The legendary Fedor Emelianenko will step into the Bellator cage for the final fight of his storied career on Saturday night. Emelianenko has the potential to end his career on a high note when he faces Ryan Bader for the heavyweight championship in the main event of Bellator 290.
While Emelianenko has seen previous retirements fail to stick, during a conversation with CBS Sports, he insisted this fight would be his last, win or lose.
"100%," Emelianenko said. "Yes, I want to finish my sport career."
Emelianenko became an MMA legend when he erupted onto the scene in the Japanese promotion PRIDE Fighting Championships in June 2002, dominating towering kickboxer Semmy Schilt to take a clear unanimous decision victory. In total, Emelianenko would go 14-0 in the PRIDE ring, that run standing out as part of 27-0 stretch that lasted from 2001 until mid-2010.
While Emelianenko did eventually hit some rough waters, losing three straight fights in Strikeforce over a one-year stretch and suffering knockout losses to Matt Mitrione and Bader in the Bellator cage, he still has managed to compete with many solid fighters late in his career and will enter the Bader rematch with back-to-back wins.
"Morning Kombat" hosts Brian Campbell and Luke Thomas recently sat down for a review of Emelianenko's career resume and examined many of the defining fights of Emelianenko's career.
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While all of the fights "Morning Kombat" discussed help to define who Emelianenko is as a fighter, the former PRIDE champion singled out two opponents against whom he believed he turned in the defining "Fedor performances."
"Only one?" Fedor said, laughing. "Mirko Cro Cop. Antonio Nogueira is another one. Against Nogueira, I had to articulate my fighter's IQ on the ground. With Mirko Cro Cop, I had to do it with the standing."
Emelianenko and Nogueira would battle three times in PRIDE, but the first fight was the one that truly announced the Russian's arrival as the best heavyweight on the planet.
Coming into their first meeting, Nogueira was the man seen as the top dog in the heavyweight division. His submission grappling had allowed him to dominate and submit a wide variety of opponents. Still, Emelianenko had no hesitation to engage on the ground, unleashing some of the most terrifying ground and pound ever seen in the sport and landing punches that would have knocked out almost any other man on the planet.
Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic was the exact opposite of Nogueira. Rather than a danger on the ground, he was arguably the world's most dangerous MMA striker during his peak, landing crushing knockouts with his hands and legs. Emelianenko would suffer a broken nose and his torso was visibly bruised in the early part of their 2005 meeting, but he eventually forced the fight to the ground and later in the fight began to also win the stand-up exchanges, cementing himself as a fighter capable of beating the best fighters in the world, no matter where the fight went or where their strengths were.
Check out the "Morning Kombat" resume review above for a deeper look into Emelianenko's career and what made him one of the best fighters mixed martial arts has ever seen.