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Tournaments have always been a part of Fedor Emelianenko’s storied mixed martial arts career.
In 2004, Emelianenko defeated Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira to capture Pride Fighting Championship’s heavyweight grand prix. Seven years later, “The Last Emperor” was upset by Antonio Silva in the quarterfinals of Strikeforce’s heavyweight bracket, a tournament that would eventually be won by current UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier.
Fast forward to the present day, and the 42-year-old Russian is on the brink of winning Bellator heavyweight gold when he faces Ryan Bader in the finals of the promotion’s heavyweight grand prix at Bellator 214 on Jan. 26 at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif. To reach the finals, Emelianenko scored first-round stoppage victories over Frank Mir and Chael Sonnen. Emelianenko has seen a lot of big names while competing in multiple tournaments in different organizations, and he believes Bellator’s version compares favorably with the others.
“I feel like this grand prix is right up there with the ones I’ve fought in,” Emelianenko said through a translator on a Bellator 214 media call. “It has a lot of famous fighters, a lot of great fighters, a lot of top 10 fighters.”
That includes Bader, the California-based organization’s reigning light heavyweight king. Bader has defeated Muhammed Lawal and Matt Mitrione to reach the finals and has lost just once in his last 12 professional bouts.
“Ryan Bader is an exceptional fighter, probably one of the toughest guys in this tournament,” Emelianeko said. “I know he has a strong wrestling background, and I know he’s not easy to hit. The rest, we’ll have to see in the fight.”
Regarded by some fans as the best pound-for-pound fighter in MMA history, Emelianenko has built an impressive resume over the course of a pro career that began in 2000. Adding a Bellator belt and tournament to that would be a significant achievement.
“It means everything,” Emelianenko said. “This grand prix is very important. I’m fighting for my country. I’m fighting with God on my mind. I’m also the only Russian fighter in this grand prix. It means everything to participate and I’m going to do it 100 percent.”