He was a perfect storm: the otherworldly skills, the serial-killer demeanor and the genuine reverence for all those who challenged him, even as he prepared to send them to their doom. Fedor Emelianenko at his peak was the irresistible force and the immovable object all wrapped into one.
Emelianenko was essentially undefeated—his only loss resulted from a controversial cut stoppage in his fifth professional appearance—for more than a decade, his resume bursting at the seams with quality quantity. The onetime Pride Fighting Championships heavyweight titleholder holds wins over four-time K-1 World Grand Prix winner Semmy Schilt, three Olympic medalists—Satoshi Ishii, Matt Lindland and Naoya Ogawa—and six former Ultimate Fighting Championship titlists: Quinton Jackson, Frank Mir, Tim Sylvia, Andrei Arlovski, Kevin Randleman and Mark Coleman (twice). Between April 6, 2001 and Nov. 7, 2009, Emelianenko went 27-0 with 21 finishes, 18 of them inside one round. His list of victims included the 7-foot-2 Hong Man Choi and the 400-pound Wagner da Conceicao Martins. Though Emelianenko’s dominance has waned with the passage of time, he has remained active and effective well into his 40s.
As “The Last Emperor” ponders his next move, a few of the rivalries that shaped him:
Emelianenko strained the Croatian’s gas tank with relentless pressure. (Photo: Stephen Martinez/Sherdog)
They set the standard for heavyweights of their era, and their paths finally crossed under the Pride Final Conflict marquee on Aug. 28, 2005 in Saitama, Japan. At stake: Emelianenko’s Pride heavyweight championship. The Russian icon weathered several body kicks from Filipovic, closed the distance and crowded him with punches and clinches. While Emelianenko did not escape unscathed—“Cro Cop” broke his nose and opened a cut on his scalp—he put a strain on the Croatian’s gas tank with suffocating top control and heavy ground-and-pound. Filipovic’s movements grew visibly labored in the second and third rounds, where “The Last Emperor” tightened his grip on the match and ultimately walked away with a clear unanimous decision. By the time it was over, Emelianenko had landed five times as many significant strikes (50) as Filipovic (10), connected on almost twice as many total strikes (125-63), secured four takedowns and executed three guard passes.
Emelianenko chewed up and spit out Nogueira at Pride 25 in 2003. (Photo: Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)
Nogueira passed the torch to the Russian sambo practitioner at Pride 25 on March 16, 2003 in Yokohama, Japan, where a crowd of 19,247 witnessed a coronation. Emelianenko, 26, was entering his prime as he stepped into the ring on the strength of victories over Schilt and Heath Herring in his first two Pride Fighting Championships assignments. Nogueira was thought to be made of iron, his reputation having been enhanced by the hellacious beating he endured before submitting Bob Sapp a little less than seven months earlier. Emelianenko made him look human. During their 20-minute confrontation at Yokohama Arena, he chewed up and spit out Nogueira, overwhelmed him with ground-and-pound rendered his vaunted submission game useless. They met on two other occasions: Their Aug. 25, 2004 rematch resulted in a no contest due to an accidental cut, and their trilogy fight at Pride Shockwave 2004 led to another lopsided decision for Emelianenko. In their three meetings, “The Last Emperor” outlanded Nogueira by a 158-25 margin in significant strikes and completed six of his seven attempted takedowns.
This was as close as the MMA world got to a Couture-Emelianenko superfight. (Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog)
The thirst for a Couture-Emelianenko superfight was never quenched. While “The Natural” was 13 years older than Emelianenko, their careers often ran parallel to one another. Couture was a three-time NCAA All-American wrestler at Oklahoma State University and three-time Olympic alternate before he transitioned to mixed martial arts. The Everett, Washington, native was a founding member of the Team Quest and Xtreme Couture training camps. A two-time light heavyweight titleholder and three-time heavyweight champion, Couture first appeared on the MMA stage at UFC 13 on May 30, 1997 and remained a fixture inside the promotion until he retired in 2011. Eight wins over former UFC champions anchor Couture’s hall-of-fame resume: Sylvia, Coleman, Randleman, Vitor Belfort (twice), Chuck Liddell, Maurice Smith and Tito Ortiz. His pursuit of Emelianenko was well-chronicled and even included rumors of a comeback under the Rizin Fighting Federation flag in New Year’s Eve in 2015—Couture would have been 52 years old at the time—but a showdown between the two legends never came to fruition. Instead, Father Time jettisoned the hypothetical bout into the abyss, where future generations can debate its merits.