Fall of the Emperor

This, like many of Fedor Emelianenko’s aphorisms, could have just as easily come out of a fortune cookie as out of the mouth of the man who has for the last several years been considered the world’s top heavyweight.


The fact that the Russian MMA legend was uttering these cryptic words just moments after suffering an improbable submission loss to 3-1 underdog Fabricio Werdum, only made the whole episode feel even more like the kind of bizarre dream where your father shows up dressed as Abe Lincoln and tells you what a disappointment you are.


It took just 69 seconds for Werdum to shatter the myth of Fedor’s invincibility. Maybe that had to happen some day, but few people predicted it would happen this way and against this opponent. The question now is, what does it all mean?


As any good ancient Roman soothsayer will tell you when confronted with such a question, the answer is inevitably: perhaps nothing, or perhaps something of great importance.


If you looked at the rankings on various MMA websites in the aftermath of Werdum’s submission victory, you might be forgiven for wondering whether the earth had suddenly opened up and swallowed Fedor whole. He simply disappeared altogether from several pound-for-pound lists where he’d previously bounced around the top three, and he plummeted from the top spot in the heavyweight ranks.


Just as suddenly, Werdum shot up to number two on many of these same lists of top heavyweights, despite the fact that few, if any of these same pollsters, would actually pick him to win if he were to match up against anyone else in the top five.


It’s almost as if a fair and just God intervened in the Fedor-Werdum fight as a way of teaching us how ridiculous our ongoing attempt to rank fighters really is. Just kidding. The kind of God who would make Fedor lose is neither fair nor just.


Look, everybody loses in this sport. At least they do if they hang around long enough and face credible competition on a regular basis. Fedor’s loss only seems so monumental because he had gone so long without one, which may have been part of why he got careless enough to dive into a jiu jitsu champ’s guard.


Far be it from me to criticize his choices in the fight, but it’s hard to explain his decision to pursue such a course of action without assuming that hubris played a significant role.


But I’m not the type to believe in lucky wins any more than I believe in outcomes that are bad for the sport. Emelianenko’s loss shakes up the rankings and gives the big boys in the UFC a chance to make their case as the best in the world. It also gives Emelianenko a reason to get back in the cage and prove himself all over again.


In short, the sky is not falling. If anything, the loss is a chance for Emelianenko to further solidify his status as an all-time great by coming back stronger and better than before.


People don’t just remember that Joe Louis lost to Max Schmeling, after all. They remember that he lost to Max Schmeling and then came back in the rematch to beat the German like he’d just caught him in bed with his wife.


Hence the second part of Fedor’s truncated post-fight dissertation on the nature of loss. You know, the part about getting up.


Maybe it’s hard for us to see it now,  but neither Fedor nor Werdum will be defined by what happened on that one night in San Jose. They’ll be defined—for better or worse—by what they do next.

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