Fedor Emelianenko has had a remarkable career, with many notable highlights.
It got one final one last night, following his retirement after a KO win over Pedro Rizzo in St. Petersburg. The fight was attended by Russian president Vladimir Putin, and he entered the ring after the match to eulogise Fedor personally.
“I want to congratulate Fedor and thank him from all of us, martial arts fans. It is because of him this sport became so popular in our country,” said the Russian premier, literally one of the most powerful and high-profile men in the world.
Putin has a background in judo and in the Soviet Union’s KBG secret service; he is a man’s man who courts a tough image. His association with Fedor - he has been to watch him several times - aids that image but at the same time, Putin’s liking of Fedor and of MMA in general is undoubtedly genuine.
Fedor told the St. Petersburg audience that he will be hanging the gloves up now to spend more time with his family. The announcement has been greeted warmly by his fans, who have largely counselled for it ever since he went on a three-fight slide under the Strikeforce banner.
He had a 31-1 record at the time he moved to Strikeforce, following his US debut win over Tim Sylvia and subsequent stoppage of Andrei Arlovski. When he stopped Brett Rogers it seemed it would not be long before he challenged for the Strikeforce title.
But impartial observers thought that Rogers had troubled the Russian great more than he should have and when Fedor then went into a match with Fabricio Werdum, he suffered a shock upset as he was submitted quickly. It was the first legitimate loss of his career.
Two more losses followed. First, a mauling at the hands of Antonio Silva which saw him exit the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix. Then, a TKO loss to Dan Henderson in what was technically a heavyweight match (Henderson was only just inside the heavyweight limit and there was little difference between that and his regular light-heavy weight on fight night)
Fedor then left Strikeforce and had three more fights, two in his native Russia and one in Japan. The opponents were not particularly inspirational - Jeff Monson, Satoshi Ishii and Rizzo last night - but they were at least a run of wins to end his career with. At 35 years old, he is unlikely to recapture his earlier form and a dignified exit is a good move.
His legacy in the sport will be a lasting one. No fighter has ever had the aura of invincibility that Fedor had in his prime, nor has any heavyweight had so many consecutive wins over opponents who at the time were at the top of the world rankings.