The retired UFC star thinks hardcore MMA fans have a skewed perspective of Emelianenko and his accomplishments, he said Monday on the 300th episode of The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani. Sonnen doesn't think "The Last Emperor" is really on the radar of the casual fanbase.
"He's definitely overrated," Sonnen said. "But he's not that highly rated. The people who listen to your show, the people who listen to my podcast, we have some hardcore fans. They watched him over in Japan. They watched some of those matches and they're more than happy to forget when he came over to the states and actually did a sanctioned fight with a real referee that's not wearing an earpiece. They forgot about those. The average human being doesn't have the foggiest idea of who he is. And history is not going to reflect well on Fedor Emelianenko, as far as his MMA career goes."
As far as Emelianenko's big comeback, Sonnen thinks he was very smart to sign with former PRIDE boss Nobuyuki Sakakibara and fight in Japan. Sakakibara was supposed to announce Emelianenko's opponent for New Year's Eve in a press conference Thursday, but that did not happen. MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani reported earlier in the week that the foe would be little-known kickboxer Jaideep Singh.
"Here's what you want to do: You want to fight the easiest guy that you can for the biggest paycheck," Sonnen said. "Fedor, he's doing that really well. Who's in Japan right now? What's the parity? Who are they gonna match him up with? There's not even a sweepstakes for Fedor right now. There's no division whatsoever, so the likelihood that he gets an easy draw and sells a bunch of tickets doing it, I think there's a pretty good chance there."
Sonnen, who now works as an analyst for ESPN and World Series of Fighting, thinks fans who wanted him to come to the UFC are off base. Sonnen doesn't think Emelianenko believes he can compete with fighters in the UFC and that's why he's going to Japan. "The American Gangster" compares Emelianenko's legacy to that of Kimbo Slice.
"Fans assess Fedor constantly," Sonnen said "They have no idea what they're talking about. I hear things said about Fedor where I'm just sitting there rolling my eyes. I had to live through this with Kimbo Slice. I had to live through this where the fans' perception gets so far off that they don't know what they're seeing. Fedor can give you a very good assessment of himself. He knows where he's at. So when he puts himself over there in Japan and goes, 'I can make a few bucks doing this, I can stay busy and I don't have to fight those guys in the UFC,' that ends the argument. His fans always want to come out, 'You'd do so well in the UFC.' If he's telling you that he won't, you've gotta listen to him."
Emelianenko is a former PRIDE heavyweight champion and heavyweight grand prix champion. He also had a solid run in Strikeforce. The Russian star went undefeated over the course of 10 years with wins over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mark Coleman, Mirko Cro Cop, Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia.
However, Emelianenko did drop three straight in Strikeforce to Fabricio Werdum, Antonio Silva and Dan Henderson in 2010 and 2011 before rebounding to win three straight in M-1 and Fight for Japan in 2011 and 2012.
Sonnen thinks Emelianenko's decision to stay out of the UFC was a "good move."
"I think for his skillset and where he's at, I think that makes sense," Sonnen said. "Don't forget, he's not coming back to win championships. He's coming back to make some money."