Fedor Emelianenko’s retirement fight went about as bad as possible, and “The Last Emperor” isn’t surprised, given the lead up to it.
In February, fought the final fight of his distinguished career, challenging Ryan Bader for the Bellator heavyweight title at Bellator 290. It didn’t go well. Bader steamrolled Emelianenko, stopping him at the halfway mark of the very first round and ending the career of one of MMA’s greatest fighters. It was an unfortunate final fight but one that Emelianenko says he hasn’t spent much time thinking about, because of his preparation was.
“I didn’t really think much about that fight,” Emelianenko told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. “The camp itself went absolutely wrong. Everything bad that could happen, happened. Back then I just wanted to get done with it since it was my last fight on the contract. Basically, that was it.
“As I mentioned, everything went wrong. The pandemic part — the last fight was supposed to happen before the pandemic and due to the pandemic they kept changing times, they weren’t sure where the fight was going to be happening, and during that time I wasn’t fighting and I got some injuries here and there. So everything went wrong but I just wanted to get done with it, so that’s why I didn’t postpone the fight.”
Widely regarded as one of the greatest fighters to ever lace up four-ounce gloves, Emelianenko is best identified for his run of dominance in the 2010s as the Pride FC heavyweight champion. After the UFC absorbed Pride, Emelianenko bounced around promotions before ultimately spending the last six years of his career in Bellator. The promotion originally wanted to do Emelianenko’s retirement fight in Russia in 2022, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, ended up delaying the fight, which Emelianko says led to other issues during his preparation.
“First what happened is I usually do certain work before in my camp,” Emelianenko said. “So usually I start running a lot, and once I start running to increase my endurance, I got the coronavirus. Once I felt better from the coronavirus, I got the flu, back-to-back. Once the flu was done, I started training, trying to wrestle more and to prepare with [Valentin] Moldavsky, and then a hernia came up. Once the hernia went down, I had to go get a visa, so I went to Bahrain. So I went to Bahrain and I lost another week of preparation. Then when I got back, I was supposed to get my visa from Bahrain and they returned my passport with a visa. So basically up to the last date until the fight, there was no visa and I had to go to Armenia to get a visa again. So a few weeks of fighting was lost, the last few weeks of preparation.
“Even at the end, right before the fight, it’s a funny story. When they brought the gloves to me, I opened the bag. I was supposed to get prepared for the fight — it was right before the fight so it was time to warmup — and there were two left gloves. Nobody knows how it happened. It was a lot of small things.”
But despite the myriad problems during training camp, Emelianenko seems to be at peace with that being his final fight, saying instead that he plans to move to boxing, hopefully with a matchup against Mike Tyson. That means that, at least for now, Emelianenko’s final moment in the cage will be the one he had after Bellator 290, when Scott Coker arranged for a collection of MMA legends to enter the cage to honor “The Last Emperor.” And while Emelianenko may not think much about his final fight, the heavyweight GOAT does look back fondly on that exit.
“It definitely means a lot to me,” Emelianenko said. “With some of those guys who came in, I’m friends with some of them, some of them I shared the cage with, some of them I still talk to. So it definitely means a lot, from the point of support, of friendship, of sportsmanship, it definitely means a lot to me. I’m really happy that Scott Coker was able to put a show like that together.”