. “Cro Cop”: All the Makings of a Great One

By Jason Nowe Aug 26, 2005
TOKYO, Aug. 26 — Here we are on the edge of perhaps the greatest heavyweight title match in the history of MMA: Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures) vs. Mirko Filipovic (Pictures), a bout that has been brewing for two years now.

The first derailment happened when Emelianenko broke his hand in his fight with Gary Goodridge (Pictures) in August 2003. Then came Filipovic’s loss of his number one contender status at the hands of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Pictures).

It seemed like these two combatants had a great chance of meeting in 2004’s Heavyweight GP, but Kevin Randleman (Pictures)’s upset defeat of “Cro Cop” derailed things yet again. Now fast forward to Bushido 6. Emelianenko re-injured his hand in his fight against Tsuyoshi Kohsaka (Pictures) and this match-up, that was supposed to happen at Critical Countdown in June, is pushed back to Sunday’s Final Conflict Event in Saitama Super Arena.

So, what does “Cro Cop” bring to the table?

The most obvious weapon is his left high kick. The way he uses this reminds me of the way Alexandre Franca Nogueira (Pictures) uses his guillotine in SHOOTO — everybody knows that it’s coming yet he still manages to catch people with it.

Not only has “Cro Cop” knocked people out with kicks to the head, but he has also flattened people with kicks to the body. Good examples of this are his fights with Heath Herring and Fedor’s training partner, Ibragim Magomedov (Pictures). We’ve also seen that Mirko can use his hands as well, just look at his punch-out victories over Mark Coleman (Pictures) and Shungo Oyama (Pictures).

The strength of the Croatian’s sprawl is strongly evidenced in his fight with Heath Herring. The Texas Crazy Horse was trying his hardest to shoot in and take “Cro Cop” down, yet the kickboxer was able to sprawl out and gain dominate position on all fours, firing knees from the ground against his opponent.

Look at the rematch against Randleman: If a takedown machine like Randleman can’t get you, it means you must be doing something right.

Now, my main concern in this match-up is how “Cro Cop” fights from his back. If you look back to the Filipovic-Silva bout of April 2002, you will see that Mirko did very little from his back except hold on until the referee stood them up.

Now you could say that Mirko has evolved since then and is a different fighter — and I would have to agree with you — but we have not yet seen a convincing display of how he operates from his back (aside from his loss to Nogueira).

I think a great litmus test for Filipovic’s skills from his back would have been the Barnett fight in October 2004. But unfortunately, due to a freak injury, this match was not able to progress to its full potential.

So this still leaves me up in the air on this crucial aspect of his game. I’m not saying that “Cro Cop” doesn’t have the ability to fight from his back and work for reversals and submissions, nor am I saying that he hasn’t improved his ground game in recent years.

I’m simply saying that I have no solid, quantifiable evidence of his skills from the bottom.

Right then, lets move to Emelianenko. What’s this guy’s greatest skill? I’m going to go with his ground-and-pound. Much along the lines of Mark Kerr, Mark Coleman (Pictures) and Tito Ortiz (Pictures), this guy is the master of pounding opponents into the mat.

The match that most sticks out in my mind: Fedor-Nogueira I in March 2003. That was an absolute mauling. He really manhandled Nogueira on that night. Another good example is his pummeling of Kohsaka at Bushido 6. Emelianenko can hit either from kneeling inside the guard or from standing at the ends of his opponents feet.

While it’s undeniable that the Russian strikes amazingly on the mat, he has also demonstrated his prowess on his feet as well. For such a big guy, he’s incredibly light and nimble on his feet, and his hands are lighting fast. While I don’t think that he has quite the stand-up stills of “Cro Cop,” I do think that he’s at least good enough to hang with him on his feet until he works a clinch or backs him up into the ropes.

Emelianenko has solid takedown skills from the clinch. For the life of me I can’t remember the last time I saw him go for a shot. It’s always Greco-Roman from the clinch. Once again, this is evidence from his bouts with Nogueira, especially the New Year’s Eve Grand Prix title match.

What can you say about this guy on the ground, other than he’s deadly. Remember the armbar he laid on Mark Coleman (Pictures) from his back? That thing just came out of nowhere — a little shrimp of the hip and next thing you know he has it on and Coleman is tapping.

His submission of Randleman in June 2004 was especially poignant. The suplex that was thrown on Emelianenko was something worthy of Wrestlemania, never mind an MMA fight. Both fighters were totally elevated at the high point of its massive trajectory. The impact of that slam would have at least shaken any other person up, if not broken them in half, but Fedor still had the presence of mind to shift around, get side position and apply a chicken wing all within 15 seconds after impact.

Another great (and perhaps underrated) strength of Fedor’s is his slipperiness. This may sound a little weird to the uninitiated, but just ask anyone who has ever rolled without a gi or shirt on before. Once the sweating starts, it’s difficult to apply a submission. He is the epitome of this. When that guy has a sweat going, he’s incredibly hard to grip.

Nobody can catch him. Combine this with the fact that he knows all the submissions that his opponents attempt to put on him, as well as the escapes for them, and you have a Teflon King — he just slides out of everything.

The biggest weakness that Emelianenko has is his susceptibility to cuts. Masa Fukui’s bad dream could become a reality. The Fedor-Nogueira II and Fedor-Kohsaka I bouts come to mind on this one. If he was going in against a grappler on Sunday, the chances for a cut would be lower. But he’s going against one of the best strikers in MMA today, which greatly increases the risks of cuts.

If there is one thing that I’m sure everyone can agree on, a doctor’s stoppage early on due to a cut would really suck.

The question mark hanging over Emelianenko is the condition of his right hand. There have been a lot of rumors circulating about this point — everything from Fedor using a specially designed right glove to protect his hand all the way to talk that can no longer punch with his right. I even heard one of the media people today say that Fedor has to go in for corrective surgery after this fight.

I don’t know the whole story behind this so I’m not going to speculate. Personally I think it was silly of PRIDE to put Fedor in a meaningless match against Kohsaka just two months before his scheduled match with Mirko. I also worry about the long-term damage of constantly re-aggravating an injury. I pray that this won’t affect the fight in any way.

So there’s my analysis. Take from it what you will. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. This event is going to be truly momentous: a dynamite heavyweight fight on top of an already awesome card. This something that everyone who follows this great sport has been looking forward to for a long time, and it’s sure to go down in the annals of MMA history.
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