Fabio Maldonado was a huge underdog in his first post-UFC fight, facing legendary heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko in Russia at Friday’s Fight Night Global 50. And even though a majority decision loss will forever stand in his record, the Brazilian returns to Sao Paulo feeling victorious.
"I have the utmost respect for Fedor, he’s the most humble fighter I’ve ever met in my life, and I’m happy that I fought here. But I think I won the fight, right?" Maldonado told MMA Fighting a few hours after the fight. "I didn’t lose that third round. In the worst-case scenario, give him the third round and it’s a draw. He didn’t win that fight. Judges saw what nobody else did. He was better in the second round, but that was not a 10-8. And I have no doubt the first round was a 10-8.
"For the love of God, he almost fell several times. Everybody knows (the first round) was at least 10-8, or even a 10-7. He punched me close to the fence, but I was there because I really wanted him to attack."
With Matheus Serafim and Alexandre Imperador in his corner, Maldonado survived an early attack by Emelianenko in the first round, and came close to finishing the Russian heavyweight several times in the next four minutes. Referee Viktor Korneev didn’t stop the fight to give him the TKO victory, but pissed Maldonado off during one of his attacks.
"He did stop the fight. The referee touched me, stopped the fight standing to give Fedor his mouthpiece," Maldonado said. "He stopped the fight when I was attacking. Man… It would be hard to win a decision here, we knew that. But the referee did a good job. People talk about Mario Yamasaki, criticize him, but he always did a great job when I was fighting. He let me get beat up by Glover Teixeira, and stopped it against (Stipe) Miocic. So he did a great job with me. It wasn’t a mistake to not stop this fight, but he did a mistake by stopping it to give Fedor his mouthpiece that time.
"But it wouldn’t be crazy if he wanted to stop it," he continued. "For less than that, the referee stopped his fight against Dan Henderson. He went back up and down several times yesterday. But even when he was dizzy, it was hard to catch him, he kept dodging my punches. Holy sh-t, that’s a tough man. His jab tasted like blood. Any slap he threw got me off balance."
When the third round was over, Maldonado and Emelianenko had blood all over their faces. And even though the Brazilian felt he did enough to win, he wasn’t that confident before the judges’ scorecards were read.
"I thought I could have lost," he admitted. "I really thought about it."
Maldonado had a one-fight deal with the promotion and is open to a rematch with Emelianenko, but won’t decide anything just yet. The Sorocaba-native left a good impression against a legendary heavyweight after getting cut by the UFC with a 1-3 record in his last four fights, and that performance could earn him a ticket back to the UFC despite the official loss.
"People know what happened. Everybody knows. Many Russians came to me after the fight saying that I won," he said. "I live day by day. I can fight at 205, at heavyweight. I just don’t compete in jiu-jitsu and taekwondo. Anything else with punches and good money involved, I’m in. I competed in submission and twice in boxing this year, and won by submission and knockouts. I feel the evolution.
"I’m feeling well. I know I’m evolving. Twenty years ago, people would be asking for me to retire because I’m 36, but taking care of myself, eating well, training intelligently, we last longer. I want to fight until I’m 40 or more, but I can’t keep fighting wars like this one and the Glover fight [laughs]."
Maldonado’s best performance in years took place in a heavyweight bout, but he’s not considering to permanently stay at this division. However, to return to 205 pounds, he knows he has to make some changes in his life.
"Fedor didn’t fight the same Maldonado that competed at light heavyweight in the UFC," said the Brazilian. "He fought a stronger fighter, with more energy and punch. But I know that I don’t cut weight very well. To go back to 205 pounds, I have to stay around 210."
Maldonado leaves Russia feeling victorious despite the official loss, and leaves a message to the Brazilian fans that didn’t believe he would stand a chance against "The Last Emperor".
"People have short memory," Maldonado said. "People don’t even know how to choose a president in Brazil, how are they going to know how to pick a fight? They forget that Mark Hunt got knocked out in 18 seconds by a middleweight, Melvin Manhoef. Anything can happen in seconds, just like with our greatest fighter of all times, Jose Aldo. It’s a fight.
"I was caught against Stipe Miocic, when I was expecting a longer fight. I was really upset. And people judged me a lot. They said I went from iron chin to glass jaw. People have short memory."