The 32-year-old Russian looked more vulnerable than he has in the five years since Kazuyuki Fujita rocked him badly in their Pride encounter (Emelianenko won that one, too).
At this point in his career, though, Emelianenko does not need to dominate every aspect of a fight to win. All he needs is just a second of inattentiveness, just a small mistake on which to capitalize.
He has reached that level after years of competition. In this article, Sherdog.com reflects on the five best performances from the best heavyweight in MMA.
5. vs. Ricardo Arona (Dec. 22, 2000, in Osaka, Japan)
Emelianenko faced one of his toughest challenges just months into his career. In the opening round of the 2000 Rings “King of Kings” tournament -- one of the biggest, most prestigious and star-studded tournaments in the history of the sport -- he faced Ricardo Arona.
Like Fedor, Arona had just two MMA bouts under his belt, but the Brazilian was considered the best submission wrestler in the game at the time. He had Emelianenko in all kinds of trouble on the mat, taking him down at will, taking his back, even mounting him several times. After he was unable to finish the Russian, however, two of the three judges declared the fight a draw and sent it into overtime. Knowing he had to do more, Fedor turned it up in the extra round, scoring on the feet and stuffing multiple takedown attempts.
He also worked a tight guillotine choke to deflate the Brazilian, as he had throughout the fight. Arona continued to dominate the positional game, but Fedor stayed active on the bottom and punched from his back. Although completely exhausted, he eventually swept Arona and scored some shots to the body.
In the end, all three judges named Fedor the winner for a remarkable come-from-behind victory.
4. vs. Heath Herring (Nov. 24, 2002, in Tokyo)
American Heath Herring was one of the main stars for top-flight Japanese promotion Pride Fighting Championships between 2000 and 2003. “The Texas Crazy Horse” had turned more than a few heads with a trio of big wins over feared opponents like Tom Erikson, Mark Kerr and Igor Vovchanchyn, and his only notable defeat was to then-reigning champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in one of the best heavyweight fights of all time.
Herring was used to bullying opponents around the ring, but against Fedor he was completely outmatched and took a colossal beating. Not only could he not bully the Russian, he was suplexed and schooled on the ground.
It was this performance that earned Emelianenko a reputation as the world’s most dangerous ground-and-pound fighter. The damage he did inside Herring’s guard left the Texan looking as if he had been worked on with a mallet. After 10 minutes of some of the most vicious ground-and-pound in the history of MMA, the ringside doctor called the fight for Fedor.
They touch gloves. Right-left-right combination by Fedor. A couple of uppercuts and looping punches follow, and Sylvia goes down. Fedor pounds on him, takes his back and chokes out the former UFC heavyweight champion in just 36 seconds.
Even though it wasn’t his quickest victory (he has won at 12 and 26 seconds), it certainly was one of his most impressive over a tough and durable opponent.
2. vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Dec. 31, 2004, in Saitama, Japan)
Their first two meetings had been incongruous. After their first encounter, Nogueira said he had fought with a sciatic nerve contusion. The second bout ended in an anticlimactic no contest after both fighters butted heads, which opened a nasty gash on the Russian’s forehead. When they finally met to end their personal trilogy, both fighters were in fantastic shape and both the Pride heavyweight championship and the Pride heavyweight grand prix titles were on the line.
Nogueira came in lighter than usual, believing he had to be more mobile than in their previous bouts. “Minotauro” had prepared with the Cuban national boxing team for the fight and landed a couple of nice combinations on the Russian. He also took Emelianenko down late in the first round, moved to side control and even briefly had his back as time expired. That was as close as he got, though.
As good as Nogueira was, Fedor was still a little better, blocking and reversing the takedown attempts the Brazilian threw at him. On the feet, Nogueira may have had the more refined boxing style, but Fedor simply punished him with bombs.
By the close of the second round, Nogueira was fading fast. The third stanza saw some vintage Fedor ground-and-pound, as he ended one of the sport’s most memorable rivalries in style to win a unanimous decision.
1. vs. Mirko Filipovic (Aug. 28, 2005, in Saitama, Japan)
In MMA’s version of Ali-Foreman, Emelianenko and Croatian kickboxer Mirko Filipovic finally met after nearly two years of buildup. Even though the fight did not quite live up to the crazy expectations fans and experts alike had for it, it was perhaps the testament to Emelianenko’s greatness.
To everyone’s surprise, it was Fedor who stalked the world champion kickboxer inside the ring, pressing the action with looping punches and crisp combinations. When Cro Cop became too dangerous with his counterstriking style, Emelianenko took the fight to the mat, where he worked his bread-and-butter game of ground-and-pound. Although Filipovic had his moments -- he cut Emelianenko’s eyelid with his patented left high kick and broke the Russian’s nose with punches -- he was visibly frustrated and disheartened after not only taking a beating on the ground but also in the standup portions of the fight.
In the end Fedor was too much for Filipovic. With his previously outstanding takedown defense and devastating kicks and punches rendered useless, the Croatian gave in to the superior strength and skill of “The Last Emperor,” who won a unanimous decision in the finest performance of his career.