The return of Fedor Emelianenko at EFN 50 may not have gone as expected, though in the end, the legendary Russian champion emerged victorious. Emelianenko survived a harrowing first round to battle back and capture a controversial majority decision over ex-UFC light heavyweight Fabio Maldonado in the main event of EFN 50, which aired live on UFC Fight Pass from St. Petersburg, Russia on Friday.
The night nearly ended early for Emelianenko (36-4, 1 NC). Maldonado downed the 39-year-old former Pride FC kingpin midway through the opening round with a devastating looping hook, then dove atop Emelianenko and swarmed the Russian with heavy and relentless punches. Emelianenko looked to be out of the fight several times -- a stoppage would have been completely justified -- however the Russian officials gave their national hero every opportunity to recover, and ultimately Emelianenko did just that, surviving on shaky legs until the end of the first round.
The wild and bizarre opening stanza seemed to drain the energy out of Maldonado (22-10), as the Brazilian's offense all but vanished throughout the final 10 minutes of the fight.
Emelianenko did the best he could to capitalize on his weary foe, repeatedly walking Maldonado to the fence, unloading with his trademark looping hooks and knees from the clinch, and gradually bloodying Maldonado. Maldonado ate the shots and responded with counters of his own, but they were few and far between, and ultimately the local judges awarded Emelianenko a majority decision victory (28-28, 29-28, 29-28), giving "The Last Emperor" his fifth straight win since late-2011.
Still, the performance against Maldonado was not what many observers expected from Emelianenko, who revealed Monday on The MMA Hour that EFN 50 marked the final fight of his latest contract. Emelianenko explained on Monday that he had a standing offer on the table from the UFC and that the "possibility does exist" that his next fight would take place inside the Octagon, however after Friday night, it is fair to ask whether that still is the case.
"I always wanted to fight for UFC and I would fight for UFC," Emelianenko said. "But at this moment we're looking at the deal and the deal has to satisfy both parties -- them and my organization. Until there's no friction, until we are 100 percent in terms of seeing eye-to-eye, we are all basically in limbo."
Elsewhere, the night's co-main event featured the return of another familiar face, as former Bellator heavyweight champion Vitaly Minakov (18-0) blasted through Bellator and K-1 veteran Peter Graham (12-9) to pick up an effortless submission victory in the bout's opening minutes.
Minakov, who last month was stripped of his Bellator title due to inactivity in the promotion, downed Graham early with a body kick, then ambled into full mount and began raining down heavy strikes. From there the end was near, as the 31-year-old rolled for an armbar and secured the tapout, preserving his undefeated record and maintaining his position as one of the most talented heavyweights fighting outside of the UFC.
Complete results for EFN 50: Emelianenko vs. Maldonado can be seen here.