Fedor Emelianenko ends legendary MMA career with needless drubbing at Bellator 290

by 24USATVFeb. 5, 2023, 6 a.m. 20

There were so many legends of MMA in the cage who traveled to Inglewood, California, from every corner of the country who knew exactly the feeling Fedor Emelianenko had on Saturday.

The legendary Russian heavyweight, who in the first half of this century helped make MMA what it is today, had just been knocked out in 2:30 by Ryan Bader in the main event of Bellator 290 at The Forum.

There was a scratch on his nose. Blood dripped from his lip. His face was reddened. He was winded as he tried to express his emotions after an incredible 23-year career had come to an end.

So many of his former rivals, and his peers from a time when MMA literally had to fight to survive another day, were brought to California by Bellator to celebrate his retirement.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, though anyone who knows the fight game had to know in his heart of hearts that, indeed, it would.

It happened to "The Greatest," Muhammad Ali, in Nassau, Bahamas, in 1981, when he was beaten by Trevor Berbick. At Ali’s peak, Berbick wasn’t good enough to tie his shoes, but at the end, Ali suffered an ignominious beating.

So many of those in the cage with Emelianenko suffered the same fate. Mark Coleman, who was beaten twice by Emelianenko at a time when both were in their primes, ended by losing three of his last four and was knocked out by Randy Couture in the second round of his final bout.

Couture, one of the few legends of the early days of MMA that Emelianenko did not meet, was knocked out via front kick at age 47 in the second round by Lyoto Machida. Chuck Liddell was there, and he lost his final four, all by knockout, and dropped six of his final seven.

Quinton “Rampage” Jackson called it quits at 41 after he was knocked out in 2019 by Emelianenko of all people. Matt Hughes lost his final two by knockout; Frank Shamrock was knocked out in his final two and lost three of his last four before retiring at 38.

It’s a lengthy list, which only proves the brutal nature of combat sports. MMA heartlessly, cruelly devours its legends and another went down the same path on Saturday.

Let’s be honest here for a moment: Emelianenko, at 46, had no business being in the cage on Saturday. Golf and baseball lend themselves to Senior Tours and Old-Timer Games. Fighting sports most certainly do not.

Bader is far from the greatest fighter, or even greatest heavyweight in the world, but he’s a solid professional who has never lost at heavyweight. After Saturday’s bout, he improved his record at heavyweight to 7-0 by getting his third finish in the division.

One of those came in 2019 when he knocked out the same man in the same building in the same round in the same one-sided manner. Emelianenko lasted only 35 seconds in 2019, and there was no reason for him to go on.

He’s idolized by so many, most specifically by fighters who grew up and got interested in MMA by watching him look invincible as he reeled off 27 consecutive victories over nearly 10 years against some of the finest heavyweights in MMA history.

His time had long since passed prior to Saturday’s needless drubbing. There’s an exception to every rule, but a very good rule of thumb for fight promoters to follow is when the idea pops into one’s head to put a 46-year-old person into a cagefight to drop the idea immediately.

We didn’t need to see that happen to anyone, but especially not to one of the greats of the sport. It would have been better to have him give a curtain call without fighting, letting the fans say goodbye by watching a perfectly edited highlight reel and having his peers in the cage to shake his hand and congratulate him on a job well done.

As it was, sweaty, bloodied and battered, Emelianenko was all grace and class in the cage when it was done.

“At one side, I’m sad of course that I didn’t deliver in the fight,” Emelianenko said in the cage through a translator. “On the other side, though, I’m happy that all these people are here cheering for me and all these veteran fighters who have walked this path with me for the last 20 years are here to greet me, so I’m very happy.”

Bader, of course, made his name as a heavyweight in 2019 by knocking out Emelianenko and then wished him goodbye by pummeling him in his retirement fight.

Bader didn’t want to talk about what he’d done, because from an actual fighting point of view, what he did on Saturday was no big deal taking out a 46-year-old man who had lost the zip on his fastball years prior.

He wanted to talk about what it meant to twice share the cage with Emelianenko, an emotion many of those other fighters reflected upon themselves when they greeted him after the carnage.

“It’s not even the wins; it’s being able to compete against that man,” Bader said. “That first fight was amazing; this one was the same deal. There’s such a build-up, or whatever, fighting Fedor. Standing across that cage from him was pretty surreal.”

The Emelianenko Era is over, later than it should be but it’s finally done. Time will determine where he should be ranked, how high up on the all-time list he should be placed. But the look of the legends who turned out to pay tribute to this stoic Russian warrior on Saturday should tell you all you need to know about his role in the history of the sport of mixed martial arts.

Few have ever done it better.


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