Emelianenko, a Russian regarded by many as one of the greatest in the sport’s history, not just at heavyweight but in any weight class, had his final fight Saturday near Los Angeles.
Emelianenko (40-6 MMA, 4-2 BMMA) challenged champion Ryan Bader (30-7 MMA, 8-2 BMMA) for the heavyweight title in the Bellator 290 main event. It was a rematch of a fight that won Bader the belt in 2019 when he took out “The Last Emperor” in 35 seconds.
He needed a little longer Saturday, but Bader still put the 46-year-old away in the first round.
Emelianenko will focus on coaching and training fighters who are part of his team in Russia. But now that he’s officially retired his resume is more clear for those who want to have the discussion about where he falls on the list of the sport’s all-time greats.
Because Emelianenko never fought in the UFC, he has detractors – including UFC president Dana White, who once famously tried to get the Russian to the UFC, but never could close the deal, reportedly largely because of a refusal to co-promote with M-1 Global.
After Emelianenko’s loss to Bader, who used to be among White’s light heavyweights in the UFC and one of his “Ultimate Fighter” season winners, White didn’t exactly dole out high praise.
“What is the guy, like 46? Yeah – he shouldn’t be fighting,” White said after UFC Fight Night 218 in Las Vegas. “But he’s a grown-ass man and he can do whatever he wants to do. But he probably should’ve hung it up a few years ago.”
White said there’s a proverbial asterisk on Emelianenko’s resume because he wasn’t a UFC fighter.
“I don’t dislike Fedor or anything like that,” White said. “It didn’t happen. We gave it a shot. You can’t say we didn’t try. We gave it a shot, and it is what it is.
“I don’t want to sh*t on the guy – he’s retiring (Saturday) and all that stuff. But you guys know the old interviews with me – I never thought Fedor was that (good). I mean, he got knocked out by middleweight Dan Henderson. I think some of the guys in the business, people liked them, so they praised them. He never got to test himself over here. I never was one of the guys that thought he was one of the greatest of all time.”
Over the course of nearly a decade, Emelianenko won 27 straight fights, mostly under the PRIDE banner, but later for the short-lived Affliction promotion and Strikeforce, which is where he forged a relationship with Scott Coker, who brought him into the fold with Bellator once he was president there.
For Bellator, Emelianenko beat former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir, former UFC light heavyweight champ Quinton Jackson, former UFC title challenger Chael Sonnen and former Bellator title challenger Timothy Johnson – all by first-round knockout. But his three losses in the promotion all were first-round knockouts, as well.
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for Bellator 290.
Twitter reacts to Fedor Emelianenko’s retirement-fight loss to Ryan Bader at Bellator 290