The chance to realize a fight with the all-time great Emelianenko was something that had eluded Overeem on two previous occasions, he said on The MMA Hour, and after his release from the UFC, it was a grand pivot that offered another career highlight in over two decades of them.
The only problem was, Emelianenko – or at least those around him – didn’t seem interested.
“We tried to make that fight in 2010 when I fought [Fabricio] Werdum [in Strikeforce] and he fought Brett Rogers – declined,” said Overeem, who on Oct. 23 headlines GLORY: Collision 3 opposite Verhoeven. “After he lost to Werdum, we tried to make that fight. He declined. And now, he has declined, so that’s three declines. So I think, with all due respect, there’s no interest from that side to fight me.
“And I cannot blame Fedor, because I’m getting older myself, not to much older, but a little bit. He’s a little bit older than me. So I understand that. But I have done everything I can do to make that fight happen. Ten years ago, but also now.”
Emelianenko chose Tim Johnson, Bellator’s No. 2 ranked heavyweight, for an event in Moscow on Oct. 23. Overeem wasn’t the only marquee opponent snubbed. Among those who lost out on the opportunity: Werdum, who famously ended the Russian’s winning streak; Josh Barnett, who was booked opposite Emelianenko for an ill-fated Affliction event; and pro wrestling star turned MMA fighter Jake Hager.
Another pivot was in order for Overeem, whose history-making run as Strikeforce, DREAM and K-1 champ led to a 10-year UFC run before his move to the open market.
“If there’s no response, I’m not going to be sitting around waiting until the sun comes up,” he said. “You’ve got to move on. We had zero response. But listen, I still have a lot of respect for Fedor. I think he has an amazing career. I love the Russian fans. He’s going to his thing, I’m going to do my thing, and that’s that.”
Overeem has publicly called to fight Emelianenko on several occasions. When the two joined a heavyweight grand prix in the now-defunct Strikeforce, fans hoped the two would finally meet. But those plans were scuttled when Emelianenko was stopped by Antonio Silva in the opening round, and Overeem was later released from the promotion after an injury forced him to withdraw from a fight against Silva.
Overeem later signed with the UFC, while a deal to bring Emelianenko into the octagon fizzled.
Explaining the former PRIDE champ’s booking against Johnson, Bellator President Scott Coker told MMA Junkie that he believed Emelianenko wanted to fight a ranked opponent over a legend like Overeem or Werdum.
Emelianenko was cageside for Johnson’s last fight, an interim heavyweight title bout that ended in a win for his protege, Valentin Moldavsky. If Moldavsky would have lost the bout, Coker said “The Last Emperor” wanted to fight Johnson.
Upon announcing the fight with Johnson, Emelianenko said he has two fights remaining on his contract with Bellator and will only say he expects his final fight to take place in the U.S. or Russia.
Targeting three fights in GLORY, Overeem won’t shut the door on a return to MMA for a fight with Emelianenko. But with that possibility looking increasingly unlikely, he said “it could be” the end of his MMA career.
“We tried to make a little bit that Fedor fight, and it was radio silence on that end,” he said. “But that would be something I’d be interested in.”