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With Emelianenko Toppled, What Becomes of Heavyweight Ranks?

To be the man, as the gospel of Ric Flair reminds us, you have to beat the man. Last night in San Jose, Fabricio Werdum beat the man. He beat Fedor Emelianenko just a little over a minute into the first round. He made the man quit.

Now, the question we must ask ourselves is, does that make Werdum the man? The answer is certainly no, which is more than a little unfair, but also completely sensible.

First, let's try and take an objective look at this. Werdum, a jiu-jitsu specialist who relies on his skill with submissions, puts those skills to work and snatches a victory over the best heavyweight in the world. You can say he got lucky, or that Fedor got careless, but you could also make the same argument about Emelianenko's win over Andrei Arlovski if you were so inclined.

The major difference here is that Werdum wasn't supposed to win. He pulled it off, and he shocked the MMA world, but he'd still be the underdog in a rematch. That's because perception still equals reality when it comes to appraising fighters. Werdum won, and judging by the way he and his team came thundering into the hotel bar after returning from the arena last night, he got a lot of enjoyment out of the victory, but the fact is that most observers still don't think of him as the world's best heavyweight.


So if it's not Werdum, and it's not the newly defeated Fedor, who is it?

For the moment, no one. There is a power vacuum at the top of the division, and the UFC civil war between Shane Carwin and Brock Lesnar next weekend will most likely decide who gets to call himself No. 1.

That's not necessarily guaranteed, mind you. It's possible (though difficult to imagine) that those two behemoths could both emerge from the UFC heavyweight title bout looking unimpressive. Odds are though that one of them will beat the other up in brutal fashion, and that guy will get to wear the crown thanks to Werdum's improbable win.

Again, is that fair? Not really. If the Carwin-Lesnar bout wasn't a showdown for the top spot as of Saturday afternoon, it's a little odd that it becomes one by Sunday morning, and without either man doing anything to bring it about.

Fairness aside, however, that's the way it's got to be, and Werdum's reaction to submitting Fedor should tell us why.

"Fedor is the best in the world," the Brazilian said. "Tonight I beat Fedor, but Fedor is the best."

Only you can't be the best if you're coming off a loss. Even if it's a loss that almost no one thinks you wouldn't successfully avenge if given the chance, the top dog simply can't be 0-1 in his last outing. The rankings gods wouldn't allow it.

That's good news for Dana White and the UFC, and it's a bit of a screw job for Werdum, who's being treated sort of like an orphan who won a raffle to become king for a day, but that's the way it is.

If you're expecting to hear Emelianenko complain, don't bother. He never really cared about the distinction anyway, and he might even be just a little glad to be rid of it. At least for the time being.

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