Antonio Silva delivered a shocking upset Saturday night, stopping Fedor Emelianenko after two rounds and possibly even retiring the Russian great. Silva‚Äôs win came on the heels of another potentially career-busting knockout, as Sergei Kharitonov took out former UFC champ Andrei Arlovski in their Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix quarterfinal.
Strikeforce‚Äôs tournament was designed to take the promotion to another level in 2011, with the Silva-Emelianenko winner facing the victor of the April 9 Fabricio Werdum-Alistair Overeem matchup in what would be a major fight. Kharitonov is set to meet the winner of Josh Barnett-Brett Rogers, but a reshuffling of expectations is possible for some -- certainly not all -- in the wake of Silva‚Äôs upset, which eliminated the tournament‚Äôs biggest attraction.
Below, a closer look at the storylines that emerged from the first round of the grand prix.
Fedor‚Äôs Legacy, Version 3.0
MMA historians were probably the most disturbed by Saturday night‚Äôs card, with Silva‚Äôs dismantling of Emelianenko providing a shocking example of how a legendary fighter can become suddenly human.
Was Fedor ever a great fighter? Unequivocally, yes. But he‚Äôs not the same fighter he used to be. Theories on why that is may vary, but the size and skill of today‚Äôs heavyweights cannot be ignored as factors.
Great fighters, over time, turn from sprinters to quarter-mile runners. They still have the ability to do amazing things, but not as often and with the sustained effectiveness that defined their prime. Emelianenko showed flashes of his old self in the opening round against Silva, using fast hands and thundering shots, but was literally fighting a giant who towered over him.
Silva, who reported his fight night weight at 285 pounds, was simply too big for the 230-pound Emelianenko in all the places it mattered. The Brazilian ‚ÄúBigfoot‚ÄĚ absorbed Fedor‚Äôs punches, pinned him against the cage and absolutely dominated on the ground. Once possessing some of the slipperiest hips on the planet, Fedor no longer had the ability to
Silva dominated Fedor on the floor.
make things happen, at least not against a massive Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt like Silva.
To Fedor‚Äôs credit, he‚Äôs still a wonderfully tough son of a gun. His escape from Silva‚Äôs crushing arm-triangle choke was breathtaking theater, and none could help but wonder, as Fedor returned to his corner after the second round with his right eye swollen shut, if the legend would come out slugging and turn the fight around.
That is exactly what Fedor has given to the MMA world all these years: the sense of high drama, his comebacks from all kinds of dire situations. On this night, it was not to be, as the fight was waved off before the final round.
It is hard to hold this bout against Emelianenko, same as it was hard to judge Muhammad Ali for retiring on his stool against former sparring partner Larry Holmes. But it‚Äôs also eminently clear that today‚Äôs heavyweights are bigger and better than ever. How that plays out in defining Fedor‚Äôs legacy is left to the historians.
Silva‚Äôs ground game and imposing style are going to be tough for anyone. He has clearly improved since his decision loss to Werdum in 2009, and anybody he gets on the ground for a good stretch is going to have serious problems.
Did the UFC Get it Right?
During the Fedor sweepstakes of 2009, the UFC reportedly offered Emelianenko million for six fights, though the Russian‚Äôs management at M-1 Global flatly denied that such an offer was ever made. When talks broke down, fans and pundits had varying opinions on which party was in the right.
Since then, the UFC has assembled a robust heavyweight division. But when it comes to negotiation, price has everything to do with market conditions, and conditions were absolutely perfect in summer 2009 for a Fedor acquisition. On July 11, at the heavily promoted UFC 100, superstar Brock Lesnar destroyed Frank Mir in their bitter rematch, prompting much discussion of a Lesnar-Fedor megafight.
The UFC went fishing for Fedor, and MMA media produced reams of coverage on the dance between Zuffa LLC and M-1, with plot twists and recriminations aplenty regarding the reasons for the negotiations‚Äô breakdown.
There is no telling whether the UFC actually put a million deal on the table with Emelianenko, but regardless of what Fedor was offered in 2009, he would not command a fraction of the price today.
One of the known sticking points in negotiations was the UFC‚Äôs refusal to co-promote events with M-1 Global, as Strikeforce did on Saturday. At this point, it is apparent that the UFC made a wise move in refusing to do so. In 2009, Fedor‚Äôs free agent status was a tantalizing prospect, but the UFC has shown consistently that it will not fold to those it does not agree with.
Fedor‚Äôs performance on Saturday showed that, whatever that UFC offered the Russian heavyweight, it may well have been for a once-great, shopworn champion. Fighters can only carry a promotion for so long, but the brand itself has to be promoted once those fighters are no longer at the top.