Fedor Emelianenko's star is clearly falling, fizzling out more with each fight he loses. Dan Henderson's complete demolition of "The Last Emperor" Saturday night marks his third disappointing loss in a row.
Though there seems to be some controversy surrounding the stoppage of the fight, including Fedor's own questioning of Referee Herb Dean's decision, there's no going back. Even if the fight did continue, Fedor was in a compromised position where a few more punches would have left no doubt. Emelianenko should actually be happy Dean stopped the fight when he did. Dean himself explained after the fight that he had to physically support Fedor when he stood up after the TKO.
Whether Fedor fights again on the grand stage is up to him according to his management team. Fedor himself said immediately after the fight it was up to God to decide his fighting future. No matter what happens next for the Russian phenom, his legacy is tarnished. Though fans and analysts are still calling him the greatest mixed martial artist ever, a reality check shows otherwise.
The fact is the last three fights exposed Fedor for what he really is: an overblown and under-challenged paper lion. Those who hail him in the same "the greatest" class of MMA as Muhammad Ali enjoyed as a boxer are simply not looking at the evidence. For years Fedor fought on smaller circuits after the fall of PRIDE. The competition he faced in those pre-Strikeforce fights seemed weak and not at all on the same plane of skill and experience. Matt Lindland was likely the most formidable opponent Fedor faced before his first Strikeforce clash with Brett Rogers. Lindland was 20-4 when he fought Fedor as part of a Bodog card in April of 2007. Fedor was lucky to win by submission after he was able to get away with repeatedly holding the ring ropes every time Lindland tried to take him down.
PRIDE gave Fedor his stiffest competition over the years until his last three fights. The Japanese circuit built his legend as the foremost heavyweight MMA fighter in the world. The fall of PRIDE gave way to Fedor's management setting up one tomato can after another to continue to build Fedor's legacy as a virtually undefeated fighter. The Russian was given far too much credit for facing UFC rejects and washouts and beating them handily.
Dana White had a chance to put an end to the charade by signing Fedor to a UFC deal in 2009, but the idea of co-promoting with M-1 Global soured the negotiations. A blockbuster fight with Randy Couture would have exposed Fedor's lack of supremacy back then. Instead, Zuffa ended up with Emelianenko on the company payroll only after Couture was well on his way to retirement. Long separated from the PRIDE years, Fedor is now a shell of the fighter he used to be. Even White called his battle with Henderson a "lose-lose situation."
Though White's vowed to stay out of Strikeforce's "business as usual" since the buyout, it's hard to believe Fedor will ever come back to fight in a Zuffa main event again. It's also tough to imagine Fedor retiring at this stage, though. He will more than likely wind up fighting on the smaller circuits again where he belongs. At this point in his career it may be wiser for him to stick to Sambo, where he would be much more dominant.
The Henderson fight brought out an intensely aggressive performance from Fedor that left his opponent with some nasty facial bruises, but the fight also bruised Fedor's ego and cracked his legendary facade. Whether or not he will be back in the Strikeforce cage is doubtful, but fighting is in his blood. The language in his contract may mandate another fight or two in the league, but for his own sake his next opponent should be a tune-up fight to help him go out on a positive note. Meanwhile, all those fans and analysts who consider him to be the world's best ever should take some time to get back in touch with reality.