Sadly yet predictably, in this world of 24-hour news cycles, instant analysis and social media, the backlash against Fedor and the devaluing of his stunning run of success was immediate.
It doesn't matter; he's still the greatest heavyweight mixed martial artist of all time. One fight does not change everything that's come before it. One result does not impact a legacy that's already been made.
Just ask the guy who won.
"Fedor is the best in the world," Fabricio Werdum said shortly after becoming the first man to defeat him since Dec. 2000. "Tonight I beat Fedor, but Fedor is the best."
For the last decade, he's set a standard of consistent excellence that has never been topped in the world of MMA. That's why Randy Couture was ready to quit the UFC a few years ago to face him, it's why Shane Carwin and Brock Lesnar have been asked about him prior to their UFC 116 heavyweight title bout, and why Dana White admittedly became obsessed with trying to bring him into the UFC fold.
All it means is this: you stay in the game long enough, you're going to lose.
And make no mistake about it, it was his first legitimate loss. The first, back in Dec. 2000, was due to circumstance more than anything. Just seconds into the match against Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, Emelianenko suffered a cut due to an illegal elbow strike. In most situations, a fight-ending gash caused by an illegal blow results in a no contest, but because the fight was part of a tournament, a winner was needed to advance into the next round. The ruling was made on the spot, with Kohsaka declared the winner and allowed to advance.
This time -- for the first time -- there will be no controversy about Fedor being beaten. Werdum will always and forever hold a legitimate claim of being the first man to stop the unstoppable Emelianenko, to make him surrender.
It was a moment filled with tension before 12,698 at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., Werdum locking him into the triangle choke, pulling his head down, extending his arm into a combination choke/armbar. Fedor fought it briefly, thought about tapping, changed his mind, and fought it again. Werdum only made it tighter. It was then the realization came, Fedor was going to lose.
There was no escape. And finally, for the first time in his career, after 35 fights, after an almost 10-year-run without tasting defeat, Emelianenko tapped, a single time on Werdum's leg. Dignified yet clear, at least in the landscape of MMA, it was the tap that shook the world.
It is a loss for which Emelianenko has nothing to be ashamed. Werdum was a credible challenger, with wins over Alistair Overeem, Gabriel Gonzaga and Antonio Silva in his past. He is also one of the most highly respected Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts in MMA, and it was that ground game which proved Fedor's undoing.
Emelianenko didn't lose to a nobody, he lost to a sharpshooter firing off his favorite pistol.
White tweeted a smiley face after the fight. Given his frustration in dealing with Emelianenko's M-1 reps, I wouldn't have been surprised to see him gloat even more. In all it was a downright tame response, but maybe it's because White knows the game well enough to know that what happened to Emelianenko could happen to anyone. He's essentially selling August's Couture-James Toney fight by saying, "Anything can happen in MMA," and yet everyone knows Toney isn't half the mixed martial artist Werdum is.
Even the greatest of champions have tasted defeat in their careers. Georges St. Pierre was on the losing end of one of the biggest upsets in MMA history when he was knocked out by Matt Serra. Brock Lesnar got trapped in a Frank Mir kneebar. Anderson Silva was memorably caught with a flying heel hook. It happens. This isn't boxing where you get fed a steady stream of jobbers to prop up your record until you're ready to fight for a major belt. This is more like football, where 10-6 is considered a very good season and 12-4 is outstanding. MMA is just too complex and layered to avoid losses. That's why Couture can be looked at as a legend with an 18-10 record, and why Silva's 26-4 mark is looked at with reverence. Yet Fedor has lost just twice in 35 fights, despite often fighting against men who outweighed him and outsized him, despite fighting wrestlers and strikers and grapplers.
But if you fight long enough, you're going to lose.
Some fans feel resentment toward Fedor for his refusal to sign with the UFC, but don't let nearsightedness stop you from seeing the brilliance of what he's accomplished. A decade-long unbeaten streak is something we may not see anytime soon in MMA, and the man behind it should be celebrated for his relentless pursuit of excellence in the world's most unforgiving sport.
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