The Pride Fighting Championship was founded in 1997, one month earlier than four years after the UFC opened. The new organization, based in Japan, quickly surpassed the UFC in popularity. At the time, the UFC was banned from cable television and was illegal in many US states. Pride had Japanese allure along with a host of great fighters.
Two of the men who helped make him what he has become are retiring within two weeks of each other.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, who became one of the biggest names in the sport in 2005 when he went 5-0 to win the Pride middleweight grand prix, has retired after a loss to Ihor Potieria at UFC 283 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He went away with a 27-14-1 record, won the UFC light heavyweight title and won the Pride Grand Prix tournament.
In Saturday’s main event of Bellator 290 at The Forum in Inglewood, California, Fedor Emelianenko will compete in his final fight against Ryan Bader for the championship, ending a career that began on May 21, 2000.
While Rua’s greatest success has come in Pride — he was 4-1 before joining the organization, 12-1 in Pride, and then 11-12-1 in the UFC — Emelianenko’s success spanned promotions. Emelianenko was 10-1 before joining Pride, 16-0 with a no-contest in Pride and then 14-5 after Pride was purchased by the UFC.
Emelianenko never fought in UFC which, around 2006, became the world’s leading MMA promotion, so he lost many great fighters like Randy Couture, Cain Velasquez, Stipe Miocic, Daniel Cormier, Francis Ngannou, Junior dos Santos and others . Though he was scheduled to fight Josh Barnett several times, those two didn’t meet either.
But he was the face of the era where MMA started to reach the mainstream and grow in popularity. The respect he has engendered from his peers will be evident on Saturday when fighters such as Frank Shamrock, Renzo Gracie, Royce Gracie, Couture, Coleman, Chael Sonnen, Barnett and Matt Hughes, among others, enter the cage after the fight to participate in a ceremony in honor of his career.
Emelianenko was the biggest star of the biggest MMA promotion in its prime. And while she retires with a 40-6 record with a no contest that includes 16 knockout wins and 15 submission wins, she’s only trying to determine her place in MMA history.
When asked if he believed Emelianenko deserved to be considered one of the Top 5 or Top 10 MMA heavyweights of all time, Cormier, a UFC Hall of Famer and former heavyweight champion, said: “He sure is. Not the GOAT. , However. “
Bellator president Scott Coker, who has become a close friend of Emelianenko, started out as a fan. He said he believes Emelianenko is the greatest heavyweight ever due to his varied skills and her longevity.
“I lived through that era and watched it, and I know there are a lot of great fighters, but if you look at his overall work compared to other athletes, he’s like no other,” Coker said. “He’s still doing it. He’s still knocking people out [at 46 years old]. It’s still super fast. Has it decreased a bit? Yes, but that’s when she finally retires. … she had all the tools. He could submit, he could wrestle, he could fight and he had great stand-up.”
Coker promoted kickboxing and K1 heavily in his early career at a time when Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic was considered one of the elite strikers in the game.
Coker said he was shocked by the way Emelianenko dealt with Filipovic’s jab.
“Mirko was one of the greatest strikers in the history of K1 fighting all those years and he was kickboxing all those years,” Coker said. “He made his transition to MMA and fought Fedor. It was a big, big fight and I didn’t get to see him live [in person] but I was up till 2am watching TV. Fedor beat Mirko Cro Cop. He pressed him, pushed him and pushed him out. That made me believe seeing that this guy could hit with the best in the world knowing everything else he could do.”
The quality of athletes is far better now than it was in 2003-2009 when Emelianenko was at his peak. Emelianenko was 19-0 no contest in that span and had two wins each over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Mark Coleman, and wins over Pedro Rizzo, Kevin Randleman, Filipovic, Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski.
Emelianenko was 7-1 against men who held UFC titles. He beat Nogueira and Coleman twice each and had more wins over Sylvia, Arlovski and Randleman. He lost to Fabricio Werdum in a 2010 Strikeforce match, ending a 27 game hitting streak that spanned more than 10 years.
Nogueira, Coleman and Randleman are all UFC Hall of Fame inductees.
The best and most dominant heavyweight in history by some is Velasquez, who knocked out Brock Lesnar to win the UFC heavyweight title on October 23, 2010, at UFC 121 in Anaheim, California. Velasquez was extremely well-rounded, but suffered injuries and nearly didn’t get the best of Emelianenko. Velasquez retired with a 14-3 MMA record and a 4-2 record in UFC title fights.
Stipe Miocic often gets that kind of recognition, but he too didn’t have as long a career as Emelianenko. Miocic is 20-4 with two wins over Cormier, one win over Ngannou, Werdum, dos Santos, Alistair Overeem and Arlovski. Miocic is 6-2 in UFC heavyweight title fights.
Emelianenko fought much longer than the others. He went 4-2 after turning 40, but was 36-4 before turning 40.
He’s done enough to be in whatever Hall of Fame there is for MMA, and he clearly ranks among the best to ever do so. It’s not even that 2005 is an old time.
Whether he wins or loses in his final against Bader on Saturday, one thing is certain: Fedor Emelianenko is a fighter for the ages.