There are fighters who invite interest only depending on their opponent, and there are fighters who can attract a crowd for the simple reason of being. No one paid to see Mike Tyson against Frank Bruno because Bruno could sell a fight or because his style could make a puzzle out of the match: they paid because Tyson, who pointed this out in one of his lapses into eloquence, could sell out a theater just by reading a phone book. (Actually, while doing something else, but itâs not a picture you want. Trust me.)
There is plenty of curiosity attached to Fedor Emelianenkoâs second fight for Strikeforce Saturday, but itâs more for his presence as a real-time legend than anything he could accomplish in the fight. Fabricio Werdum doesnât have a style or reputation that would add anything significant to Emelianenkoâs resume: heâs already beaten an all-time great heavyweight jiu-jitsu artist in Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira on multiple occasions. And even if Werdum does pose any exceptional problems, no one seems able to anticipate them. Itâs hard to be nervous over facts you donât have.
Because of the cardâs place further down the dial -- on Showtime, not CBS -- and because the quiet Werdum doesnât have an engine of hype behind him, itâs probably going to be one of Emelianenkoâs more muted appearances. At age 33 and with retirement on his mind, thereâs increasing immediacy to his schedule: we donât want his time or abilities wasted. Facing Werdum might be a fight, but doesnât much feel like an event.
What: Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Werdum, an announced five-fight card from the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif.
When: Saturday, June 26 at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.
Why You Should Care: Because the intrigue surrounding Emelianenko is now partially made up of how well his body and skills are holding up after a long career; because Cung Le and Scott Smith delivered one of 2009âs best fights and a rematch is more than welcome; because Cristiane âCyborgâ Santos has a guaranteed wildlife attack scheduled against 8-7 Jan Finney; and because Mauro Ranallo never fails to find new and interesting ways to make the show all about him.
Fight of the Night: Le/Smith, a perfect match of Leâs dynamic stand-up and Smithâs unbelievable constitution. He could be the car industryâs first live crash test dummy and not be any worse off for it. This is intended to be a compliment.
Hype Quote of the Show: âGood for Fedor, I hope he does retire...He's the greatest champion of all time. He's the greatest champion ever, of all time, in his own little world. Good for him.â -- 4-1 Brock Lesnar, straining to tow the company line on the 31-1 Emelianenko, during a conference call.
5 Questions: Strikeforce Edition
Can Fedor finish Werdum?
Once his MMA career got its wheels in the early part of the â00s, Emelianenko finished virtually every fighter he faced -- the only two exceptions being Mirko âCro Copâ Filipovic and Antonio Nogueira. Nogueira was resolute over three fights, absorbing huge strikes from the bottom; Filipovic was a little too dangerous on the feet to get carried away with.
Against Werdum, itâs possible the threat of submission could keep Emelianenko from staying busy enough on the mat to get a stoppage: Werdum has only been finished once in an eight-year career.
Does Werdum have a chance?
Emelianenkoâs flashes of humanity have come on the feet, where heâs been staggered, outboxed, and cut. Werdum isnât known as a striker, though he looked sharp beating Antonio Silva to the punch last fall. Defeating Emelianenko at this point might involve tagging the tissue-paper skin on his forehead and nose and hoping the ring doctor has a quick trigger finger.
Does Finney devalue the womenâs title?
Jan âCuddlesâ Finney, who sports a near-.500 record, will be getting a title shot against âCyborgâ despite having no history with Strikeforce and no particular achievements to warrant the opportunity. (Finney is 4-0 in recent memory, but only one opponent sported a winning record; two were making their pro debuts.) While itâs impractical to shelve Santos until a deserving contender can be found, itâs an unfortunate reminder that the females of MMA have a serious equality issue when it comes to depth of talent.
Will Le be worse for the wear?
Le, 37, suffered his first defeat in a long combat sports career against Smith last fall, erasing the typical fighter trait of a teenagerâs sense of invincibility. The reality check might compel Le to ditch his flashier style in favor of a more conservative -- and defense-oriented --game.
Does Strikeforce benefit from the UFCâs smear campaign?
Barely five minutes can go by during one of the UFCâs media conferences where the Russian elephant of the room isnât mentioned: Emelianenkoâs absence from the promotion is often more prominent than athletes under their employment, a slight that usually results in White discussing -- at length -- both Strikeforce and their star attraction. While virtually none of it is flattering, Whiteâs prominence as the sportâs most heavily quoted personality gives his competition several mentions it wouldnât otherwise receive. âNo commentâ are two words White should practice.
Red Ink: Fedor vs. Werdum
There are two things that would make Dana Whiteâs face crack from happiness in the next week: Brock Lesnar retaining his title -- and immensely profitable pay-per-view appeal -- against Shane Carwin, and Werdum handing Fedor his first legitimate loss in mixed martial arts.
Werdum, 32, went 2-2 in Whiteâs promotion in 2007-08, with the only stoppage loss of his career coming against current hot prospect Junior dos Santos. If Werdum is able to take full advantage of the 15 minutes heâs been allotted, there isnât a bullet train faster than White would be in getting to a microphone and crowing about it: Werdum, the UFCâs cast-off, defeating the alleged pound-for-pound best fighter. He might even pass out.
Unfortunately for both White and Werdum, there isnât much in the fighterâs skill set that can threaten Emelianenko. Brett Rogers and Andrei Arlovski put the Russian on his heels a bit, but Werdum doesnât have that power; Antonio Nogueira survived with his back on the ground, but Werdum doesnât have that kind of constitution. When your best opportunity for winning is in a submission against a fighter whoâs never been submitted, you shouldnât go spending your win bonus.
Werdum can win, of course: Emelianenko is human, no matter what the message forum forensics indicate. Anyone can be caught. But itâll probably take a big power puncher to do it. And thatâs not Werdumâs game.
What it Means: For Emelianenko, a chance to continue a nearly flawless career; for Werdum, a chance to win and then get a big money offer to get beat up by Lesnar.
Of Note: Werdum choked out Emelianenkoâs brother Alexander -- and while Overeem would probably be the more anticipated fight for Emelianenko, Werdum beat him in 2006.
Wild Card: Emelianenkoâs stand-up has looked increasingly stiff in recent bouts, while Werdum looked sharp outboxing Antonio Silva.
Who Wins: Emelianenko hits harder, feet or ground, and has shown very little vulnerability in the grappling department. Werdum survives, but doesnât celebrate. Fedor by decision.