Do you remember where you were on May 15, 2004, the night Roy Jones Jr. fought a rematch with Antonio Tarver? I remember being at my University nightclub, the Turret, talking about the then-in-progress match with a random patron.
“So what do you think happened?” he asked.
“Of course Roy won!” I replied, incredulous that the result wasn’t a given.
Later on, the truth came out that a counter left hook had ended RJJ’s reign atop the pound-for-pound list. Jones never had the same aura of invincibility that had powered his virtuoso career up to that point.
Watching Fabricio Werdum slap on a triangle just 69 seconds into the first round at last June’s Strikeforce show was a similar moment—if you blinked, you’d miss the realization that Fedor had slipped. Saturday night at New Jersey’s Izod Center further bronzed that reality when Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva earned a second-round doctor’s stoppage over Emelianenko.
“B*llsh*t!” “Kill the doctor!” “Eff this!” “Let him continue!”—those were the alcohol-laced epithets of the venue spectators when the decision was announced and they were deprived of a third round. One genius even threw a full bottle of water in the direction of the cage—with the missile landing near the bewildered official M-1 photographer.
The first round did not provide a dominant display from the Russian. In the second round, as Silva got top position and rained down punch after punch on Emelianenko, the audience began cheering at Fedor’s escape attempts rather than any offense he put up. With tremendous will, Fedor survived the second round and made it back to his corner.
Neither the anger of the spectators nor the speculation of M-1 Global’s Vadim Finkelstein can deprive Antonio Silva of his rightfully-earned victory. Whatever slight chance of a comeback Fedor could have launched in the third, the momentum had turned against him. Not just in the fight—but perhaps in Emelianenko’s career.
What others refused to accept was made crystal clear by the Russian in his post-fight interview:
“Something went wrong from the very beginning and I didn’t re-adjust myself. Maybe it’s the time to leave.”
Going from Fabricio Werdum to Antonio Silva in the first round of one of the strongest heavyweight tournaments assembled in recent Mixed Martial Arts history was like going out of the frying pan and into the fire. In losing, the realization that he wasn’t what he used to be was probably far more painful to Fedor than his facial trauma. He might have been the anti-star who shunned the media spotlight as a personal or cultural choice; he might not have had the wider appeal of UFC-backed heavyweights or the mythological ability ascribed to Rickson and Royce of the Gracie clan, but Emelianenko was known by core fans and educated media to be the very best of his era.
Like Sonny LoSpecchio’s speech about real love in A Bronx Tale, “They come along like the great fighters, every ten years. Rocky Marciano. Sugar Ray Robinson. Joe Louis. Sometimes you get ‘em all at once.”
For a time, we had Fedor. The tapes will always be there—standing with Mirko Cro Cop (“Right leg, hospital; Left leg, cemetery”), dominating Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira—the truth is there, always preserved for future generations to find.
We are expected to tune into the April 9th edition of the Strikeforce tournament to see whether Alistair Overeem can knock off top-rated heavyweight Fabricio Werdum. The winner of that match-up has to be considered the favorite to win the whole thing. But having Fedor in the mix was as exciting as the idea of having Roy Jones Jr. or Sugar Ray Leonard competing in the Showtime Super-Six super-middleweight boxing tournament.
There will be other champions. But there will never be another exactly like Fedor Emelianenko—The Last Emperor.
Brian J. D’Souza is a Canadian writer who has covered Mixed Martial Arts for ESPN.com, FoxSports.com, CagePotato.com, Heavy.com and FIGHT! magazine.