Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fedor Emelianenko: The Last Emperor, Possibly the Last of His Kind

As long as I can remember, I've never been that enamored of statistics as they relate to sports. My guess is that I fell in love with athletics before I was old (and/or smart) enough to really correlate the numbers in the paper to what I saw watching the professionals and experienced playing with my friends. Once I made the correlation, I quickly realized that most of the athletes who put up big numbers in the fancy categories are overrated.

The full explanation is a story for a different day, but that's enough of an introduction to explain my love of mixed martial arts.

Technically, there are stats in MMA. Stuff like wins, losses, height, weight, reach, strikes thrown, strikes landed, knock-outs, submissions, etc. are all very much statistics that either measure success and/or factor into an attempt to predict it. The difference, however, is that they rarely drive the debate about a fighter.

It's all about who you fought and if you won. Doesn't matter how you won—with some notable exceptions—because all the other stuff is out the window. It's a fight, pure and simple.

Yes, it's on television. Yes, lots of money is often at stake. And yes, the winners get a shot at celebrity. I doubt that matters when you're staring the prospect of an ass-beating in the face. In front of millions of people.

At that point, I very much doubt any fighter is worried about looking pretty, posturing, style-points, padding his punch stats, or any of the other frailties of ego that plague my favorite sports.

That's not to say the data is irrelevant or that nobody pays attention to it—if you haven't guess by now, I'm not exactly an expert on MMA. The fact that my sphere of exposure doesn't heavily rely upon MMA statistics should be taken with a rather large rock of salt.

My point is just that the eye-test is much more sacred in the fight world.

Which is why I'm a little stunned at some of the reaction to a recent piece I wrote following Fedor's stone-cold dismissal of Andrei Arlovski. It's why I'm even more perplexed by the plethora of articles surfacing that dare to call out the Last Emperor.

Several have been authored by some of Bleacher Report's most enthusiastic and respected (at least by me) fight fans.

Again, I'll emphasize that I am a novice in the sense that I've never trained for a martial art. Forget about a mix of them.

That said, I have been watching the UFC since its earliest days. Back when there were almost no rules, no gloves, and pretty much anything went. When the identities of the fighters were irrelevant because each guy was an elite fighter, but only in one thing. The focus was on skill versus skill until Royce Gracie changed all that (by beating Dan Severn at UFC 4, in my opinion).

My college buddies and I started watching circa 1997. In addition, we rented all the older cards on VHS to get caught up and see the days of no weight classes.

Incidentally, I was hooked forever by UFC 1 when a kickboxer annihilated some sumo blimp. Sumo came barreling forward and took a digger, but couldn't get up. Kickboxer measured a soccer kick to Sumo's grill and delivered it without remorse.

I'm almost positive I saw teeth go into the crowd.

Back to Fedor—I've been watching since before he arrived. I saw his legend rise in Pride. So I'm utterly at a loss when it comes to understanding how any knowledgeable fan of MMA could doubt this monster. And (like I said) some do.

One problem people seem to have with the elder Emelianenko is that he hasn't proven himself worthy of the hype.

To some extent, I understand this gripe because Fedor hasn't been fighting in the UFC since it became the premium fight organization. On the other hand, he hasn't lost to anyone outside it and has been dispatching its former (and seriously flawed) heavyweight champions with relative ease. Furthermore, most of his fights are available on YouTube so you can see for yourself what the fuss is all about. You can get a glimpse of why—those of us who have Fedor love—have it so bad.

Plus, you can check his body of carnage on Sherdog.

Please show me an elite heavyweight mixed martial artist whom Fedor has not faced and defeated since he exploded onto the scene in 2000.

To me, there are three you can legitimately put in that group: Brock Lesnar, who just arrived and is locked out due to his contract with the UFC; Frank Mir, who is basically in the same boat with Lesnar due to his horrific injury and participation in the UFC since he arrived in 2001; and Randy Couture, who has spent almost his entire career in the UFC.

I can't see a reasonable argument for holding those three absences against Emelianenko.

You might wonder where Josh Barnett is. First, he's had numerous chances to fight Fedor and some people seem to think he's dodging the Last Emperor (we'll see because he's got no excuse not to fight him now). More importantly, he's lost to several guys Fedor defeated rather handily. Sorry, I'm skeptical.

But forget about the guys Fedor Emelianenko hasn't fought. Look at who he has fought.

Opinions will differ, but I say his most impressive bullet point is the trio of fights against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira without a loss (one was a No Contest).

Make no mistake about it—Minotauro in his prime was a terrifying force in his own right with which to reckon. This was a brute who had never been finished in his career (including by a truck when he was a 10-year old in Brazil, which I assume means he got excellent medical care). Mir changed that by putting him to sleep, but that was a different Minotauro.

Indeed, many astute observers feel the Mir fight might have officially announced that Big Nog's finally succumbed to the cumulative punishment dished out by a long pro career. One that's seen almost 40 fights against the sport's heaviest hitters.

If that's indeed the case, Nogueira's tandem demolitions at the hands of the Last Emperor deserve a lot of the blame. I just checked; these fights are on YouTube. Hit 'em up and you'll see that neither was an arguable unanimous decision—one came when Minotauro was the reigning Pride Heavyweight Champion with the belt on the line. Both came when Big Nog was in his prime.

If you not a Minotauro fan, how about Fedor's unanimous decision pulverization of Mirko Filipovic? That one's also on YouTube so you can see for yourself that it wasn't close.

Not impressed by Cro Cop?

How about Fedor's submission of Mark Hunt? Ditto Mark Coleman (actually ditto, ditto since Fedor tapped Coleman out twice). Or you can see him survive a suplex from Kevin Randleman that would've probably broken most individuals in half, only to submit the Monster moments later.

Again, they're all on YouTube—you don't have to take my word for it.

As are his brutalizations of Heath Herring, Gary Goodridge, Tim Sylvia (watch that one), Matt Lindland, Hong Man Choi, Zulu, and Kazuyuki Fujita.

Those YouTube clips should also dispel the notion that the Last Emperor's power is a vulnerability. It's true that his ground game is his greatest strength, but he's got plenty of striking prowess and dynamite in those hands.

In fact, he often finishes his opponents on the ground because they quail at the thought of continuing to stand with him (ask the Maine-iac).

Yet, the icing on Fedor Emelianenko is the man himself.

This is an individual who is becoming the personification of his sport.

The Last Emperor is becoming to MMA what Tiger Woods is to golf (absent the considerable racial component). He is dominating the opposition like Michael Jordan and Barry Bonds. He is showing an ability to save his best for when he really needs it, like Joe Montana. He is amassing highlights like Barry Sanders.

He is redefining MMA like Bo Jackson redefined athleticism the minute he left his mother's womb.

Yet the Last Emperor is quiet. He's unassuming. He's humbly confident without ever seeming arrogant or aloof. He's probably not doing any sort of performance enhancer unless he's found one that leaves you looking a little soft around the edges. He has the utmost respect for his opponent as I have yet to see him show one up.

Emelianenko almost seems apologetic when he decimates someone.

When he's not in a fight ring, Fedor is the most average looking superhero I've ever seen. He's the most normally-behaved other-worldly talent I've come across.

No, I cannot conceive of one, single reason to doubt or dislike him.

In a landscape dominated by team sports that feature increasingly-egocentric antagonists, Fedor Emelianenko is dominating an individual sport with an old-school attitude. That should be reason enough to love him.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that he's the most dangerous man on planet at the moment without a weapon in his hand. Doubt him if you will, but I'd do it quietly.

The Last Emperor might hear you.

1 comment:

lhouvetso said...

Well said dude....I agree with every thing that you've said... People tend to question his status as the BEST, but one thing is for sure here, he is infact the best MMA fighter the world has ever seen or heard of..there is no one that comes near to him. Like it or not, HE IS THE BEST!!!