The moment when the world found out that Fedor Emelianenko (35-4-1, 1 no contest) really was human took place on June 26, 2010, when he was caught in a triangle by Fabricio Werdum at the SAP Center in San Jose, and he lost for the first time in nearly a decade at a time when he was considered almost an MMA deity as much as regarded by many as the best fighter ever in the sport.
The short period when Werdum had the triangle on, a few seconds where it appeared time stood still, is something nobody who saw it will likely ever forget. But when Emelianenko returns to fight in the U.S. in more than five years, it'll be in the same building. But this time it will for Bellator, on Feb. 18 when he faces Matt Mitrione (11-5) in a three-round heavyweight fight.
The fight is part of a big first quarter for Bellator which starts on Jan. 21 with the Tito Ortiz vs. Chael Sonnen fight at the Forum in Los Angeles, and will continue in March with a show headlined by Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
"I'm very happy to be back in America and to be back in San Jose," said Emelianenko, who just turned 40. "I'm very happy to have a chance to continue our relationship with Scott (Coker)."
Bellator announced Saturday night at its event in San Jose that Emelianenko had signed a multi-fight and multi-year contract, which at this stage of his career means that he will likely never fight in the UFC.
The Emelianenko vs. Werdum fight was under the Strikeforce banner, the first organization headed by current Bellator President Scott Coker. With Spike TV and Bellator having the philosophy to use big historical names to draw viewers, who hopefully will become fans of the promotion and the younger fighters, the move was made to bring Emelianenko back to the U.S. after five years.
"Fedor and I worked together many years ago," said Coker. "He fought for Strikeforce when we were doing our fights on Showtime. We did some co-promotions. He's the greatest heavyweight of all-time."
"Nobody has been dominant for such a long period of time," he said. "It's an honor to have Fedor. It wasn't an easy task. It took many months of negotiations back-and-forth. I'm glad that part is over.
"I'm so flattered and I'm so happy that Bellator is making the moves that they told me they were going to make," said Mitrione."
Mitrione said when he heard that he was really going to get a shot to face Emelianenko, his reaction, was, "Holy S***, that's awesome."
"It's the chance of a lifetime," he said. "When you start, you set cross hairs on certain people. He's the man. He's done everything in this sport. He's beaten everyone with a name, and beaten them in incredible fashion. This all came through my mind in the moment. I feel incredibly fortunate."
Coker said that originally the company was going to fill its vacant heavyweight championship at the next San Jose show, but when they were able to finalize this deal, that has been put on hold. Vitaly Minakov was Bellator's last heavyweight champion, but hasn't fought with the promotion since April, 2014, after a contract dispute.
"We were going to have a bunch of heavyweight fights, but this fight was the No. 1 priority. We'll probably push it (the crowning of a new heavyweight champion) until the summertime. It would be really nice to do it here (in San Jose), or in the U.S,. or even Europe to crown our heavyweight champion at some point."
While Emelianenko is a huge name, he looked very much mortal in his Strikeforce run, losing three fights to Werdum, Antonio Silva and Dan Henderson. Those were also the last real name opponents he faced. He retired in 2012, but returned for a fight on New Year's Eve in Japan. Most recently, on June 17, he was in a crazy fight in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he took a tremendous first-round beating from Fabio Maldonado, a light heavyweight who had been cut by the UFC. If that fight was held anywhere but Russia, it would have almost assuredly been stopped. Emelianenko was actually given the decision that night, but in a later review and re-scoring, something unprecedented for a big-time fight in the sport, his win was changed to a draw.
At one point a few years back, he was very close to coming back for a UFC fight that would have been held at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas, against Brock Lesnar, but his father passed away and he once again said that he would ever fight again.
"We have a very long relationship with Scott, and with Bellator as well." he said. "I visited Bellator several times as a guest. So several times we had autograph sessions where a lot of fans asked me to come and fight in Bellator. I can say the best fighters are here. I was watching all the competition in Bellator and I'm very grateful to Scott for giving me the opportunity to perform in Bellator. We have a multi-fight deal and I will try my best to win."