One of the more hotly contested arguments over the years has been who is the greatest mixed martial artist of all time. That argument careens in a variety of different ways depending on when you started following the sport, who the fighter in question fought when, and who sustained dominance for just how long. Among the names most bandied about for the space are Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre, Jon Jones and Fedor Emelianenko.
Of the group, only Emelianenko has never stepped foot in the UFC Octagon. Yet he fought some of the heavyweight division’s very best while in PRIDE FC and later Strikeforce, going undefeated through 29 bouts between 2000-2009. Given the length of his dominant streak, in conjunction with the names he beat, Fedor’s resume speaks for itself as he heads into his fight against Matt Mitrione at Bellator 180: Silva vs. Sonnen on Saturday night.
Yet he’s not about to make the argument for himself being the GOAT.
“I never considered myself to the best one,” Emelianenko said during an in-house visit to The MMA Hour on Monday. “A fighter can lose at any moment. And there are some fighters that, for example, are defending on some position that will be better than me in some technique.”
Emelianenko has fought 41 one times professional in mixed martial arts, and has had classic bouts with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (in his prime), Mirko Cro Cop and Mark Coleman. Yet it was that he accomplished so much for so long as a heavyweight that draws distinctions for greatness. Especially when considering that current UFC champion Stipe Miocic holds a share in a UFC record for having defending the heavyweight title just two times.
That’s what makes the stoical Emelianenko stand out. Yet when asked what his favorite fights were in that glorious decade when he didn’t lose, the pride of Stary Oskol, Russia, smiled.
“All the fights were interesting for some particular reason, and I could find something in each fight,” he said through his translator. “But maybe one fight that I can differentiate, it would be the first fight with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. And the fight with Mirko Cro Cop.”
Emelianenko, now 40 years old, came down to earth the last time he fought for a Scott Coker production in Strikeforce. Coming off of victories over Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski in the short-lived Affliction promotion, Fedor pulled out a seesaw battle in his Strikeforce debut against Brett Rogers.
Then he came crashing back down to earth some seven years ago in San Jose, when Fabricio Werdum caught him in a triangle armbar. He lost his next bout in the heavyweight grand prix against Antonio Silva (TKO), and then another against Dan Henderson five months later.
He won consecutive fights against Jeff Monson, Satoshi Ishii and Pedro Rizzo before calling it a career in 2012, yet came out of retirement three years later for a fight with Singh Jaideep. Last June, he won a controversial majority decision against Fabio Maldonado in Russia.
And now he’s segueing to Bellator, where he’ll meet Mitrione on the main card of a pay-per-view.
Asked if he ever thought about what it would have been like to fight in UFC, Emelianenko said it just never could come to fruition.
“We did review the opportunity to fight in the UFC. If the UFC wanted me to get in, we could have,” he said.
“We didn’t come to the agreement.”
Back in 2010, Dana White told about how and then owner Lorenzo Fertitta traveled to Russia to sign Emelianenko, yet couldn’t strike a deal due to complications with his management team and M-1 Global. At that time a fight between Brock Lesnar and Fedor would have done mega-business.
Emelianenko said on Monday that even that time wasn’t particularly close when it came to striking a deal.
“It is very difficult to say, you know,” he said. “It was always something that wouldn’t work out, and it would go back and forth. If, for example, speaking about Scott Coker, we met together and we discussed a lot of issues. We negotiated, we agreed, and he sent me the contract. Everything was exactly [as stated], and the contract was signed. With the UFC always something would [pop up].”
Asked if the dream was dead, that he could move on with his career with Bellator and not have a second thought about fighting in the UFC, the ever-peaceful Emelianenko deadpanned why he could.
“Well I cannot [relate] myself to the fighters who have very exaggerated and excited reaction hearing the words ‘UFC,’” he said. “For me there was always no difference where to perform, in which organization, whether it be the UFC, or Pride, or Strikeforce, or Bellator, the main thing is who is your opponent.
“And also you’ve got to have that good relationship and preserve that good relationship with people who work in the organization. So the fighter is the fighter, and he deals with a lot of things. He goes through a lot of paths. His load is a huge one.
“I performed against different opponents who were the best fighters of the UFC.”