Fedor Emelianenko is likely one of the most divisive and talked-about figures in the young sport of mixed martial arts. Hailed as the greatest Heavyweight ever by some, denounced as a fraud by others, it's hard to ever find any middle ground on Fedor, and frankly the debate has become more than tiresome.
Fedor is the No. 1 ranked Heavyweight according to just about every ranking and website with any credibility and has been so for years on end.
When talking about the Heavyweight division in MMA, I think it is very important to understand there is a very stark divide in the evolution of MMA Heavyweights; the MMA Heavyweight division definitely transformed in 2006.
From the late 1990s to 2005, the Heavyweight division was shallow and only had a handful of truly skilled fighters that were firmly divided between two promotions.
In the UFC the Heavyweight belt changed hands constantly, 13 times in seven years. The UFC had the inside track for American-born fighters like Randy Couture, Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, and Tim Syliva.
Meanwhile in Japan, a talented group of Heavyweights from around the world battled in PRIDE. And while equally talentedâ€”if more top heavyâ€”than the UFC, the PRIDE belt stayed firmly in the hands of Fedor since he won it in 2003 to its disbanding in 2007.
Fedor did not face the stiff competition fight-to-fight in his career. Often the PRIDE division was shallow. In between super fights Fedor would fight a Gary Goodridge.
While Gary Goodridge holds one of my all-time favorite KOs, he isn't a quality win. But that KO was great... let's take a minute to watch that again
Oh yeah, that hurts...
Back to the point, while Fedor unquestionably has a padded record, besides Randy Couture and Josh Barnett there isn't a Heavyweight that was relevant before 2005 that Fedor hasn't beaten.
Fedor has dispatched Mark Coleman twice, Nogueira twice, Mirko Cro Cop, Kevin Randleman, Fujita, Heath Herring, Tim Sylvia, and Andrei Arlovski.
Now many will claim that many of these fighters were well past their prime and faded when Fedor fought them, but Fedor has been fighting since 2000 and has not experienced a similar fading.
Now we come to that 2006 divide, the evolution of the Heavyweight division. This is when we see the professional debuts of Junior Dos Santos, Shane Carwin, and Cain Velasquez, the return of Frank Mir to MMA, followed shortly by Brock Lesnar in 2007.
This new generation of Heavyweights, exclusively in the UFC, is reinventing the division. With a greater focus on athleticism and skill, the older Heavyweights are quickly being passed by.
Fedor has proved to have some staying power as he gets older because of his outstanding grappling. Many MMA fans who have gotten sucked in by Fedor's recent string of big right hands have forgotten that while Fedor has heavy hands, his bread and butter is in grappling.
Fedor is a standout student of both Judo and Sambo and many of his most memorable wins have come via submission.
But this new crop of Heavyweights brings a different level of ability, and I feel it's almost impossible to argue that Velasquez and Dos Santos don't have the tools to become a more complete and better fighter than Fedor ever was.
I think Fedor is a great fighter, but much of the debate that swirls around him now frequently involves comparing him to current UFC Heavyweight contenders, and of course the UFC Champion, and Fedor's ranking above them.
While I do feel now that Fedor's high-level skill in grappling and his total accomplishment in the sport warrants a No. 1 ranking, I think Fedor's true era has passed. I think it's entirely possible that either Velasquez or Dos Santos finishes the year as the No. 1 Heavyweight in MMA.
And even if that does happen it cannot take away from Fedor's dominance up until 2005. Fedor will go down as an all-time great in the sport, but Fedor's dethroning has been brewing since 2006 and a new kind of MMA fighter has been growing at Heavyweight.
by Tom Grant