As Fedor Emelianenko, now 40, gears up for a headline slot at Madison Square Garden, New York this Saturday (June 24), Fighters Only spoke to four of his victims to find out what it’s like to compete against ‘The Last Emperor’, otherwise known as MMA’s greatest ever heavyweight.
Matt Mitrione, look away now…
Today is the turn of Australia’s Chris Haseman, the man Fedor defeated in 2001 to take the Absolute Class Tournament crown in Japan’s Rings organization.
Haseman: “I knew very little about him. I felt like that fight was Fedor’s entry point. It was his pro card, so to speak. I was his key to the next level. I actually thought I was going to win that fight. I didn’t have any hesitation at all going in.
“Fedor was like a Mack Truck with no off switch. His dexterity and his punching was something else. He was very explosive. He puts everything into every punch he throws. He launches himself. He had that rotational strength that meant he could throw an under-hook and put someone on their back with just half a rotation. He does it so easily. I remember everything.
“Even if you can match him kilo for kilo or pound for pound, the guy would probably out-power most. When I fought him, we’re talking about probably a 15-kilo difference. I was really up against it, but even if we had weighed the same, the difference in power and strength would have remained.
“It’s almost like Fedor doesn’t think about what you’re doing. He only thinks about himself and what he’s going to do. It’s not like he ever sits there and watches what you’re doing or weighs up what he will do next. As soon as the fight starts, he’s going to work and take the initiative. There is no time to pause or think or breathe. He’s on you. He doesn’t bother trying to work out what you’re going to do. He’s just on that front foot and going after you. That’s why I always compare him to a big truck. It’s accelerating and coming right at you. It seems to be at one speed the whole time.
“I fought Matt Hughes, Evan Tanner, even Mark Kerr in Abu Dhabi. Mark Kerr was on everything bar roller-skates, but Fedor was in a different league to all those guys. It was his dexterity that was most impressive. Fedor’s key is being a little off-tempo. His punches come from every angle. Sometimes when you fight the most practiced and technical fighter you can read what they’re going to do. With Fedor, though, that was never the case. He had a style and a rhythm all of his own. The punches would come in sets, but no two sets were ever the same. There was no chance to second guess him or get to grips with his tempo. He sets his own pace and rhythm. It’s not like any other.
“People say he doesn’t look intimidating but I don’t know whether that’s true. Sometimes I see people who try to not look concerned. And you can tell they’re trying hard to come across that way. But, with Fedor, that’s just him. He puts the fear of the unknown on you. I’d rather someone tried to stare me down. That allows me to get a read on them. You look at the guys who are supposedly scary and intimidating, the ones who get in people’s faces, and you know most of the time it’s just for show. Fedor is quite comfortable being himself and that’s scarier than anything.
“I care about Fedor. I selfishly wanted him to retire. I didn’t want him to tarnish his legacy. In 2009 and 2010 Fedor was the best heavyweight on the planet and probably the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. He was regarded by some as the toughest man to ever walk the planet. I wanted him to keep that because I’d fought him. I was able to say, ‘Yeah, I fought that guy.’ I just hope he’s (coming back) for the right reasons.
“He is the greatest heavyweight of all-time, no doubt. Just look at his highlights. You’ve got to love the way the guy fights. There have been other good heavyweights, don’t get me wrong, but nobody has excited like Fedor did. Nobody has fought with that same dynamic power.”
*** The full ‘Fighting Fedor’ feature can be read in the July 2017 Fedor icon issue of Fighters Only magazine, OUT NOW ***