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Strikeforce Main Event Breakdown: Fedor Emelianenko vs. Antonio Silva

His unbeaten streak finally over after nearly a decade, Fedor Emelianenko throws himself back into the fire as part of Strikeforce's Heavyweight Grand Prix. For an athlete who openly admitted considering retirement in the last year or two, it will be a tall order to find the fire to run the gauntlet and emerge as the winner over a crowded field of various former and current organizational champions.

His first tourney start will come on Saturday against Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva, a former EliteXC heavyweight champion who has lost only once in the last four years, to field entrant Fabricio Werdum. Ironically, Werdum is the man to snap Emelianenko's historic streak.

Standing with the other seven members of the tournament field, Emelianenko is clearly the smallest and at 34 years old, he is also the oldest. All of which would make a Grand Prix tournament victory the biggest achievement of his career.

But there is something else: he is also the most battle-tested. While his record doesn't boast the most fights (that goes to Alistair Overeem, who has 46 pro bouts, 11 more than Emelianenko), the Russian has been fighting high-level opponents longer and more consistently than anyone in the field. There are few situations he hasn't experienced during that time, and now, that even includes legitimately losing.

Emelianenko (32-2, 1 no contest) has always built his success on his speed. Though undersized at about 6 feet tall and 230 pounds, he has the footwork to weave his way into striking range, land strikes, and get out unscathed. This is illustrated in the stats. According to Compustrike, Emelianenko has landed 46.5 percent of his standing strikes over his last nine fights, while his opponents have landed just 32.4 percent. That is a truly impressive number for a fighter that is nearly always at a disadvantage when it comes to reach. And for the record, Silva will have an eight-inch reach advantage against him Saturday, 82 inches to 74.

The stats are even more amazing when you consider that Emelianenko has essentially settled into a boxer in the standup department over the last few years. He averages only four thrown kicks per fight, and kicks are historically landed at a much higher rate than punches, bringing a fighter's overall striking percentage up.

One undervalued part of his game is his wrestling and takedowns. He's taken his foe to the mat on 18 of his last 27 tries (67 percent). Meanwhile, on defense, he's stuffed 14 of 18 attempts.

That last number might be key against Silva, who is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and does some of his best work on the mat, also specializing in ground and pound.

Silva (15-2) would probably like to get the fight to the mat at various points throughout the fight, which would vastly increase his chances to win. But Silva is not a takedown artist in a classical sense. He's more an opportunist, taking his opponent down when he senses the man is in danger. In his last nine fights, he's 9-for-13 in takedowns. Given Emelianenko's judo and sambo backgrounds, Silva will probably have a tough time taking him down.

If it's mostly a standup fight, Silva is no fish out of water, as 10 of his career victories are by knockout or TKO, and he lands standup strikes at an over 50 percent rate. But will he have the conditioning to hang with Fedor? Two of his last three fights have gone into the third round, where Silva has seemed to fade a bit. Emelianenko rarely seems to have that issue.

Emelianenko also throws an average of 15 more strikes per round, giving him more opportunities to impress the judges if the fight goes the distance.

While it seems like Silva is easy to hit, his opponents connect on only 31 percent of thrown arm strikes against him. That's probably a function of his opponent level as much as his own defense and lengthy reach. Silva hasn't consistently fought top-level competition that could test his defenses the way Fedor will. But in his last few fights against Werdum, Andrei Arlovski, and Mike Kyle, he's shown he's vulnerable to being hit. Kyle, who is truly a light-heavyweight, rocked Silva, nearly finishing him in the first round of their fight in December.

Since Emelianenko has a knack for getting inside, expect to see him finding Silva's chin fairly regularly. Silva's best play here is to use his size and power to clinch against the cage and wear Emelianenko down with knees and elbows, but that's not necessarily his forte, so this match might turn more striking heavy. Silva can try to keep distance with his kicks, but Emelianenko seems to always bait his foes into a match that favors his style.

Silva might have his moments early, but he's a big target, and Emelianenko's hand speed should make him a target that's hit repeatedly. Silva hangs on for one round, but gets overwhelmed after that. How do you pick Fedor to lose two in a row? I can't. Emelianenko via second-round TKO.

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