In the MMA world, Fedor Emelianenko
is seemingly part royalty and part deity, even though he doesn't currently own a major promotional belt and as best as we can tell, he has yet to perform a miracle -- although his insta-recovery from the Randleplex from hell back in '04 may qualify. But because of the aura around Fedor, some fighters are seemingly on the way to beaten before they even step in the cage with him. Here's what Brett Rogers told SI.com's Josh Gross
about Fedor after he had a chance to stare him down, but before
the actual fight.
"I look into his eyes and I see nothing," he said. "I don't see if he's serious. I don't see if he's trying to be funny. I can't sense anything from him. A lot of people say, 'Don't pay attention to his demeanor because it will psyche you out.' It's true. I feel that."
Rogers proved to be game on fight night, but was eventually KO'd by Fedor. So will Fabricio Werdum
be any different when he faces Fedor during Saturday night's Strikeforce/M-1 event? He was asked about the Fedor phenomenon and his own mental focus during a recent conference call.
"When a fight is delayed, it's never good for training," he said. "However, I'm fortunate that my training and camp have been solid and strong the whole time. It's been not easy but I've been able to maintain my mental focus because the opportunity to fight someone as great as Fedor, the No. 1 guy in the world, comes only once in a lifetime. I've been waiting for this opportunity my whole career, and it's finally here."
At one point of the call, Werdum admitted that "most fighters exclusive of themselves have already lost the fight with Fedor before stepping into the ring or cage because Fedor's proven to be the greatest in the world," but didn't specifically address how he would avoid the pitfall, or whether he considered it a problem for himself.
By all accounts, Emelianenko is a simple man who lives quietly and has no particular interest in the spotlight, but his humility combined with a Steve McQueen cool and his stunning MMA achievements (32-1, 1 no contest; former PRIDE champ) certainly has an affect on his competition. It's just a matter of what exactly that effect is going to be.
For Werdum, it appears to be reverence.
"It's a great honor for me to fight the No. 1 mixed martial artist in the world, but those rankings often take away from what a great sportsman and athlete that Fedor is," he said. "It's an honor to be considered in the same class of athlete as a person such as Fedor is. He's a deeply religious man who I respect greatly. So it's a great inspiration and motivating factor for me to step in the cage with a man such as Fedor."
It should be noted that Werdum didn't conciously spend all his time talking up Fedor, but was simply responding to a consistent line of questioning. And in fairness, unless you're UFC President Dana White and have been repeatedly rebuffed in trying to sign Fedor, it's not easy for most to say anything negative about him.
When he had the chance, Werdum (13-4) repeatedly emphasized that he's ready to seize the moment, and that he's drawing his confidence from his preparation, and his motivation from his family. He said he's been studying Emelianenko's fights throughout his entire career, so the surprises in play should be limited.
Interestingly, Werdum has not focused on training with heavyweights, instead opting for lighter, quicker fighters that can more closely mimic Emelianenko's speed. Among those he mentioned as recent training/sparring partners in the leadup: Wanderlei Silva, Renato "Babalu" Sobral, Mark Munoz, Vladimir Matyushenko and "King Mo" Muhammed Lawal. Not a heavyweight among the group.
Despite the odds he's facing (betting lines have Emelianenko as high as an 8-to-1 favorite) and the aura of Fedor, Werdum says it's not going to get to him.
"I don't feel more pressure being the underdog," he said. "In fact, it's the opposite. I'm been more calm for this fight, ironically, than I've ever been for any fight in my career."