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Legacy on the Line for Fedor Emelianenko in Strikeforce Grand Prix

You could drive yourself crazy trying to figure out what's going on in Fedor Emelianenko's head at any given moment.

His facial expression and physical demeanor are no help, since they rarely change. If you ask what's on his mind you're likely to get an answer that ranges somewhere between bafflingly cryptic and unhelpfully vague.

The man is an enigma wrapped up in a riddle and stuck inside one of those Russian nesting dolls. He's like an ancient Greek oracle, where the answer he gives is always more complicated – or perhaps just more frustratingly simple – than it seems at first.

This is why it's so difficult to tell how Fedor might be feeling as he returns to the cage on Saturday night for the first time since his shocking loss to Fabricio Werdum. On paper, a fight with Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva is a fight that Fedor should win every time. Silva may be bigger, but Fedor is quicker, more experienced, and more dangerous both on the feet and on the mat.

When you think about it, maybe that makes it just about perfect as a test for how Fedor will respond to having his aura of invincibility punctured last June.

It's not because Silva is himself such meaningful opponent. Or maybe it's specifically because Silva is not such a meaningful opponent. This is exactly the kind of fight Fedor should win every time. At least, if his head is still in the game. If he's still as focused and as confident now as he was when he was plowing through every heavyweight who stepped in the ring or cage with him.

It would be unnecessarily insulting to Silva to call him a gimme of an opponent for Fedor. But at least according to oddsmakers, Fedor has the easiest first-round draw in the entire heavyweight Grand Prix. Even Josh Barnett, who gets Brett Rogers in his opening round fight in April, isn't as heavy a favorite as Emelianenko.

This, in a strange way, is what makes it such a critical fight for Fedor's legacy. More so than any other fighter in the tournament, he's in a must-win situation. He's in the same situation that Mike Tyson was in after losing to Buster Douglas, and "Bigfoot" is his Henry Tillman. He's the guy you have to beat to prove that what happened in your last fight was a fluke, and not a harbinger of disaster.

This is the kind of fight that helps shape how your legacy is viewed in the big picture. If you lose one fight due to carelessness or overconfidence, but then immediately return to cracking skulls upon your return, people will remember it as a minor delay on the path to greatness. This is MMA, after all. Everyone is bound to lose once in a while. The great ones come back with a fury.

But if you lose in that comeback fight, and lose to a guy like Silva, who's done little to distinguish himself as a top heavyweight? Well, then people are more likely to look back at the Werdum fight as the point where you began falling off.

And while Fedor himself doesn't seem to know or care much about what MMA fans think of him, you can bet the men behind the money machine at M-1 Global do. Fedor is still their meal ticket, and he's been throwing around the word 'retirement' a lot more often lately. This tournament could be his last big dance, and if he can't get past Silva it will be a short one at that.

It was Fedor himself who nonchalantly shrugged off the loss to Werdum by quipping that "the one who doesn't fall never stands up." He's already done the falling down, so now must come the standing up. In a field as stacked as the Strikeforce Grand Prix, even the slightest stumble can cost you.

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