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Fedor Emelianenko retired from MMA last week to little fan fare. In a lot of ways it’s sad that Fedor never really got the full respect and attention he deserved from the American audience. With “The Last Emperor" fighting in smaller organizations against lesser known competition during his twilight years, the average MMA fan might recognize the name but not fully grasp the important that Fedor had on the sport.
I remember the first time I saw Fedor fight. Like many others I didn’t think he looked like anything special physically and his last name was one of the weirdest I’d had seen at the time. However, the highlight video I saw of him man-handling Semmy Schilt (K-1 Legend) was impressive. When I found out his next fight would be against one of my favorite Pride Heavyweights, Heath Herring, for a #1 contenders spot, I was excited. For those of you that might not have been fans then, Heath Herring and Big Nog fought for the first Heavyweight title in Pride history. At the time it was easily the best heavyweight fight I’d ever seen. I was amped for my boy to make quick work of this doughy Russian so we could finally see the rematch the whole MMA world wanted to see. However, I was in for a rude awakening and the first real glimpse of Fedor’s greatness.
When Fedor fought Herring it almost seemed unreal. Heath had been on a tear in Pride, at the time only losing the super competitive fight against Big Nog and smashing all others that were in his way. However, Fedor handled Herring in that fight with relative ease, getting big throws and some of the nastiest GnP I’d ever seen. Even though towards the end of the first round it seemed like Fedor was gassing a bit, the damage had already been done. Heath Herring wasn’t allowed to continue on to the second round due to a nasty cut. With this fight I knew Fedor was for real, but I still didn’t think he had a chance to beat Big Nog. At that time Big Nog was the man in Pride, besides the “freak show” fight with Bob Sapp no one had been able to put Big Nog in any type of real trouble. I remember it was around this time the Pride FC video game for Playstation 2 was coming out and I had befriended one of the developers on an MMA Forum. I remember he told me he thought Fedor was going to win and I thought this guy was nuts and, as a result, that game would surely suck. How wrong I was.