Today’s LWOS MMA History Lesson Fedor vs Fujita

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The LWOS History Lesson is a series dedicated to looking back at the people and fights that make up the history of the sport. 

In the first LWOS History Lesson we will take a look at a between Fedor Emelianenko and Kazuyuki Fujita from Pride FC 26 Bad to the Bone.

This is not a fight that jumps out at you when you scroll down Fedor’s Sherdog page. It is a fight he won in 4:17 of the first round via Rear-Naked Choke. One of 34 wins in his career.

Clicking on Fujita’s page and seeing his 15-10 record will not add any luster to the fight. But, that is one of the great aspects of a fight, it is so much more than numbers, a win or a loss on a page. This fight is about the emotion of the sport.

The numbers will help us understand who won a fight, and we all want to know who won and who lost. However, they do not tell us about the fight. They do not tell the story of it.

The fighters are announced, as expected Fuijta receives a roar from the crowd. The expressionless Fedor gets a more polite greeting. He is the champ but Fujita is the hero. 

Fedor is Finally the Favorite

For the first time in his Pride FC career Fedor entered the fight as the clear favorite. After beating Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira to capture the Pride FC title, Fedor would be the favorite against all other heavyweights in the world. It was not always that way.

Now, many years later, it is odd to think that Fedor was ever the underdog going into a fight but that is how his Pride FC career started. In his debut against Semmy Schilt he was actually referred to as “this guy” several times. That would change by the end of the fight after an impressive methodical ground-n-pound win from Fedor.

Still, as impressive as a performance as it was from Fedor, he was still the underdog going into his next fight with Heath Herring. At the time Herring was 7-2 in Pride FC. The two losses were both unanimous decisions, one to Vitor Belfort at Pride FC 14 and the other to Nogueira at Pride FC 17. The loss to Nogueira was for the Pride inaugural heavyweight title.

The Legendary Nogueira 

Herring was the first fighter to go the distance with Nogueira in Pride FC and he was the favorite over Fedor. Many expected and were looking forward to a rematch between Herring and Nogueira. Instead, Fedor unleashed some nasty ground-n-pound that forced a doctor’s stoppage at the end of the first round.

The stoppage earned Fedor respect and the attention of the MMA world but Nogueira was still the favorite. Fedor’s first two wins hinted at possible greatness but Nogueira had already displayed it several times. His ability to weather his opponent’s onslaught was proven to be almost superhuman in his win over Bob Sapp.

Fedor was the first fighter to control Nogueira, do damage and avoid the submission attempts of the master. Coming out of that fight Fedor seemed poised to takeover the MMA world and that is exactly what he did but not before he got a scare in his very first fight as champion.

Fedor vs Fujita

The fighters touch gloves and this leads commentator Stephen Quadros to wonder if that will be the only punch Fujita will land in the fight, such is the confidence in Fujita. 

Quickly, Fedor takes the center of the ring. Fujita assumes his position in this dance, on the outside and begins to circle. They each feint little jabs and level changes gauging the reactions. They complete one revolution and continue into the next circle. Suddenly, Fedor rushes in but Fujita sees it and catches him with a glancing left coming in.

They grapple for a moment. Fedor attempts to go low for a takedown and Fujita evades it by stepping back and out. The exchange earns polite applause from the reserved crowd.

The Quietness of the Japanese Fans

The quiet and polite crowd was one of the strange aspects of Pride FC fights. In most countries fights are filled with raucous noises from the crowd, sometimes reaching deafening levels. But, in Japan the crowd is more reserved and respectful. They watch intently not wanting to miss a moment of the action. They are also knowledgeable cheering grappling sequences as well as striking ones.

This opening sequence also illustrated Fedor’s aggressive style which is a blend of aggression with just a little bit of caution.

Fedor took the center of the ring. This is the dominant part of the ring. From the center Fedor can use the ropes and corners to control his opponent. He is also forcing his opponent to either circle to safety or risk danger by engaging on his terms.

He then used the fakes and feints to gauge Fujita’s reactions but did not become passive and finally rushed in.

We also started to see Fujita’s approach to the fight which was a little cautious but not purely defensive. He caught Fedor coming in and was looking to time Fedor’s attacks. By catching Fedor coming in, Fujita gained power from Fedor’s momentum. Fedor was quick enough to be able to turn his head slightly to avoid getting caught cleanly.

Feel the Power

They resume their circle dance after touching gloves again. Fujita attempts a weak low-kick and Fedor instinctually reaches for the leg. Fedor starts to switch things up, by first bringing his lead-lefthand up and down in an exaggerated motion. Then he starts to windup his righthand like he is loading it for a big punch a la Muhammad Ali and switches to moving both arms up and down in front of him.

BOOM! A Fedor lead righthand explodes on Fujita’s face. Like a cobra Fedor uses his rhythms and movements to mesmerize Fujita and setup the sudden strike. The blow quickly leads to a scramble from the two fighters as Fujita quickly goes into survival mode.

Fujita almost eats a kick to the head while on the ground is on his back for a moment before regaining his feet and attempting to takedown Fedor. Fujita was stunned by the strike but he is incredibly tough. While commentating one of his fights Eddie Bravo said, “That guy can take a baseball bat to the side of the head!”

It appears for a moment that Fujita is going to secure the single-leg. He is in deep and we have seen takedown Mark Kerr from this position but not Fedor who fights it off. What is most surprising is that it is Fujita who just misses with a lefthand over the top on the break. 

Legends, Quotes and Legendary Quotes

Coming into this fight Fujita was known as a tough but limited fighter. His record in Pride FC was a respectable 5-1 and was 9-3 overall. The lone loss was to Mark Coleman with two of his biggest wins coming over Ken Shamrock and Gilbert Yvel.

Fujita was durable, tough and a strong wrestler but limited in his striking. Fedor was a horrible matchup for him as he could counter Fujita’s wrestling with his Sambo. When it came to striking Fedor had already shown he had power in both hands standing or on the ground.

Fujita was the type of opponent selected to draw the Japanese fan interest and hopefully provide for an entertaining fight. You never knew what you were going to get from Fujita.

The win over Shamrock was exciting and led to the Bravo quote about Fujita but the win over Yvel was different. In this win he prompted Quadros to give us another quote for the MMA lexicon. One that is the bane of every MMA fan’s existence, “Lay and pray.”

There is no fan anywhere who is excited to hear “lay and pray” to describe the fight they are watching. Fujita was infamously a part of the introduction of the phrase and in many ways Fedor was the opposite of a “lay and pray” fighter.

When a Fedor fight went to the ground the excitement was just starting and while he did not invent ground-n-pound but he certainly came close to perfecting it during his dominant Pride career.

They resume their dancing positions with Fedor on the inside, and Fujita taking the outside of the ring. There is a sudden difference in their dance as the explosive of the Fedor’s powerful lead righthand now had Fujita more cautious. He was not feinting and faking as much looking to land but instead was concerned with distance and backing away more.

Fujita circles away out of one corner before Fedor can trap him but it is a momentary respite as Fedor is relentless with his stalking. As Fujita moves into the corner Fedor steps in with a lead lefthand. Fujita awkwardly slips it and throws up a desperate righthand counter that Fedor easily avoids.

Fedor wades in with a right-left combo. Fujita blocks the right with his lefthand and then counters with a righthand of his own. It lands cleanly just a tick before Fedor’s left and everything changes in that instant. Fedor’s knees buckle, and he starts to do a weird awkward dance as he is visibly hurt. But, he does not go down. The normally quiet crowd explodes into a sustained roar. 

Fujita looks to end the fight as the crowd cheers him on. However, we quickly see he calmness of Fedor as he clinches with Fujita to recover. 

The righthand from Fujita changed everything and suddenly Fedor losing seemed like a real possibility.  From the clinch Fujita gets the takedown and is now on top in Fedor’s guard. Fujita tries to land a couple of hammer fists but Fedor controls the arms and recovers. He is also bleeding from the corner of his left eye. 

As Fedor starts to work to get up Fujita lands a solid righthand. The first one since they went to the ground. Fedor is able to scramble but before he can escape Fujita grabs a leg and takes Fedor for a ride. Fedor shows great balance and escapes on the slam.

The energized and confident Fujita throws two wild winging punches that Fedor evadeson the break. Rutten notes that Fedor still “looks dazed” as he retreats. Fedor still has the center of the ring but Fujita is now the aggressor.

Fedor throws a hard righthand that Fujita is able to deflect some of the impact as he moves away from it. They start to clinch, break it off and then suddenly is left leg snakes up and cracks Fujita in the liver. This freezes him for just a beat and long enough for Fedor to land a clean left-hook that sends Fujita crashing down to the canvas. On the way down Fedor just grazes him with a righthand. 

One more right hand from Fedor on the ground and he quickly locks in a Rear-Naked-Choke. Fujita is forced to tap and Fedor retains his title.

More than retaining the title, Fedor also ignited the crowd creating several indelible moments. The first one happened when Fujita rocked him. In an instant the reserved, respectful and quiet crowd was alive. Roaring at the possibility of the huge upset.

Then when he came back and rocked Fujita before getting the submission for the win. While the crowd was cheering for their fighter, Fujita, to pull off the upset they still cheered Fedor’s brilliance.

This was not the most impressive win in Fedor’s career but it was an important one. The respectful, quiet and stone-faced Fedor showed a moment of vulnerability when Fujita rocked him. We then got to see his remarkable ability to weather punishment and remain dangerous while doing it.

Once he recovered, Fedor quickly created an opening for the body-kick ,followed up moments later by the lefthand to the head.

Fedor would ultimately put together a 27 fight win streak and go on be considered by many to be the GOAT in the sport. This win over Fujita would be the first one in which he captured our hearts with his ability to comeback from adversity.

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