ATLANTA -- News broke Friday that famed heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko has booked a fight against Pedro Rizzo on June 21 in St. Petersburg, Russia.
A large contingent of fans voiced its displeasure of the matchup immediately following the announcement.
Rizzo (19-9), though a longtime fixture in mixed martial arts, hasn’t competed since posting a TKO win over Ken Shamrock in July 2010.
Strikeforce Grand Prix finalists Josh Barnett and Daniel Cormier, who are scheduled to meet on May 19, are not amongst those bashing the matchup. In fact, both heavyweights defended the fight when asked to comment.
“What are you going to do?” Barnett told ESPN.com. “Would you rather see [Emelianenko] not fight at all? At the end of the day, it’s not always up to Fedor. Don’t believe Pedro was the only guy asked.
“So, what’s the other option? How about he just sits around for another six months?”
Cormier voiced a similar opinion, stating that regardless of what opponent Emelianenko’s management group found, fans would likely find it disappointing.
“There’s just not that many guys who would be OK,” Cormier said. “If they said, ‘He’s fighting Rolles Gracie,” people would say he [Gracie] got beat by Joey [Beltran] and flushed out of the UFC. If it were Bobby Lashley, they’d say he’s just a pro wrestler who got beat by Chad Griggs.
“It’s always going to be something. The best guys are under the Zuffa umbrella. [Emelianenko] is not -- so he doesn’t have much to choose from.”
Emelianenko (33-4) was an original participant in the Strikeforce Grand Prix. He was knocked out in the first round after losing via TKO to Antonio Silva, who was eventually knocked out by Cormier.
The Russian star finished his tenure in Strikeforce on a three-fight losing streak. Since leaving the promotion last year, he’s rebounded with back-to-back wins over Jeff Monson and Satoshi Ishii.
While some consider Emelianenko to be past his prime, others still hope the day will come when he makes a very long-awaited UFC debut. President Dana White has expressed in recent interviews he has no interest in signing Emelianenko.
That means fans will have to be content watching him take on an opponent like Rizzo, who, Barnett says, is capable of giving the 37-year-old Rizzo problems. Barnett has split two fights against Rizzo in his career.
“He’s heavy handed,” Barnett said. “He’s got strong low kicks, great counter punches and a great overhand right. Against Fedor though, with his speed, it could be a very difficult matchup for Pedro. But his footwork is pretty good and his takedown defense isn’t horrible. I know he can give [Emelianenko] trouble with that.
“Let the fights turn out. Let’s see how it goes. It’s one thing to talk about how this is going to be a mismatch. Once the punches start flying, who knows what will happen? It could be an amazing fight.”