The echoes of 1000s of screaming fans are cascading throughout the arena, spectators are packed like sardines, hanging from the rafters. Everyone in attendance is simply marvelling at the display. Suit cladded Yakuza, draped in colourful tattoos are admiring from cushioned front rows. The fight is over. The noise is deafening. Thick crimson blood paints the once pristine white canvas. Ring hands frantically endeavour to clean it before the entrance of the next two men. Two men who are ready to put everything on the line to be the best. Soccer kicks. Head stomps. Grounded knees. And the most elite, technically gifted fighters in the world. This was Pride. Where the big boys played. Like many MMA fans, I got my start with this promotion, this is where I first fell in love, and where I first got my heart broken. Like your first girlfriend, except with a lot less sex and a lot more blood (I imagine). I still look back on this era as the golden age of mixed martial arts, no matter how many people try to discredit it. I mean sure, maybe the general standard of fighting is better now, maybe the rules are safer, maybe the refs are more experienced, maybe there’s less match fixing and maybe the dramatic decrease in doping has saved many people’s bodies and lives. But honestly, once you’ve seen Shogun Rua knee another human being into the bottom corner of a ring and finish him with a succession of gorgeously placed soccer kicks like a Thai fighter chopping down a tree trunk, it’s hard to move on. Way hard. I love it, and I miss it. But, like the previously mentioned first girlfriend, it took a lot of money to make it go away. Regardless, it is what it is, years of crime, corruption, fixings, briberies and one big Zuffa buy out later, here we are. Ex Pride fighters were, and in some cases continue to be some of the greatest fighters of all time. So ahead of Bellator 214 we thought we’d write up a homage to one of our favourite fighters of all time. The king of Pride, the man who ran Japan, the Last Emperor himself, Fedor Emelianenko. New fans might not be aware of who he is or what he has accomplished, and his career is just as amazing an unnecessarily dramatic as his epic AF ring name. This won’t be a complete career retrospective, the logistics of that would take months and we’d end up with the war and peace of MMA internet articles. Furthermore, I’m not in the mood for someone I’ve never met thousands of miles away to tell me I probably only started watching MMA since Conor beat Aldo as I couldn’t properly recount the time Fedor synced in a vice grip guillotine on Lee Hasdell back in RINGS in 2001. So we’re gonna skip a lot of it, and just homage our favourite Fedor KOs, Subs, fights and moments. This is our homage, the Legacy of the Last Emperor. Happy Fedor Friday.
Fedor had a humble start and for someone at his level, they tend to master any martial art or activity they try their hand at. Shockingly, the Russian man-beast was no different, and his career start in Sambo (with a good sprinkling of Judo because, f- it, why not) was a sign of things to come. He was a local champion, regional champion, multi time national and world champion, kitchen sink champion and the combined weight of all his gold medals would make Deontay Wilder’s solid chains seem like small rubber hair bands. Sambo is a beautiful art, and it’s a shame it’s not more utilised across the world. For those not initiated, it is a survival military martial art/wrestling hybrid. It is an incredible base, with some of the best techniques from wrestling, Ju Jitsu and kickboxing, all combined with its own distinct flair and style that is clearly visible in Fedor’s technique, especially his early work. Grappling has always been, and always will be one of the most essential parts of a fighter’s repertoire. In the US they have wrestling, in Eastern Europe they have Sambo, and in the UK we have drunkenly jostling with a distressed landlord over a spilled pint in the pub carpark. Glorious. Fedor’s Sambo background is evident in the way he effortlessly takes bigger men down, throws them round like rag dolls, and snaps limbs in armbars and leg locks (leg-based manoeuvres being a speciality of Sambo). Fedor’s elite Sambo base is something we will always love about him, and what we’ll refer to throughout this piece, so we thought we’d clear the air with it now.
So, openings out the way, and we’re starting off stronger than a dreadlocked Samson. Our favourite Fedor finishes. The Last Emperor has amassed an eyewatering 29 finishes, nearly half of them (14) by way of knockout. To put it bluntly, Fedor has bricks for hands, and atrociously effective ground and pound. To go through all of these would quite frankly be ridiculous, and until we land our first huge sponsorship deal (Apple, Google, JP Morgan, you all have our number) we don’t have the staff or the resources.
Writing this I forgot how much Fedor loved knocking people out, and how capable he was to do it. But there are other big ticket items. Submissions. As previously stated, Fedor’s Sambo background really comes into its element here. I’ve never known a heavyweight to have so many technically sound submission victories (no one cares Big Nog). His ground game mirrors the subtle majesty of a BJJ blackbelt the way he glides seamlessly round a floored opponent, yet he has the vicious, animalistic brutality of a force of nature capable of ripping your arm from its socket and using it as a spare bat for a summer evening spot of cricket (for the Americans, it’s like baseball but with thousands of rules and can last up to 5 days). Back when Rousey was still a young Judoka, Fedor already had a vast collection of arms on his wall, popularising the armbar worldwide years before our WWE starlet graced the UFC. Without further ado, here they are
- Fedor Dismantles Gary Goodridge, Pride Total Elimination 2003
I can already hear the collective sigh from MMA historians. All 4 of you. Yes, we’re starting at Pride. Yes, we know Feeder had a life and a career before Pride, but is it really worth talking about? The short answer is probably not. This KO is a part of pretty much every Fedor highlight compilation I’ve ever watched, and rightfully so. It’s a masterful piece of kickboxing technique finished with Fedor’s own unique revolutionary blend of ground and pound. Fedor’s knowledge of his own range is immaculate, and he starts the fight by throwing his textbook, looping straight/hooks that connect big with Goodridge. Gary covers up with a tight guard, but to no avail as Fedor’s accuracy and unique blend of angles easily penetrate and rock his chin. Consecutive connections make Goodridge further raise his guard. Big mistake. A barrage of blows downstairs to the body softens Goodridge, Fedor steps back looking for his patented overhand, narrowly misses and transitions seamlessly into double under hooks. This is where the years of world class Sambo come into play. Fedor hits a knee to the body, swivels the hips, and hits one of the most effortless double legs you’re likely to see. Goodridge attempts to hold the head down, but that’s when it happens. Something snaps. The revolutionary ground and pound. Huge, looping right and left hooks with his whole body thrown into it, moving across his body masterfully landing shot after shot. By the time Goodridge starts covering up, it’s too late. Soccer kicks. Soccer kicks. Soccer kicks. Hammer fists, hooks, carnage, mayhem, destruction. The ref is left with no choice. The crowd goes wild.
2.Fedor Makes a Mockery of Giant Zuluzinho, Pride Shockwave 2005
Wow. What can we say about this one? Zuluzinho was a freak of nature, at a time where Pride was, lets just say, experimental with the limits of their heavyweight division. This man was a monster, a giant, an animal and in the outside world with other mere mortals such as ourselves would be alpha male number one. But he’s not. He’s in Pride. And he was out of his depth. When I say out of his depth I don’t mean he was slightly outclassed and needed to go back to the drawing board out of his depth, I mean Jon Jones trying not to melt a plastic cup with his piss out of his depth. Fedor’s first blow is a picture perfect on the button straight right setting up a big boomerang like left hook that sent Zulu’s Jaw to California and his back to the canvas. Then we have another display of what I suspect we’ll be discussing a lot tonight, that unbelievable ground and pound. Relentless lefts and rights and technically sound hammer fists that just barely fail to finish the giant. Zulu uses his size to turn, but it’s directly into a soccer kick. By a miracle of God almighty he manages to regain his footing, which may or may not have been a huge mistake due one of the most thunderous right hooks you’ll ever see. Fedor has this habit of throwing his entire body into blows, and you won’t see a better example of that here. Needless to say Zulu was back on the canvas, and the following hammer fists gave him no choice but to tap.
3. That Arlovski Knockout, Affliction: Day of Reckoning
There’s something magical about a one punch knockout. Something special. We don’t see them often in MMA, I mean we all love good combinations, we all love good ground and pound, but what is it about that one punch spark? Something about them just sends shivers up the spine, and here we have the first KO from outside of Pride. I love this knockout for a couple reasons, the foremost being the beautiful technique, and the other being how well Arlovski was doing up until the moment his neck decided to twist like a screw meeting the end of an electric drill. Arlovski was teeing off, finding his range, hitting nice jabs, nice straights, he looked sharp, he looked quick, he looked agile. A nice combination finished with a push kick that left Fedor in the corner. It’s never wise to corner a man like Fedor, especially when your next move is to rush in and try to capitalise on your earlier connections. He tried to jump in, maybe with a knee, and that textbook overhead right with the weight of Mother Russia itself came crashing into the side of his face causing him to flop folded onto the floor like a discarded deck chair. Game changing. Brutal. Accurate. Technical.
4. The Decapitation of Brett Rogers, Strikeforce: Fedor vs Rogers
I may be biased here, but this is one of my favourite knockouts of all time. It was at a time where Fedor’s career in America was coming into question, was he the best heavyweight in the world? How well will he do in the States? Can he rekindle his prime Pride days? Rogers at the time was an up and coming talented heavyweight that was predicted to change the division, and valid contender for Fedor’s newly won shiny title. The first round was good, both men getting good offence in, feeling each other out and in textbook Fedor fashion, a lot of intensity. But the second round is where the magic happens. Fedor finding the full use of his range and teeing off with flush combinations, pinning Rogers to the cage and throwing his textbook looping shots. The damage showed. Over the course of the first two rounds, Fedor was perfectly lining up his range, until the two approached each other in the middle of the cage, to which, quite possibly, one of the best punches that has ever been thrown lands. Fedor launches his entire body behind this crazy looping right overhand, an absolute tsunami of a knuckle buster that nearly Ned Starked Rogers’ head clean off. The fact he wasn’t completely out cold was a miracle, but precise, clean ground and pound quickly finished the fight seconds after
5. The 36 Seconds on Hell… for Tim Sylvia, Affliction: Banned
It was claimed that is was the hardest fight Emelianenko stepped into in four years. Sylvia was a legitimate contender, a former two time UFC heavyweight champion and yet another towering giant Fedor managed to topple seamlessly. There is not much to write about this fight, as I’m sure a lot of men (and disappointed women) can relate too, it was all over in 36 seconds. The fight started with a brutal flurry by Fedor that left Tim Sylvia landing face down a mere 15 seconds into the first round. The resulting ground and pound was so clinical, Fedor could decide to go down any avenue he wanted. His elite Sambo showed its face again here with a beautiful transition to back mount. The Emperor decided to go for the rear naked, syncing it in quickly and definitively before Sylvia even knew what happened.
6. Fedor Removes Hong Man’s Arm, Yarennoka!
We could have had an array of arm bars here, I don’t know what it is about Fedor, he just loves collecting arms, and this is probably one of the biggest arms in the world. Just looking at these two face off is almost laughable, Fedor’s a big guy, but 10ft 9” Hong man absolutely dwarfs him. This is a perfect example of Pride’s lax attitude towards their heavyweight combatants. This became most evident after a beautiful shot from Fedor that landed flush and rocked his opponent, on wobbly legs, Fedor goes for the takedown and Hong Man literally just falls on top of him. Honestly, it’s hilarious. Fedor is gas. He lays down gasping for breath wondering what he can possibly do to turn this around. He was outclassing him on the feet, and he was outclassing him on the ground previously, narrowly failing to sync in that arm bar. But after lack lustre ground and pound from Hong, Fedor grabs the left arm and slides effortlessly into a picture perfect arm in quite possibly one of the most memed moments in MMA history. Once again, the elite Sambo is fully on display here.
So there we have it, a few of our favourite Fedor moments. Before you wonder why this or that wasn’t included, Fedor’s career is so long, so vast, and filled with such rich history it’s just impossible to cover it all. Because of this we had to leave out moments like the outstanding Randleman comeback post suplex, the Cro-cop fight which deserves it’s own article (it will come in the near future) and obviously the array of gold medals he’s collected in Sambo tournaments over the years is second to none. I hope you’ve enjoyed the article, and happy Fedor Friday.