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After His Exit From the Big Stage, How Will MMA Remember Fedor Emelianenko?

Fedor EmelianenkoFedor Emelianenko doesn't have to go home to Stary Oskol, but he can't stay in Zuffa. After three straight losses in Strikeforce, the man who once demanded the sun and the stars in order to sign with the UFC now can't even hang on in the company's second-tier organization.

Unlike the surprising decision to drop several promising Golden Glory fighters with one big slash of the ax, this is one we should have seen coming.

But now that the man who was once the world's greatest heavyweight has been given his walking papers, what does it mean for his immediate future? And decades from now, when we sit our grandchildren on our robotic knees in front of our holographic fireplaces, how will the firing of Fedor color the story of his legacy?

The answer to the first question ought to be simple. With the doors of the two biggest MMA organizations now closed to him, and with the numbers suddenly piling up in the loss category, now might be the time for Fedor to seek out the retired life that he's been eyeing for a while now.

I say it ought to be that simple, but that doesn't mean it will be.

There's only thing that Fedor's M-1 Global management team likes better than using him as their walking billboard, and it's touting their credentials as fight promoters. It's not at all hard to imagine Fedor getting talked into one or two more can-crushing contests in some half-full arena somewhere, and -- who knows? -- maybe now that Alistair Overeem doesn't have much going on, the Golden Glory and M-1 Global beef could be set aside in the name of making the only available fight that might matter for either of them.

But that still leaves us with the bigger question of legacy. After dominating the Japanese scene and then crumbling shortly after coming to the U.S., will Fedor's glory days still seem so glorious when we look back on them after his story is finished?

The answer to that question will depend largely on how fans remember Pride. Back when it was still alive and kicking, the Japanese organization was a viable rival to the UFC. Sure, it had its problems (not to mention the occasional doubts about legitimacy), but to many fans those seemed more like endearing quirks. I might not want to show a clip of some poor schlub getting headstomped if I were trying to make my case for MMA as a whole, but I'll still throw in the 2005 Grand Prix DVD if I'm home alone and feeling nostalgic.

But Fedor's greatest accomplishments across the Pacific were wins over the likes of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, both of whom seemed a lot more beatable within a few years of coming to the UFC. The generous fan will chalk that up to the ravages of age, but not every MMA fan is so generous.

As a contrast, look at the legacy of Wanderlei Silva. He made his name in Pride, and hasn't done much of note in the UFC. Even so, fans still regard him as a hero from a bygone age, and that's without a winning streak to match Fedor's.

So what's the difference? For starters, Silva's reputation was built more on style than on dominance. He won a lot of big fights against a lot of big fighters, but even his losses were something to see. He brought the excitement and the intensity every time, and that's something you can't take away from him even if you chip away at the quality of his opponents. We know now that beating Yuki Kondo isn't the pinnacle of athletic achievement, but so what? Wanderlei is beloved for being Wanderlei, and that won't change no matter how many times he gets knocked out.

Fedor, on the other hand, was all about perfection. He went a decade without losing, which not only made up for his lack of a personality, but made it into a part of a larger mystery. If people begin to lose their sense of awe at his wins in Japan, or even his wins in the U.S. (face it, beating Sylvia, Arlovski, and Rogers doesn't mean what it used to) then his string of losses in Strikeforce might seem like more than just a natural decline.

What's easy to forget, however, is that at a time when Pride had the world's best heavyweights, Fedor was the best among them. Back when the UFC heavyweight division was the Sylvia-Arlovski show over and over again, Fedor was running through the best competition of his day.

And really, isn't that what should matter most -- a fighter's performance in his prime against the best of his time? By that metric, Fedor is still one of the best to ever do it, regardless of whether you think the heavyweights of 2005 could hang with the big boys of today.

The biggest problem for Fedor's legacy isn't his performances, but his management. By keeping him out of the UFC and then, even after signing with Strikeforce, dodging Alistair Overeem, M-1 Global gave legs to the argument that Fedor was ducking top competition. They tried to make Fedor a promotion unto himself, and in the process they kept him out of the fights fans really wanted to see.

That's the worst part. As Fedor fades away, it's hard not to wonder what he might (or might not) have been capable of back when he was at his most capable. Just because he loses a few fights in his mid-thirties, that doesn't mean he wasn't one of the sport's great ones. Few fighting careers end on high notes, after all. That part is nothing new.

What will hurt Fedor more than anything is that, when the time came to choose between forging a legacy and cutting a deal that would let him splash the words 'M-1 Global' all over the cage, he chose the deal. Or at least, he chose the people who chose the deal on his behalf. He wanted it his way, and that meant more to him than how he'd be remembered. Now that he's gone, at least from MMA's biggest stages, don't be surprised if that's a part of what people remember.

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