The deal is done; the stage is set; the time is fast approaching: three clichés that fans around the world have been eagerly waiting to hear. On February 12th, when the first bell sounds to kick off what is being widely considered as the greatest heavyweight tournament in mixed martial arts history, it’s in proper fashion that the assembled cast of superstars set to collide in the single-elimination brackets include Fedor Emelianenko.
Widely considered one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, heavyweight fighter in the sport’s history, Emelianenko’s unprecedented run of 28 consecutive victories spanning nearly a decade of fighting marked the Stary Oskol, Russia native as a true ambassador for what ‘sportsmanship’ was meant to define in MMA.
With the world reeling after his shocking upset loss to Fabricio Werdum this past June, a humble man considered to be the most dangerous human being on the planet spoke to the media with a quote that embodies a warrior’s heart and humility: “A man that does not fall, does not stand up.” A truly inspirational message from the mild-mannered athlete which succinctly described his acceptance that the streak was over and the time for a new battle was imminent on the horizon. At the time, no one could have predicted that the horizon included his position in a tournament of such epic proportions.
In the main event of M-1 Global and Strikeforce’s co-promoted event from the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Emelianenko (31-2, 1 NC) is set to take on Antonio Silva (15-2) in the evening’s second quarterfinal fight of the three-stage, single-elimination tournament. With all eight participants equally talented, no fighter is receiving a free pass to advance to the semi-finals and Silva represents a true threat in his own right as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt winning eight of his last nine; all but two of his victories have come by knockout with only five tilts venturing past five minutes.
But the great Fedor Emelianenko has fought some the most recognizable names in the sport as well; men like Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Andrei Arlovski and Mark “The Hammer” Coleman and has defeated many of his rival superstars in devastating first-round fashions of his own. Clearly the heavyweight tournament of 2011 represents a new era of increasingly talented, hybridized mixed martial artists and marks a new challenge for Emelianenko, who is as stoic and ready as he has ever been. “I have been training very hard since my last fight and eager to get back inside the cage. Strikeforce has assembled a roster filled with the best heavyweights in the world and I’m blessed to have the opportunity to fight them in a great tournament format.”
With only one other official loss to his record resulting from a doctor stoppage due to an early cut against Tsuyoshi Kosaka during their December, 2000 bout, Fedor seized the opportunity to avenge the blemish nearly five years later with his own first-round TKO of Kosaka at a PRIDE Fighting Championships event. If the brackets play out in favour of Fedor’s fans, Emelianenko could face Werdum later this year and provide yet another grand stage to avenge his second career loss within the tournament. But following in the humble footsteps of Emelianenko, fans will wait in earnest for the clock to tick down to February 12th and play out the ‘what-if’ scenarios at the close of this legendary tournament’s first bouts.