Fedor Emelianenko was not a household name in mixed martial arts circles before March 16, 2003. He was a 26-year-old heavyweight with a gaudy record and two Pride Fighting Championships appearances under his belt. When Emelianenko climbed into the ring to challenge Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira for his heavyweight crown at Pride 25 “Body Blow,” those in the know labeled him an underdog.
Nogueira was thought to be unbeatable by some, as he mixed an unwavering fighting spirit with superb conditioning, world-class submission skills and rugged durability. The Brazilian had not tasted defeat in nearly three years and had recently posted submission wins over the monstrous Bob Sapp, the 6-foot-11 Semmy Schilt and two-time Olympian Dan Henderson in one four-month span. What’s more, Nogueira had never been dominated, having suffered his only setback in a split verdict to Henderson in February 2000.
Emelianenko wiped out his aura of invincibility by establishing one of his own. Over the course of their 20-minute encounter, the stoic Russian brutalized Nogueira with ground-and-pound, short-circuiting his potent submission game. By the end of it, the torch had been passed, a new era had dawned.
The exceptional Emelianenko never relinquished the Pride championship and was regarded as the world’s premier heavyweight for the better part of a decade. Not until his submission defeat to Fabricio Werdum under the Strikeforce banner nearly seven years later did “The Last Emperor” release his spell on the heavyweight division. In his wake lay a vast variety of victims, including 2006 Pride open weight grand prix winner Mirko Filipovic, 2000 Olympic silver medalist Matt Lindland, the 400-pound Wagner da Conceicao Martins, the 7-foot-2 Hong Man Choi, 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix winner Mark Hunt and four former or future Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholders: Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski. Even now, the shadow he casts remains immense.
Pride 25 -- which took place at the Yokohama Arena in Yokohama, Japan, on this day 10 years ago -- also featured a quartet of memorable first-round finishes, as Quinton Jackson wiped out Randleman, Henderson thumped Shungo Oyama, Antonio Schembri put away Kazushi Sakuraba and Anderson Silva leveled Carlos Newton. Spurred by a spectacular flying knee and follow-up punches, the victory was Silva’s last inside the Pride ring. His next two appearances within the Japanese promotion resulted in submission defeats to Daiju Takase and Ryo Chonan. Few could have foreseen Silva growing into the inexorable force he has become today.
Still, Pride 25 will go down in the history books as the event in which Emelianenko began his reign over the heavyweights. No one before or since has captured the imagination of the masses quite like the man from Stary Oskol.