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No discussion regarding mixed martial arts royalty takes place
without mentioning Fedor
Emelianenko
, the ferocity with which he fights matched only by
the class with which he carries himself outside the cage.

The onetime
Pride Fighting Championships
heavyweight titleholder was for
years one of the most dominant figures in the sport, as he put
together a 27-0 record with one no contest in 28 appearances from
April 6, 2001 to Nov. 7, 2009. Though Emelianenko still has never
set foot inside the
Ultimate Fighting Championship
, he owns wins over six former
UFC champions: Mark Coleman
(twice), Kevin
Randleman
, Andrei
Arlovski
, Tim Sylvia,
Frank
Mir
and Quinton
Jackson
. Active well into his 40s, “The Last Emperor” has
experienced his fair share of past-his-prime adversity but
continues to cast an enormous shadow over the division he once
ruled.

In a career overflowing with defining moments, here are five that
stand out:

1. Rise of an Empire

Emelianenko was not a household name in MMA circles before March
16, 2003. He was a 26-year-old heavyweight with a stellar record
and two Pride Fighting Championship appearances under his belt.
When Emelianenko climbed into the ring to challenge Antonio
Rodrigo Nogueira
for his heavyweight crown at Pride 25, those
in the know labeled him an underdog. Nogueira was thought to be
unbeatable by some, as he mixed an unwavering fighting spirit with
superb conditioning, world-class submission skills and rugged
durability. The Brazilian had not tasted defeat in nearly three
years and had recently posted submission wins over the monstrous
Bob
Sapp
, the 6-foot-11 Semmy Schilt
and two-time Olympian Dan
Henderson
in one four-month span. Moreover, Nogueira had never
been dominated in defeat, having suffered his only setback in a
split verdict to Henderson in February 2000. Emelianenko wiped out
his aura of invincibility by establishing one of his own. Over the
course of their 20-minute encounter, the stoic Russian brutalized
Nogueira with ground-and-pound, short-circuiting his potent
submission game and stunning more than 19,000 fans inside Japan’s
Yokohama Arena. By the end of it, the torch had been passed and a
new era had dawned.

2. Clash of the Titans

It was the fight for which observers had hungered for years:
Emelianenko vs. Mirko
Filipovic
. They finally locked horns at Pride Final Conflict on
Aug. 28, 2005 in Saitama, Japan. With his Pride heavyweight title
on the line, Emelianenko in the first round absorbed several
jarring body kicks but stifled the Croatian with punches and
clinches, circling away from his back leg when operating at a
distance. “Cro Cop” staggered his rival with a straight left and
followed with punches, only to be taken down. Emelianenko
successfully navigated his guard, often posturing to his feet to
drop punches before dodging upkicks to dive back on top. Though he
was bleeding from a broken nose and from a cut to his scalp, “The
Last Emperor” had spent the first 10 minutes establishing his
superiority. By the start of Round 2, Filipovic was a diminished
force. He was still dangerous, but his movements had slowed and
become noticeably labored. Emelianenko capitalized. The Russian
grew more aggressive and brazen, digging to Filipovic’s body with
damaging punches and even firing off a head kick—the very maneuver
“Cro Cop” rode to fame and fortune through knockouts of Aleksander
Emelianenko
, Igor
Vovchanchyn
, Wanderlei
Silva
and several others. Later in the frame, Emelianenko again
took it to the ground, pinning Filipovic to his back after a trip
takedown. His patented ground-and-pound followed, and “Cro Cop” was
powerless against it. Whatever hope Filipovic had left evaporated
inside the first minute of Round 3, where Emelianenko scrambled
back into top position and resumed his attack. “Cro Cop” forced two
referee restarts and connected with a pair of vicious body kicks,
but he could not keep the Russian champion at bay. Emelianenko
sucked him back into the clinch, executed another takedown and
spent the final 20 seconds punishing Filipovic from inside the
guard. Upon the sounding of the final bell, Emelianenko helped “Cro
Cop” to his feet, embraced him for a moment and returned to his
corner. There, he draped himself in the red, white and blue colors
of the Russian flag and awaited the verdict. The ringside judges
awarded him a unanimous decision, to the surprise of no one.
Emelianenko remained stoic and silent through it all, giving no
inkling that he had just recorded one of the most significant
victories in MMA history.

3. Giant Killer

Size never mattered to Emelianenko—a lesson the 6-foot-8, 265-pound
Sylvia learned firsthand in the Affliction “Banned” headliner on
July 19, 2008 in Anaheim, California. A two-time Ultimate Fighting
Championship heavyweight titleholder, Sylvia greeted the Russian
with a respectful touch of gloves before being slaughtered in front
of 14,832 awestruck fans at the Honda Center. Emelianenko shook off
an attempted clinch with an uppercut and unleashed a seven-punch
burst that had the Pat Miletich
protégé ducking for cover on all fours. Sylvia tried in vain to
scramble out of danger, only to wander deeper into the trap that
was being set. Emelianenko flurried with punches and hammerfists,
transitioned to the back and secured his position with both legs.
He then snaked his arms in place, cinched the choke and forced the
tapout, the blade of his forearm biting down on Sylvia’s throat.
When Emelianenko disengaged, “The Maine-iac” could only shake his
head in disbelief, as he cast a blank stare toward the heavens for
answers he would never get. It was the fourth of Emelianenko’s five
career sub-minute finishes.

4. Surface-to-Air Missile Strike

Emelianenko was as frightening as ever at Affliction “Day of
Reckoning” on Jan. 24, 2009, a seemingly invincible heavyweight who
tore many of his contemporaries to shreds. With the demise of Pride
Fighting Championships and with the Ultimate Fighting Championship
failing to reach an agreement with the Russian’s management team,
he was left to compete in second-tier organizations like Bodog
Fight, M-1 Global
and Affliction. Arlovski stood across from “The Last Emperor” at
the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, a crowd of 13,255 in
attendance. He kept Emelianenko at bay for some three minutes,
peppering him with punches and kicks. Eventually, Arlovski backed
the former Pride champion to the corner with a textbook push kick.
What happened next will live forever in the memories of those who
witnessed it. An overzealous Arlovski decided to attempt an
ill-advised flying knee. However, the Belarusian tried the maneuver
from too far out and telegraphed it; and when Arlovski lowered his
arms to leap, Emelianenko unloaded with a perfect overhand right
just as his counterpart went airborne. The punch immediately
separated “The Pit Bull” from he senses, as Arlovski nosedived into
the canvas. Emelianenko walked away, his latest victim kissing the
canvas into the first round.

5. Mortal After All

When 11,757 fans poured into the HP Pavilion in San Jose,
California, on June 26, 2010, few—if any—realized they were about
to witness history. Fabricio
Werdum
met the great Emelianenko as part of a Strikeforce-M-1
Global collaboration and, in the span of 69 seconds, turned the MMA
world inside out. “Vai Cavalo” retreated to his back when faced
with a volley of Emelianenko power punches and invited the Russian
into his guard. “The Last Emperor” obliged and soon found himself
entangled in a triangle choke. For several tense moments, Werdum
transitioned between the triangle and armbar before consolidating
the two into a shocking finish. Emelianenko tapped a little more
than a minute into Round 1, the former Pride heavyweight
titleholder suffering the first undisputed defeat of his remarkable
career.


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