Dec. 31, 2004. Fedor Emelianenko defeats Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira for the second time. He is Pride’s heavyweight champion and the winner of the heavyweight Grand Prix. At the same time, UFC is in heavyweight limbo due to Frank Mir’s motorcycle accident. Few can doubt that Fedor is the best heavyweight fighter in MMA.
Fedor has won 10 more fights since then. Some have had good resumes. But at most, one has gone on to do anything significant since facing Fedor.
Call it the Curse of Fedor. Or perhaps bad matchmaking and bad timing. Emelianenko is still ranked No. 1 in the world, a claim helped by the relative inexperience of UFC champion Brock Lesnar and interim UFC champion Shane Carwin. But that ranking isn’t as certain as the No. 1s in the next three classes — Mauricio Rua, Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre.
Here’s a breakdown of what Fedor’s opponents have gone on to do:
Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, Pride Bushido 6, April 3, 2005 (doctor stoppage after first round): A rematch of Fedor’s only “loss,” a 2000 Rings tournament bout that was stopped early when Fedor was cut by an illegal strike. In most circuits, that would be declared no contest. But someone had to advance in the tournament, so Kohsaka was credited with the win. He went on to lose to Randy Couture in the same tournament and then lost to a succession of top fighters before facing Fedor again.
After Fedor: 2 wins (neither notable), 2 losses. Retired.
Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Pride Final Conflict, Aug. 28. 2005 (unanimous decision): Perhaps the last great Fedor fight. Certainly the last time to date that he’s gone the distance. Cro Cop had marched through some of the best in the game — Sakuraba, Vovchanchyn, Barnett and Coleman.
After Fedor: 11 wins, 4 losses, no contest. The best record by far of any of Fedor’s opponents of the last five years, with wins over Josh Barnett (again) and Wanderlei Silva. Yet the man with the short shorts has struggled in UFC fights, compiling a 3-3 record with no big wins and losses to Gabriel Gonzaga, Cheick Kongo and Junior dos Santos.
Zuluzinho, Pride Shockwave 2005, Dec. 31, 2005 (first-round submission to strikes): The glorious world of Japanese matchmaking brought us this Brazilian fighter, who was 15-0 when he made his Pride debut against Fedor. Twenty-six seconds later, he was 15-1. Here’s how:
After Fedor: 4 wins, 5 losses. He went on to lose to Nogueira and Eric “Butterbean” Esch in a not-so-stellar Pride career. Best win was against Ikuhisa “Minowaman” Minowa, whose 45-30-8 record tells the tale of an up-and-down career.
Mark Coleman, Pride 32, Oct. 21, 2006 (second-round armbar submission): Coleman was a fine choice as Fedor’s opponent when Pride made its first trip to the USA. He would later be named to the UFC Hall of Fame, and he was Pride’s 2000 open-weight Grand Prix champion. He had lost to Nogueira, Cro Cop and Fedor himself in the years since then, and his most notable win — over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua — was the result of a catastrophic mistake in which Rua broke his arm.
After Fedor: 1 win, 2 losses. Coleman was inactive for more than two years until the UFC brought him back for a light heavyweight rematch with Rua, in which he fought gamely but showed his age. He then took an impressive unanimous decision over Stephan Bonnar, taking down the younger fighter and beating him up old-school. But he showed little in a loss to Randy Couture and was cut from the UFC despite his Hall of Fame status and the desire of many to see him beat up Tito Ortiz, who heckled him during his postfight interview.
Mark Hunt, Pride Shockwave 2006, Dec. 31, 2006 (first-round kimura submission): The New Zealand kickboxer, whose best results were split decisions over Wanderlei Silva and Cro Cop, wasn’t the top choice to face Fedor in what turned out to be the last Pride heavyweight title fight. He still made a decent go of things before Fedor’s class won out.
After Fedor: 0 wins, 3 losses. All solid opponents — Alistair Overeem, Melvin Manhoef, Gegard Mousasi. All quick losses.
Matt Lindland, BodogFight, April 14, 2007 (first-round armbar submission): The gambling company’s brief dalliance in fight promotion included a trip to Russia, offering Fedor a chance to fight in his home country for the first time in six years. The choice of opponent was curious — middleweight Matt Lindland, who packed on a few pounds to try to even the scales. The 2000 Olympic wrestling medalist had a respectable 20-4 record, mostly against UFC and IFL opposition, but jumping two weight classes was a tall order.
After Fedor: 1 win, 2 losses. He moved to Affliction and took a unanimous decision over Fabio Nascimento, but Vitor Belfort knocked out in spectacular fashion, and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza spoiled his Strikeforce debut. He fights again Saturday against Kevin Casey.
Hong-Man Choi, Yarennoka!, Dec. 31, 2007 (first-round armbar submission): The ultimate in Japanese matchmaking eccentricity is this 7-2 Korean kickboxer. That’s his height, not his record. He had a decent kickboxing record but was 1-0 in MMA coming into this fight, having beaten TV personality Bobby Ologun. Fedor took some damage in the fight, mostly from trying to take down the much larger Choi and having him topple on top.
After Fedor: 1 win, 2 losses, but at least he beat Jose Canseco.
Tim Sylvia, Affliction: Banned, July 19, 2008 (first-round rear naked choke): Surely this would be a more legitimate traditional matchup. Sylvia had held the UFC belt 18 months earlier and was coming off a loss to Nogueira, hardly a shameful result. But the UFC had parted ways with him for some reason. And his next two fights lasted a total of 45 seconds. He survived 36 seconds against Fedor and NINE against Ray Mercer, the former boxer most notable in MMA for losing an exhibition to Kimbo Slice before Slice started training seriously.
After Fedor: 1 win, 1 loss.
Andrei Arlovski, Affliction: Day of Reckoning, Jan. 24, 2009 (first-round KO): Again, a relatively recent UFC champion would face Fedor. And Arlovski was fresh from a second-round win over Roy Nelson, albeit a mildly controversial one. Arlovski took the fight to Fedor early on. Then he rushed toward an apparently stunned Fedor with a flying attack, and Fedor swatted him out of the air and out of the fight with one well-timed punch.
After Fedor: 0 wins, 2 losses. Brett Rogers (see below) took him out in 22 seconds. Then he lost a decision to Antonio Silva.
Brett Rogers, Strikeforce, Nov. 7, 2009 (second-round TKO): Rogers was unbeaten entering the bout, having just beaten Arlovski. He was competitive in the first round, but Fedor caught him in the second and pounded him out.
After Fedor: 0 wins, 1 loss. Overeem finally returned to Strikeforce to defend his title, and he did so convincingly, taking a first-round TKO.
TOTAL RECORD: 21-24
RECORD SINCE CRO COP: 8-18
RECORD SINCE ZULUZINHO: 4-13
Fedor’s next opponent, Fabricio Werdum, beat Overeem in May 2006. He’s 5-3 since then, losing to Nogueira, Arlovski and Junior dos Santos.
Best of luck to him after June 26.