One unfortunate aspect of being a latecomer to MMA is that I clearly missed some of the best fighters in their prime. I know Chuck Liddell dominated for years, but the first time I saw him in person, Rashad Evans knocked him unconscious. A couple more KOs later, he’s done.
Fedor Emelianenko is a more complicated story. Though he looks like your middle-aged uncle, he’s only 34, not too old for a sport that sees many fighters remain competitive past 40. But his glory years were a long time ago.
Since beating Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira on New Year’s Eve 2004, the only fighter he has beaten who has had significant wins after facing Fedor is the erratic Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic. Everyone else was on the downside of his career (Mark Coleman, Mark Hunt, Tim Sylvia) or not an appropriate matchup (Hong Man Choi, Matt Lindland). Andrei Arlovski was beating Fedor he flew into a Fedor punch, and the man with the vampire teeth has been knocked out three straight times since then. Brett Rogers gave Fedor fits.
Then, at last, came the losses. Fabricio Werdum may have been lucky to land a submission while Fedor was in what seemed to be a good position. But tonight, Antonio Silva manhandled him. The second round teetered close to a 10-7 round, which is as rare in MMA as a T-shirt without a garish design.
Given Fedor’s sporadic activity, the result of nagging hand injuries and his stubborn management, it’s been difficult to assess his dedication to training and his form. Tonight, you’d have to conclude that he’s just not the old Fedor. Had he signed with the UFC, there’s no reason to think Brock Lesnar, Cain Velasquez, Shane Carwin or Junior dos Santos couldn’t have done to Fedor what Silva did to him tonight.
Strikeforce’s Scott Coker is insisting we’ll see Fedor again in the organization. At this point, it’s hardly worth it. Fedor hinted strongly at retirement in his postfight comments, and that wouldn’t be a bad decision. Another option: Could anyone blame Fedor if he took a couple of ceremonial farewell fights in Japan and Russia to say goodbye where he was most successful?
Strikeforce simply can’t afford to tie its fortunes too tightly to a fighter who is anything but the crafty, invincible legend he was six years ago. They’re not repeating the mistake of EliteXC in overhyping a fighter (Kimbo Slice) who had never done anything to warrant legend status, but they have to be prepared to move on. The foundation has to be strong enough to stand on its own.
Similarly, the announcing team Showtime has in place does Strikeforce no favors by treating it soooo seriously. That extends to the ring announcers who spend a couple of minutes per fight telling us that the guy walking to the cage is “respected” or “heavy-handed.” Then Gus Johnson gets Mauro Ranallo and Frank Shamrock to explain again how big this Strikeforce event really is. The more they talk about it, the less we’re inclined to believe it.
The funny thing is that Strikeforce looks and sounds much better for the prelims on HDNet, with Michael Schiavello and Bas Rutten on the mikes. They are by no means disrespectful to the fighters, but they have fun. They allow fans to share their excitement rather than imploring them to be excited.
To their credit, Ranallo and Shamrock are perceptive commentators. When the technical skills aren’t there, as was the case in Chad Griggs’ wild-swinging win over Gian Villante, they say so. But when they lurch into salesman mode, they do so rather awkwardly.
Ideally, Schiavello and Rutten could call the fights, with Ranallo doing interviews and Shamrock giving analysis between fights or between rounds. Make it entertaining, and it’ll sell itself.