Fedor Emelianenko was quoted earlier this week as saying that his battle with Fabricio Werdum was a more important fight than the upcoming unification title affair between behemoths Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin at UFC 116. “The Last Emperor”, who had gone 28-0 with one no contest in the last ten years of MMA action, did the one thing that made his statement prophetic.
The path to victory for Werdum coming into the fight seemed as clear as it was unlikely. The two-time Brazilian Jiu Jitsu World Champion and ADCC Heavyweight Champ would have to get it to the ground where he would have a marked advantage and try to submit the talented Russian. However, with Fedor being the superior striker and having a solid grappling game himself, getting it to the canvas was the challenge.
Who knew that Fedor would make it easy for him? Emelianenko obliged by flooring but not hurting Werdum in the first thirty seconds of the fight and jumped into the BJJ specialist’s guard, raining down hammerfists in classic Emelianenko fashion. Werdum was still fresh and locked in an armbar that Fedor quickly escaped from. Rather than stand up and take the fight back to the realm that most favored him, Emelianenko stayed in the guard as Werdum locked in another armbar and then added a deep triangle choke that caused Fedor’s unbeaten streak to come to an end with a tap at 69 seconds of the very first round. Fedor was as stoic and unemotional in defeat as he has been in victory saying that “The one who doesn’t fall doesn’t stand up”.
Many will question whether Fedor is still the fighter who dominated in Pride. Others will question his mettle against MMA’s top talents. I don’t know that this fight answers any of those questions. Had Werdum beat him all over the cage for three rounds or dominated him for any period of time that would be a different story. For me, Fedor’s loss displays more about his willingness to battle Werdum in the one place where he could lose. Whether driven by overconfidence, the heat of the moment or simply horrible game planning, Fedor paid a dear price. He was a minus 550 favorite coming into the fight, but if the oddsmakers knew this would be contested on the ground, he might have been a slight underdog.
The fight was quick but the reverberations throughout MMA will ring for a long time to come. Perhaps the most debated elite fighter in the history of the sport, Fedor’s loss to a fighter who went 2-2 in the UFC before being cut after a first round knockout loss to Junior Dos Santos will no doubt make his detractors say “I told you so”. Questions will have to be answered as to Fedor’s future as well as the impact of this loss on Strikeforce from a promotional perspective. Fedor has only one fight left on his Strikeforce contract, which many believed would have been a blockbuster title fight against division champion Alistair Overeem, perhaps even on Pay Per View. Werdum should deservedly get the title shot against Overeem in a rematch of when the two met in 2006 and Fabricio submitted Alistair with a kimura. In my opinion, Fedor should get the winner. Strikeforce has shown that it was willing to give Brett Rogers a title fight off the loss to Fedor, and with one fight left on his contract, to have Emelianenko fight one of the promotion’s lesser heavyweight talents would be both financially wasteful and low on interest. The odds that the fight would sell on pay per view, however, went down significantly as soon as Fedor tapped. Another question left in the balance tonight is whether CBS will have any interest in a Strikeforce card sans Fedor. Only time will tell how Fedor, Strikeforce and CBS all respond to tonight’s shocker.
• Cyborg Santos put a beating on an incredibly tough Jan Finney. Three things I learned in this fight. One, referee Kim Winslow is quick to take a point. Two, referee Kim Winslow is slow to stop a fight. Three, Jan Finney can take a tremendous amount of punishment and deserves mad respect, but she took too much punishment. (Please refer to number two). If you’re wondering why I didn’t list that Cyborg is the baddest female mixed martial artist on earth, we knew that before this fight. So did the oddsmakers, who made her a minus 2000 to 2500 favorite.
• Cung Le avenged his stunning knockout loss to Scott Smith with a second round knockout. Smith is one of MMA’s more exciting fighters because of his offense and one punch knockout power but isn’t a big believer in defense. Le took advantage of all those openings with a powerful mix of kicks, spinning back kicks, punches and knees that allowed him to avenge the only loss of his MMA career.
• Josh Thompson got all he could handle in the form of Pat Healy. Thompson foreshadowed what was to come early in the fight when he beautifully transitioned from one submission to the next in taking the opening round. After Healy took the second round with several takedowns and good control, Josh went back to the submission game and forced Healy to tap to a rear naked choke with just over 30 seconds left in the fight.
• Can someone please tell Gus Johnson that Fedor didn’t lose for the first time and that Werdum didn’t “dethrone the champion.” Last time I checked, Alistair Overeem has held the belt since 2007.
• Frank Shamrock announced his retirement in the place he made his home, the HP Pavillion in his native Northern California. Shamrock was the first UFC Light Heavyweight Champion (later renamed the middleweight division), the first WEC Light Heavyweight Champion and the first Strikeforce Middleweight Champion. Thanks for the memories, Frank.