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Fedor Emelianenko explains why he signed with Bellator, not the UFC

Fedor vs. Henderson Photos
Fedor Emelianenko signed with Bellator and not the UFC last year.
Esther Lin, Showtime Sports

Fedor Emelianenko and the UFC have flirted multiple times over the year. In the end, the relationship was not to be.

The MMA legend had a chance — perhaps a final one — to sign with the UFC last year as a free agent. It didn’t happen, though. Instead, Emelianenko inked a deal with Bellator and his former promoter with Strikeforce, Scott Coker.

The relationship with Coker and Bellator’s willingness to sign competitors from Emelianenko’s team in Russia were deciding factors, Emelianenko told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour.

“We had made great relations with Scott Coker,” Emelianenko said through an interpreter. “I received a very good offer from Bellator. In addition, Bellator invited my entire team. So all of the guys will be performing as well.”

Emelianenko, 40, will meet Matt Mitrione in the main event of Bellator 172 on Saturday night in San Jose, Calif. It’ll be the Bellator debut for “The Last Emperor.” Emelianenko said last year that he was closer than ever to signing with the UFC, but talks ultimately did not work out.

“Depending on the point of view, a lot of times you can be very close and sort of go around and around and never get to it,” he said. “There were some things that were not satisfactory for UFC and there were some things that were not satisfactory for me and we never came to an agreement.”

Emelianenko (36-4, 1 NC) said he has two fights on his Bellator deal with a mutual option for a third fight. He said he plans on retiring with Bellator, whenever that might be.

“One of the main reasons was the ability for my team to perform, for my guys to perform,” Emelianenko said. “The other reasons were, we were not exactly on the same terms [with the UFC] as far as the financial conditions and some other things, some other smaller things as well.”

The all-time great heavyweight came out of retirement after three years away by defeating Jaideep Singh via first-round submission due to punches in December 2015 under the Rizin banner. He then fought and beat Fabio Maldonado for Eurasia Fight Nights last June, a decision that earned some criticism because Maldonado rocked and nearly finished Emelianenko in the first round.

Despite the showing against the former UFC light heavyweight, Emelianenko said he never considered to hang up the gloves again following the victory.

“I did not think so at the moment,” Emelianenko said. “I do understand that there isn’t a whole lot of time that I have left and considering my age, of course. But no, I didn’t think it was time to end my career after the last fight. No, I didn’t have any thoughts like that.”

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