As has long been a trademark of his storied career, Fedor Emelianenko is laser-focused on his next fight. Any additional drama is of no concern to him.
And he’s maintaining that stance even if a meeting with a fighter known for stirring up controversy could lay ahead of him.
Emelianenko meets Frank Mir in the main event of Bellator 198 this Saturday at the Allstate Arena in Chicago, and a win over the former UFC champion puts him the semifinals of the Bellator Heavyweight World Grand Prix tournament. Waiting for him in round two is notorious trash talker Chael Sonnen, who outpointed Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in January to advance.
Appearing on The MMA Hour on Monday, Emelianenko was asked if he was concerned about having to deal with the head games that Sonnen might employ ahead of their potential matchup.
“I don’t think that I need to answer anything that Chael Sonnen said about me,” Emelianenko said via a Russian translator. “To speak about Chael Sonnen and the fight with Chael Sonnen, I think we’ll be able to after the fight with Frank Mir. So we have to finish that fight first and then, if that’s God’s will, I’ll face Chael Sonnen.”
There was a time when it would have been easy to picture Emelianenko storming through this tournament, taking care of Mir, Sonnen, and whoever else was put in his way. “The Last Emperor” will forever be known for his mythical 28-fight unbeaten run in the 2000s that saw him defeat almost every notable heavyweight of the era, including Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko Cro Cop, Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, Andrei Arlovski, and Tim Sylvia.
That streak ended in 2010 at the hands of Fabricio Werdum, and Emelianenko has gone 5-4 in his last nine fights, with a 74-second knockout loss to Matt Mitrione snapping a five-fight winning stretch last June.
There are now concerns about the 41-year-old Emelianenko’s durability (all four of his recent losses have come by way of knockout or submission) and the fact that he’s taking on Mir, who looked considerably larger than Emelianenko when the two faced off at a recent press event.
“Actually, when I met Frank, I saw that he really became bigger, so he became heavier,” Emelianenko said. “But I don’t see any problem with that. I don’t think size is a big problem, for me the most significant thing is the knowledge that the fighter gets and the shape that the fighter gets after he prepares for a fight and in my career I did have many fights where the opponents were much bigger than me.”
The other issue that Emelianenko could be facing is that he has struggled to replicate the same success he’s had in the ring when he’s had to fight inside of a cage. There are various reasons why this may be, but Emelianenko doesn’t see any connection and he said he feels “comfortable” in either environment.
However, there has been at least some emphasis on cage work in this training camp.
“Yes, certainly during my camp I did work in the cage and I did have the sparring in the cage as well,” Emelianenko said. “I can tell you that recently during the last time I exercised, I worked out, I trained in the cage, not in the ring.”
What does matter to Emelianenko is adding Mir to the list of world champions that he has competed with in MMA. Mir held a UFC title in 2004, when Emelianenko was in Japan’s Pride promotion at the peak of his reign as arguably the greatest heavyweight who’s ever lived.
Getting to finally test himself against Mir was all the motivation Emelianenko needed to prepare himself for Bellator 198.
“Frank was the champion of the UFC and our fans have been waiting for this fight for a pretty long time and I think that will be a great fight and for me, that’s a remarkable event as well,” Emelianenko said.