Fedor Emelianenko and the Emperor’s Last Sword

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Legendary mixed martial arts icon “The Last Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko recently revealed the plans for his return to fighting. The former PRIDE and Strikeforce heavyweight champion will headline for a new MMA promotion called Rizin Fighting Federation (RFF) at its inaugural event on New Year’s Eve in Tokyo, Japan.

The card is being co-promoted by RFF founder and former PRIDE President Nobuyuki Sakakibara, and former Strikeforce President Scott Coker, who now runs the show over at Bellator. It was rumored that a kickboxer named Jaideep Singh would be Emelianenko’s opponent, but since Singh doesn’t appear to be in the best shape and has had only two MMA fights, RFF is currently looking for a more suitable challenger.

While Fedor’s comeback is something that the majority of the MMA community looks forward to, it is bittersweet because he will not be fighting in the UFC. However, no matter which road Emelianenko chose to travel, he would have had to sacrifice something along the way. He was faced with somewhat of a double-edged sword, as each option left something missing in Fedor’s career that only the other option could provide.

Fight For RFF

Let’s be honest, the main reason “The Last Emperor” chose to work for the former PRIDE boss is to make as much money as he possibly can during what may be his last run in the sport. It all comes down to making a great living, because after all, most MMA fighters take a lot of punishment throughout their career and they should be compensated much more than they are.

So when Sakakibara offered Fedor a guaranteed two-and-a-half million dollars to fight for his new promotion, and the UFC would not match the offer, Emelianenko accepted to further secure a comfortable future for himself and his family. A deal like that is enough to make anyone smile – even the stoic Russian.

Fedor will also get the opportunity to have sponsors for his fight, which will earn him even more money. Since the UFC partnered with Reebok earlier this year, all other sponsors have become nonexistent in the Octagon because the entire roster must fight in the same Reebok gear. This has unfortunately limited the potential earnings for most fighters in the UFC.

Emelianenko’s fight will be televised live and free in the United States on Spike TV, which can be seen in 93 million homes. Obviously the ratings will not be that high, with big MMA cards pulling one or two million views at most. But it means more exposure for him than he would get on pay-per-view, and fans will be pleased with saving 60 dollars!

“We are thrilled to join forces with Nobuyuki Sakakibara and our partner, Bellator President Scott Coker, to give MMA fans a big reason to celebrate this New Year’s Eve: Fedor fighting for free on Spike,” Spike President Kevin Kay said in a statement from the cable network.

Also, Emelianenko will fight in welcome territory in the land of the rising sun. Japan was home to PRIDE Fighting Championships, where “The Last Emperor” went to war many times. The fans in Japan have a special place in their hearts for PRIDE legends, so they will likely sell out the venue to witness the return of Fedor.

UFC heavyweight contender Josh Barnett, who has fought in Japan 17 times (including a five round battle with Roy Nelson in Tokyo a few weeks ago), knows a thing or two about the Japanese fanbase. He also knows what Emelianenko is worth in PRIDE territory. Barnett recently spoke with Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour, saying “[Fedor’s] value in Japan is monumental…

The amount, the way he’s going to get paid, how he’s going to get treated. I suppose the UFC technically could rival that or exceed that, but it’s unlikely. It would be them stepping out of bounds maybe beyond what they do for anybody else.”

Fight for UFC

When asked what motivated him to make a comeback to MMA, Emelianenko stated that he wanted the “best fights possible”. This lead us to assume that the Stary Oskol gladiator was finally UFC bound because the organization is home to the most elite fighters in the world.

Heavyweight stars like Cain Velasquez, Stipe Miocic, Junior Dos Santos and Frank Mir, just to name a few, present more challenges for Fedor than anyone outside of the UFC can. The plethora of talent on display in the division would surely satiate Emelianenko’s appetite for “the best fights possible”.

It would also put to rest the tired argument that Fedor has only fought “cans” throughout his career. Undefeated from 2001 to 2010, he took on all comers and steamrolled his way to an epic 28 fight win streak. Yet some fans consider Emelianenko’s opponents to have been mismatches. Finally testing his mettle inside the Octagon could silence the critics once and for all.

In addition to the threats Emelianenko has never faced, there are also a few fighters on the UFC roster who he has defeated in other organizations. Rematches with Mark Hunt and Andrei Arlovski would garner much interest from fans. A second bout with Mirko “CroCop” Filipovic could be very exciting as well, since the first fight between the two is so highly regarded.

Then there are the three men who conquered “The Last Emperor” in his shocking three fight skid in Strikeforce a few years back. Dan Henderson scored a TKO over him in the first round, and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva grounded and pounded the former champion en route to a victory via doctor stoppage after the second frame.

Of course, there is also the current UFC heavyweight champion, Fabricio Werdum, who was the first man to defeat the seemingly invincible Fedor (not counting a controversial loss 10 years earlier, which he avenged). Werdum submitted Emelianenko in the first round by way of triangle choke, and simultaneously lit the MMA world on fire with one of the greatest upsets in the history of the sport.

The Path Has Been Chosen

It essentially came down to a choice between more money or a stronger legacy, and Emelianenko opted for the former. It truly is a shame that Fedor will not be fighting in the UFC (at least for the time being), but the fact that he is returning to the sport in some fashion is still intriguing. Regardless of which organization he fights for, there will be anticipation because Emelianenko is undoubtedly one of the greatest fighters of all time.

He is a world class sambo specialist with remarkable speed for a heavyweight, and it beautifully compliments the brutal knockout power he possesses. Styles make fights, and Fedor will be ready to clash with whichever style comes his way. His opponent will be announced between the 6th and the 8th of November, according to a tweet from Emelianenko. Will it be Jaideep Singh, or will a more experienced fighter be chosen? Maybe Cheick Kongo, King Mo, or light heavyweight tournament winner Phil Davis if his title fight with Liam McGeary falls through.

Perhaps even the great Randy Couture will come out of retirement to face Fedor. There was a time when that was the fight to make, and Couture was determined to challenge the Russian and be the one to dethrone him. Better late than never, right? Whatever the fight will be, it goes down at the Rizin Fighting World Grand Prix 2015 on December 31st, at the Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo, Japan.

“I am a fighter and I am ready. I will see you on New Year’s Eve on Spike TV” says Emelianenko.

As bittersweet as the situation is, we will be watching eagerly as “The Last Emperor” picks up his sword and goes to battle once again. So tell your friends, mark your calendars, and prepare to take the ride one more time. It’s going to be a wild one.

Follow Fedor on Twitter @fedoroskol

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