With two fights left in his legendary career, Fedor Emelianenko is still only interested in facing the best competition available to him.
As he prepared for his return to action at Bellator 269, which will take place in his native Russia, the former PRIDE heavyweight champion had a list of potential opponents presented to him and was allowed to essentially pick and choose who he wanted to face.
Rather than select someone who may be considered an easier matchup or perhaps a bigger name who isn’t quite as dangerous, Emelianenko opted for the toughest possible fight when he told Bellator that he wanted to face former interim title challenger Tim Johnson.
“Tim Johnson had quite a winning streak going on, which obviously shows he’s quite a good fighter,” Emelianenko said about his decision for the fight when speaking during Bellator 269 media day. “Fighting someone who is spearheading the [division] is always a great opportunity.”
Throughout his career, Emelianenko has never backed down from tough fights or difficult opponents, and that appears to be the same philosophy he’s carrying into potential matchups as he reaches the end of his career.
As arguably the greatest heavyweight fighter in mixed martial arts history, Emelianenko has already faced a laundry list of veterans and former champions, with names such as Andrei Arlovski, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko Cro Cop, and Mark Coleman on his resume.
When Bellator first announced that the 45-year-old legend would be returning in October, a slew of fighters volunteered to serve as his opponent, including Josh Barnett as well as Alistair Overeem and former UFC champion Junior dos Santos, the latter of whom both became free agents earlier this year.
All three made public pleas to Emelianenko, including dos Santos, who previously revealed that his management team was talking directly to Bellator in an attempt to land the fight.
While any of those opponents might have been considered higher-profile in terms of recognition or popularity, Emelianenko felt Johnson was a more suitable choice based on his recent resume when compared to the other fighters vying for the opportunity.
“Aside from Tim Johnson, dos Santos for example had a serious streak of losses alongside [his record] and he was also fired from the UFC as well,” Emelianenko said.
“That is why I don’t think it would be very much suitable to fight him compared to Tim Johnson. Not to mention Bellator came up with a bunch of options and Tim was quite an obvious choice.”
With his fight against Johnson scheduled for Saturday in Russia, Emelianenko will then have one more bout left on his Bellator contract, which is expected to serve as the final appearance of his career.
Neither the fighter nor the Viacom-owned promotion has hinted anything about plans for that last fight, but Emelianenko isn’t worried about that right now with Johnson still ahead of him.
Once that’s done, Emelianenko will speak to Bellator officials about future plans, including an opponent and a location for that fight, but it appears he is resigned to call that the last of his career.
“The plans for the next fight will depend on actually the plans of Bellator and whatever Bellator decides,” Emelianenko explained. “If Bellator decides to go a particular place, I’ll be for it.
“Sport is sport and the results of this fight will not change my opinion and not influence my opinion in any way. Because the sport is the sport and my life plans are my life plans, which are unchanged.”