A full seven years after it first appeared Russian MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko might be better served exiting the sport he once dominated, "The Last Emperor" suddenly finds himself one win away from being the next Bellator heavyweight champion.
In a performance that was half sloppy, half devastating and all fun, the 42-year-old Emelianenko (38-5, 1 NC) battered Chael Sonnen in their Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix semifinal bout on Saturday in Uniondale, New York, en route to a first-round TKO.
Emelianenko did well to fight off takedowns and often chose to willingly standup rather than grapple within Sonnen's guard. But each time he was able to gain sepration, Emelianenko's power was simply too much Sonnen (35-16-1), the 41-year-old former UFC middleweight title challenger, to handle.
"He hurt me early. Everything he did hurt, everything had bad intentions," Sonnen said. "I was trying to recover and I was drowning out there. I was very impressed. He was very quick and very powerful.
"Those punches hurt. He has some big power. He and [Ryan] Bader is going to be a great fight."
Emelianenko advanced to the tournament final against Bader, Bellator's reigning light heavyweight champion, on Jan. 26 in Los Angeles. Bader (26-5) defeated Matt Mitrione by unanimous decision on Friday to advance and faced off with Emelianenko on Saturday moments after the Bellator 208 main event.
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"[Bader] is a great and very strong fighter," Emelianenko said. "I did have the opportunity to watch him during the open workouts and I can see that he's a very great and very serious opponent."
Emelianenko opened the fight with a bang as he dropped a charging Sonnen with a two-punch combination and tossed Sonnen to the ground shortly after on a takedown attempt. While Sonnen was eventually successful on a single-leg attempt, Emelianenko quickly reversed to take top position and began to rein down his famous ground and pound.
Sonnen did well to survive the barrage and collect himself despite the chaos around him. At one point, Sonnen scored a double-leg takedown as Emelianenko began to tire and took his back for a choke attempt that ultimately proved unsuccessful.
"I had his chin tucked and I thought I could roll him and go for a rear -aked position but my hips were too high," Sonnen said.
After the fighters worked back to their feet, Emelianenko dropped Sonnen once more with clean punches. He followed with a wild combination that landed flush as Sonnen laid on his back. The impact caused Sonnen to cover up in pain and stop defending himself, which forced referee Dan Miragliotta to stop the fight at 4:46 of Round 1 as Emelianenko landed a flurry of hammer punches.
"Chael works very, very hard and it shows that he prepared very well," Emelianenko said. "Thanks God I'm not tired and still can do working."
Bellator 208 fight card, results
Fedor Emelianenko def. Chael Sonnen via first-round TKO (strikes)
Benson Henderson def. Saad Awad via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26)
Cheick Kongo def. Timothy Johnson via first-round TKO (strikes)
Anatoly Tokov def. Alexander Shlemenko via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Henry Corrales def. Andy Main via third-round KO (punch)