By FIGHT! columnist Larry Pepe
Fedor Emelianenko, “The Last Emperor”, the best heavyweight mixed martial artist in the world and for many not named Dana White, the top pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. There is no question that you should admire his lofty 30-1 record and the dominance he has displayed in the ring throughout his stellar nine year career. But should you have the same respect for him after his failure to agree to fight a blown-up middleweight Vitor Belfort at the now defunct “Affliction: Trilogy”? Absolutely not.
Now before you faint from the notion that I’m not worshipping at the altar of Fedor, know that I am just as hopeful as you are that the UFC and Russia’s favorite armbar specialist will come to terms. I really am. But let’s not lose sight of what Fedor did when he allowed his designated mouthpiece, Vadim Finkelchtein, to issue a statement that the fans don’t want to see Fedor fight Vitor Belfort.
He refused to fight a middleweight on a two fight win streak at 185 over Terry Martin, (2-5 in his last seven), and a Matt Lindland who was clearly past his prime. In the last seven years, Vitor has compiled a 6-6 record when fighting at light heavyweight and heavyweight. Quality of competition? His wins are against gentlemen named Zikic, Serati, Takahishi, Rea, Eastman and Couture with a combined 62% win percentage, largely against second and third tier fighters. His losses came at the hands of Chuck, Tito, Randy, Hendo and Overeem (twice) who have won 73% of the time against the best fighters in the world. Hmmm…which group do you think Fedor belongs in? Exactly. Maybe that’s why the odds on the fight were already set at minus $700 for Fedor.
I’m not knocking the one fighter in this fiasco who agreed to the fight less than an hour after it was offered to him. He looks like a dangerous, world-class middleweight and I can’t wait to see him in the UFC. He was willing to eat his way up to 206 in the last ten days before the fight to get it sanctioned. Even then, he’d be giving up 27 pounds to the world’s best heavyweight. Respect him.
MMA fighters fight, boxers pick and choose. That’s one of the reasons we see the fights we want to see now, not five years after they pass their prime. Would Lesnar, Machida, GSP, Anderson Silva or BJ refuse a fight on short notice with someone who competes two weight divisions below them? I’d be shocked. And we would rightfully take them to task.
And so we must with Fedor.
What about Josh Barnett, you ask? After all, he’s the one who failed the drug test. Agreed. And if he had gotten injured, we’d be having the exact same conversation.
This is about Fedor.
Fedor’s refusal to take this fight deprived his fellow “Trilogy” mixed martial artists of the opportunity to get paid for months of hard training and sacrifice. He cheated the fans who wanted to see this card and he displayed a lack of the “anytime, anywhere” spirit that lives in the heart of our favorite MMA superstars.
Fedor has one chance, and only one chance, to cement his legacy and put this embarrassing choice behind him. Sign on the UFC’s dotted line and fight whoever they put in front of him. If not, it will be time for me and scores of MMA fans to just say no…just as Fedor did last week.
FIGHT! Magazine’s newest columnist, Larry Pepe, is the host of Pro MMA Radio. The show airs every Monday at 6 p.m. PST / 9 p.m. EST with every episode available on-demand at ProMMARadio.com.