INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Most MMA retirements can be taken with a grain of salt, but it seems like the one that happened Saturday is likely to stick.
All-time heavyweight MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko (40-7 MMA, 4-3 BMMA) set down his gloves inside the cage at Bellator 290 following a first-round TKO loss to champion Ryan Bader (31-7 MMA, 9-2 BMMA) in their main event rematch.
Things went better for the legendary Russian than they did the first time the two fought in 2019, when Bader knocked out “The Last Emeperor” in 35 seconds to win the then-vacant title. This time, Bader needed a little longer, but still just half a round at Kia Forum near Los Angeles.
Bader defended his title with the win and sent Emelianenko into retirement with a loss. At 46, Emelianenko seems content with his decision.
“I feel great (about my decision),” Emelianenko said at his post-fight news conference. “My age (helped me make up my mind), first of all, but all my injuries I’ve had in the past started to remind me of it. My body doesn’t feel the same as it used to be. The only thing (I’d do differently is) beat Ryan Bader, but it didn’t happen.”
Emelianenko’s decision to hang up the gloves was one that was made long before Saturday.
Bellator knew for months that Emelianenko’s next fight likely would be his last. The promotion was in the process of booking his retirement bout in front of his home Russian fans in Moscow’s Red Square for what would have been a potentially historic moment in MMA history.
But when Russia invaded Ukraine and started a war that now is approaching a year old, thinking about putting on a fight card in Russia became an exercise in futility for Bellator.
It wound up on the West Coast, instead, and there was a buildup for his sendoff, as well as many retired MMA luminaries on hand from the early MMA era – ex-fighters like Mark Coleman, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Royce Gracie and Matt Hughes.
Emelianenko said those former fighters gave him a boost. But he also said he’ll remain active in the sport with the team he trains in Russia.
“It’s a part of my life – one of the most important parts of my life – my family and my team,” he said.
Emelianenko said even more than the wins and legendary fights – and there are plenty with his name attached, particularly under the PRIDE banner in Japan – he wants to be known for the kind of sportsmanship that has become an MMA rarity.
“I want to be remembered as (a modest competitor),” he said. “I take everything as it happens. If I win, lose, it doesn’t really matter. That’s how it has to happen. You saw today, the whole arena was cheering me up (after I lost). I get my popularity and my fan base based on my actions inside the cage, not because I was doing trash talk and talking bad about my opponents.”
Check out Emelianenko’s full post-fight interview in the video above.
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