Saturday, July 19, Fedor Emelianenko is set to face Tim Sylvia under the banner of Affl iction‘s fl edgling MMA promotion. The Russian heavyweight legend has been the subject of frequent discussion, for while his prowess is evident whenever he enters the cage, he has not faced any of the other champions in his weight class. The closest he has come to a well-matched fi ght very well might be arm barring bears in the Siberian wilderness.
Mention Fedor in conversation with hardcore MMA fans, and you’ll be bombarded with passionate opinions on both sides. His fans consider him the undisputed king of the heavyweight ranks, while his critics think he’s the most overrated fi ghter in history, and would be handily defeated by the UFC’s heavyweights.
Fortunately, the debate may be soon laid to rest. His battle against the former two-time UFC champion will likely either secure his legendary status or prove his frailty against one of the best the sport has to offer.
Fedor is widely regarded as one of the top heavyweight mixed martial artists on the planet, even though he has never set foot in the top MMA promotion, the UFC. Holding a 27-1 record, Emelianenko was at the top of most heavyweight rankings for his entire tenure as PRIDE’s heavyweight champion, from March 2003 until the organization dissolved.
Emelianenko’s place in the rankings is controversial. Detractors claim that years of fi ghting inferior opponents has unfairly infl ated his record. Additionally, other former PRIDE standout fi ghters, such as Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, have performed disappointingly outside of Japan. There is no indication that Emelianenko’s success will continue against UFC talent.
Even the lone blemish on Emelianenko’s record is contentious. The Russian’s sole loss came in a Rings tournament in December 2000, when he faced Tsuyoshi Kohsaka (26-18). Seventeen seconds into the fi ght, Kohsaka opened a fi ght-ending cut with an unintentional illegal elbow strike. Usually, if a fi ghter wins with an illegal strike, the fi ght is ruled a no contest (or loss via disqualifi cation if the strike was intentional). However, as the event was a tournament and Emelianenko could not continue, Kohsaka was declared the winner and allowed to advance. As a result, Emelianenko had his fi rst and only loss.
The fi ghter’s background in the Russian martial art of Sambo prepared him well for MMA competition. Emelianenko is a decorated Sambo practitioner, winning the World Combat Sambo Championship and the Russian Combat Sambo Championship. He’s a strong grappler, with half of his wins coming by way of submission. But he’s also an incredible striker, with punishing stand-up and brutal ground and pound.
Sylvia might be the fi rst legitimate competition Emelianenko has faced in four years. His last fi ve fi ghts have been unorthodox at best. Most recently, he defeated 7’2” Hong-Man Choi at Yarennoka! While his opponent prior to that fi ght, Matt Lindland, is a legitimate MMA threat, Lindland is a middleweight and not even in Fedor’s weight class. His three other recent fi ghts were Mark Hunt, a 275-pound super heavyweight with a 5-3 MMA record, 43-year-old Mark Coleman, an MMA legend past his prime, and 400-pound Vale Tudo // PHOTO BY SUSUMU NAGAO fi ghter Zuluzinho.
Sylvia, who trains at Pat Miletich’s MFS camp, is a two-time UFC heavyweight champion. He fi rst won the title by defeating Ricco Rodriguez at UFC 41. He successfully defended his second title, won by defeating Andrei Arlovski at UFC 59, by winning a rematch with Arlovksi by unanimous decision at UFC 61, and defeating Jeff Monson by unanimous decision at UFC 65.
Sylvia fi nally lost to Randy Couture at UFC 68. After the Couture fi ght, Sylvia defeated Brandon Vera at UFC 77. As Couture’s estrangement from the UFC left the heavyweight division without a champion, the win against Vera granted Sylvia a shot at the interim UFC heavyweight title. Sylvia won the fi rst two rounds before falling victim to Nogueira’s slick submission early in the third round.
The fi rst thing you notice about Tim Sylvia is his stature. Sylvia is 6’8” and has to cut weight to make the heavyweight top limit of 265 pounds. Sylvia’s primary strengths are his standup and his reach. He has a background in wrestling and grappling, but hasn’t demonstrated much of either inside the cage. To his credit, Sylvia did show off adequate submission defense in his bout with Monson at UFC 65, and even attempted a triangle choke in the bout.
MATCHING UP THE FIGHTERS
Four of Sylvia’s last fi ve wins have come by way of decision. By comparison, Emelianenko has fi nished thirteen of his last fi fteen fi ghts. A decision-heavy fi ghter is typically at a severe disadvantage when facing an opponent with the ability to fi nish fi ghts.
Emelianenko’s primary strengths are Sylvia’s greatest weaknesses. Sylvia has diffi culty with strong wrestlers and grapplers – outside of his loss to Couture, Sylvia’s three other losses were all by submission. Additionally, Sylvia’s most valuable tools will not be particularly effective against Fedor. Sylvia’s extraordinary reach will not be much of an advantage. Emelianenko has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to close ground against much larger opponents.
Sylvia also won’t be able to utilize his size and strength to clinch, as he did against Vera. Emelianenko’s Sambo and Judo provide an extensive repertoire of throws from the clinch. If Sylvia attempts to tie up, he’s likely to fi nd himself on his back.
Expect this fi ght to be fairly one-sided. Sylvia is a legitimate opponent and should provide a great measuring stick, but I just don’t see any realistic way for Sylvia to win, outside of something like a stoppage due to a cut.
While I’ve counseled against relying on “MMA Math” in previous articles, in this case looking at common opponents does have value. It’s important to note that Emelianenko has two wins over Nogueira, who recently defeated Sylvia.
As of press time, betting lines for this fi ght haven’t been released. However you can try to predict your own line and be ready to jump on the opener. I expect this line will open strongly in favor of Fedor. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Emelianenko an 80% favorite or better at open (-400 to -450), with Sylvia in the range of +350.
However, I believe that Emelianenko will win this fi ght close to 90% of the time, making him an acceptable bet at anything short of -550. I expect the fi ght will go no farther than the second round, with Emelianenko winning via submission. And I’m sure the following day he’ll be back to arm-barring bears.