After two losses in a row for Fedor Emelianenko, the naysayers and narrow-mindeds will come out in an attempt to discredit everything he ever did. Let's make this clear: Emelianenko is the greatest heavyweight mixed martial artist of all time. Perhaps one day he will be surpassed in the historical argument, but for now he is No. 1 with a bullet. There shouldn't be a conversation, let alone a debate about it.
It seems important to settle this now, with Emelianenko perhaps at the end of his career. After dropping his second fight in a row, he suggested that retirement was a possibility.
"Maybe it's time to leave," he said, the crowd of 11,287 groaning at the thought.
But maybe it is. Emelianenko doesn't have to retire simply because he lost again. Many fighters have gone through two-fight losing streaks and rebounded. But it seems clear from hearing him speak that he might not be fully into fighting any longer.
During his appearance on last week's edition of The MMA Hour, he admitted that he had considered retiring even before he fought Fabricio Werdum. That goes back to June 2010. Emelianenko said then that he was feeling his age after injuries and wear and tear, and that had caused him to think about his mortality as a fighter.
The more you hear Emelianenko talk, the more he mentions his faith in God. In both his MMA Hour interview, and his post-fight interview on Saturday night, he said he would continue fighting "if it's God's will."
So even though his M-1 business partner Vadim Finkelstein and Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker said they think he'll continue on, it sounds like Fedor is going to first seek the counsel of a higher power. That makes sense. For years, his most supportive fans considered him an MMA god.
During his run, he beat former UFC champions Kevin Randleman, Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlvoski; former interim UFC champ Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira; former UFC tournament champ Mark Coleman, former Strikeforce champ Renato Sobral, former PRIDE open weight Grand Prix champ Mirko Cro Cop, and former K-1 World Grand Prix champ Semmy Schilt.
He beat strikers, ground guys and wrestlers. He beat monsters that outweighed him by 50 pounds, and smaller, quicker fighters. He did this for nearly 10 years without losing. Let that sink in. You can knock his recent competition level all you want, but go ahead and find me any other fighter who went that long without losing. I'll wait and you'll eventually give up. This sport is too textured and complex to avoid losing, yet he went 29 fights between losses. That's practically obscene. It's like MMA's equivalent of the Miami Dolphins' perfect season.
Randy Couture's longest unbeaten streak? Four. Chuck Liddell? Ten. Anderson Silva? Fourteen. Those are three of the most decorated and respected fighters of all time and their longest combined unbeaten streak equals 28 fights, or one less than Fedor by himself.
Emelianenko would routinely beat fighters at their own game, or win fights with dramatic flair. In June 2004, he was suplexed on his head by Randleman. The impact looked frightening, but Emelianenko barely blinked, quickly reversing position and tapping out Randleman with a kimura seconds later.
Wins like that became standard fare for Emelianenko, who would seemingly work his way out of any scenario and fight back for victory.
That all came to an end on a June night last year when Fabricio Werdum trapped him in a triangle which was the beginning of the close of an era. Fedor tapped just once, signaling surrender and defeat.
It didn't seem possible that he could lose twice in a row but Antonio Silva turned in an inspired performance, turning up the heat in the second after a close opening round. Using his massive size and weight advantage, Silva took him down and battered him on the ground for nearly the full five minutes. Several times, Silva looked close to finishing; once with strikes, once with a rear naked choke, once with an arm triangle. Fedor fought his way out every time. Each time, the crowd let loose a roar, hoping to see one last Fedor comeback, but the damage he had taken was too much.
His right eye had been shut by the assault, and he could not see, the ringside physician ruled, calling a halt to the action.
"It was a pity it didn't go into the third round, because in the third round, Fedor is the guy to be able to make a surprise," said Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem.
Might he have had one more comeback in him? In this fight, we'll never know. Emelianenko was not breathing especially heavily in his corner between rounds, and if the doctor allowed him, he would have come out to fight the third. But if this is the end for Emelianenko, the legend went out in a manner befitting his place in the sport. After taking a hellacious beating, he rose from his stool and stood in his corner waiting for the round to begin, ready to mount one more offensive.
"To me," Silva said, "Fedor is the best in the world."