Few men have caused so much trouble by doing so little. In the past year Fedor Emelianenko has sparked controversy and debate, provided the impetus for the creation of one new company and strained relationships within another, and all while barely maintaining an active career as a pro fighter.
We of the MMA media are more than a little complicit in all this. We’ve hailed Fedor as the greatest, then lambasted him when he dared to chase a paycheck instead of carrying the mantle we had thrust upon him. Now that he’s seemingly come to his senses and is leaving M-1 for greener pastures, we have to find something else to get upset about.
Don’t worry. If it’s one thing MMA writers and fans alike are good at, it’s manufacturing discontent.
A recent article by Sherdog ace Jake Rossen got the ball rolling. In it, Rossen takes aim at, among other things, Fedor’s position atop the rankings. The support for this criticism comes primarily from Fedor’s inactivity, which is fair. In the last fifteen months Fedor has fought a circus freak, a middleweight, and a K-1 kickboxer with a limited ground game. Then again, he beat them all in the first round. If the sharpest complaint you can level at him is that it took him a few minutes longer than expected to finish opponents who he far outclassed, you have to wonder how much you really have to gripe about.
But let’s be honest, most of the Fedor-hate these days doesn’t have anything to do with his fighting ability. It’s about his business decisions. To be more specific, it’s about his decision not to fight in America, for American audiences. Spurning an offer from the UFC was the first step. Dana White claimed publicly that Fedor was overrated, which doesn’t explain why he offered him millions to fight for the UFC or why he’s now trying to hype two-time Fedor victim Mark Coleman, but still.
The point is that complaints about Fedor’s recent opponents are legitimate, but not as a criticism of his abilities as a fighter. All Fedor has ever done is beat whoever was put in front of him. Granted, he may not have made the best choices about who to trust as a manager or promoter or matchmaker — and he wouldn’t be the first fighter to be taken advantage of in that regard — but it doesn’t mean he isn’t the best heavyweight in the world.
What this is really about is sour grapes and hurt feelings. That goes for those on the production and promotion side, such as the UFC, as well as for fans and the media. Because Fedor is unbeaten, it’s easy for us to say he is untested. And if we say he’s untested, well, we demand to see him tested. Fedor’s admittedly poor business decisions of late have denied us that opportunity, and so we lash out at him. We try and take back the title that we gave him — world’s best fighter — as if it might somehow convince him to come to America just to placate us.
Odds are Fedor doesn’t care what we say about him. Maybe he doesn’t even know. There’s a good chance that all he cares about are the zeros on his paycheck, and if you don’t think that’s an honorable enough motivation you should bring it up with Randy Couture and see what he tells you. All the talk about who’s the best in the world doesn’t mean much at the end of the day, so it’s hard to criticize a guy for not placing as much importance on it as we do.
Whatever we may say about him when our feelings get hurt, the truth is that Fedor has been nothing short of dominant in his career as a fighter. He’s beaten everyone he’s faced, even if his list of opponents of late isn’t what we’d like it to be. He’s still Fedor. His abilities — once the match is finally set and the opening bell rings — are still unassailable. We know this. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t spend so much time arguing about him. And then what would we do? Nothing that’s this much fun, that’s for sure.