Heading into his most recent fight at EFN 50 last Friday (June 17, 2016), legendary heavyweight Fedor “The Last Emperor” Emelianenko was reportedly “closer than ever” to signing with the UFC.
But then the fight took place, and the situation became quite a bit cloudier.
Perhaps unsurprising to many, a 38-year-old Emelianenko simply looked like a fighter far past his prime, and he certainly didn’t look like the version of himself that was considered to be the very best heavyweight of all-time who went nearly ten years without surrendering a defeat.
Taking on a much smaller Fabio Maldonado, Emelianenko was bloodied, battered, and nearly finished early before recovering and fighting back to secure a highly questionable majority decision. In the aftermath of the bout, many were calling for the Russian legend to retire, and it appeared as if far less fans wanted to see him finally compete under the UFC banner.
While it’s clear that his skills aren’t where they once were, the UFC is a business, and Emelianenko is and always has been a huge draw. UFC President Dana White even said that his fight, which was broadcasted live on UFC Fight Pass, did very well from a ratings standpoint.
Emelianenko’s future with the UFC is unclear, but it’s quite an interesting time to look at the top five UFC opponents for “The Last Emperor” if he were to indeed sign with the promotion (listed in no particular order).
From a promotional standpoint, even at this stage of each man’s career, a fight between Fedor Emeliankenko and Brock Lesnar is still one of the biggest potential fights in all of MMA. The UFC had attempted to book the fight years ago and fans were hoping to see it when “The Last Emperor” was running through everyone in his path and Lesnar was the UFC heavyweight champion, but it may not be too late.
Lesnar, who temporarily retired after suffering from diverticulitis and losing to Alistair Overeem in 2011, recently announced that he would be making his return to fighting at the upcoming UFC 200 card on July 9 against heavy-handed slugger Mark Hunt. Like Emelianenko, Lesnar is 38 years of age and his skillset is currently questionable given his time away from the sport.
However, if Lesnar can even look somewhat decent at UFC 200 and perhaps pick up a win over “The Super Samoan,” a fight between him and “The Last Emperor” may be too monumental to pass up. Also, it would make sense for the Russian, as it would present a big money fight against a man who likely isn’t a top a heavyweight at this point in his career.
Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva
After his historic run in Pride and other organizations, Emelianenko headed to Strikeforce in 2009, and it was there his career began to take a turn for the worse. “The Last Emperor” scored a knockout in his first bout with the promotion, but he then went on a devastating three-fight losing skid that served as the catalyst towards his hiatus from the sport.
One of those three losses came by way of TKO via doctor’s stoppage at the hands of UFC heavyweight Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva. Silva was at one point a fearsome giant, but he has since fallen on rough times, losing four of his last five with all four of those losses coming by way of striking stoppage.
It’s safe to say that both he and Emelianenko are on the backside of their careers, but that’s why this bout may make sense. Also, this bout would give “The Last Emperor” a chance at redemption before he and the Brazilian ride off into the sunset.
Before Silva could take out Emelianenko, former UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio “Vai Cavalo” Werdum did the honors in shocking fashion. Heading into his bout with Werdum, Emelianenko had gone 28 fights and nearly a decade with suffering a loss. The Russian was on top of the world, and at the height of his career.
When the cage door closed in June 2010, however, “The Last Emperor’s” reign would come to an end, and in a way very few saw coming. Despite Werdum’s elite-level submission skillset, Emelianenko was known for his brutal ground and pound, and if he were to get on top of an opponent, it usually wasn’t far from the end. This time, however, the Brazilian locked in a triangle choke and dethroned the great Emelianenko.
After beating the Russian, “Vai Cavalo” would go on to win six of his next seven and become the UFC heavyweight champion before suffering a brutal knockout loss in his first title defense against Stipe Miocic at last month’s UFC 198 from Curitiba, Brazil.
Despite his age, Werdum has appeared to be closer to his prime than Emelianenko, but the fight could still make sense. “Vai Cavalo” is coming off of a loss, and Emelianenko would once again get a chance at revenge. The Brazilian has expressed his interest in the bout, and it could be a huge fight for the UFC.
Emelianenko was able to score a knockout victory over Andrei Arlovski in their first meeting at an Affliction event back in 2009. In 2016, the two men are now aging champions, and a rematch could be an intriguing UFC debut for “The Last Emperor”.
The “Pitbull” looked to be rejuvenated, winning four straight bouts upon his return to the UFC in 2014, but he has since dropped two straight. He will now take on Josh Barnett in the main event of UFC Fight Night Hamburg this September, and win or lose, he would be a possible option to meet “The Last Emperor”.
Arlovski’s power striking up against Emelianenko’s famous ground and pound in a rematch could provide an interesting clash of styles in order to see just which iconic heavyweight has more juice left in the tank.
Like Arlovski, Josh “Warmaster” Barnett is an aging former UFC heavyweight champion that could provide Emelianenko with a formidable challenge. He hasn’t been too active in recent years, and his skillset has likely diminished a bit with age, but his bout with Arlovski should give us more insight into that.
Regardless, Barnett’s grappling pedigree and toughness along with his name value would be a worthy challenge to welcome “The Last Emperor” to the Octagon. That is, if the Russian and the promotion can indeed come to terms on an agreement.
If Emelianenko ends up signing with the UFC, who would you like to see him fight?