Russian MMA veteran Fedor Emelianenko is widely regarded as one of the all-time greats of the sport. The stone-faced heavyweight was the most dominant fighter of the iconic Pride FC organization, holding the promotion’s heavyweight title from 2003-2006.

Being a quiet and reserved character, Emelianenko has always seemed something of an enigma to MMA fans – a man with exceptional fighting ability whose views, feelings and training habits remain mostly a mystery. It is for that reason that on the rare occasion when Fedor speaks openly about his training and life in general, people listen.

“In my childhood every boy attended some sports club,” Fedor said in a recent Russian TV interview. “It could be one week or month, but almost all of my friends and classmates were going into some section. I always wanted to be stronger. Guys who were training boxing, karate, judo – they were always well-known.

“I went to my first sport section because of my mother and my first coach – they were both teachers in one gymnasium. And he invited me to become his student. When he got spare time – he taught children sambo and judo. That was how it all had begun. Since that time Alexander Michkov and Vladimir Voronov were my head coaches. There were a lot of guys who became my friends.”

Having gone virtually undefeated for almost a decade, it has often been wondered exactly how the man known as ‘The Last Emperor’ was able to rise above the competition to become, at one time, the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. 

“It may be not too good to tell this about myself, but I was always training at my best. My coach was called ‘killer-coach’. What does it mean? It means that when you work hard and finish your training session without any power left, your coach comes and forces you to make another 10 or 20 pull-ups or something like that. That makes 50-60 times more a week. And after one year you can be more far ahead than anyone else. That’s why I tried to train more than anyone else. I came earlier and left later than the others. That made the difference.”

Fedor was unquestionably at his peak when he competed in the now-defunct Pride promotion in Japan, going 16-0 (1NC) and earning wins over fellow MMA legends including Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ Filipovic. Looking back on his time in Japan, he still holds both the nation and Pride itself above the US and its own promotions such as Bellator and the UFC.

“Japan is a completely genuine country,” said the Russian. “It is totally different from America. They always respect the fighters, both winners and losers. They loved fighters for some qualities known only by them. Each fighter had his own fans who loved him no matter if he won or lost.

“Pride had the best ever event organisation. I never watched any promotion that could organize an event better than them.”

Though he retired from pro MMA competition in June 2012 following a KO win over three-time UFC heavyweight title challenger Pedro Rizzo, Emelianenko remains very much involved in MMA as a trainer and mentor to young up-and-coming Russian fighters. As such, he still has his eye very much on the sport.

“I can see that I could help a lot to our guys,” he said. “And more – I can see the mistakes that Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos make. Of course Velasquez is the best in our time but I see his flaws. 

He continued: “Still, I can’t understand why our fighters can’t take what I could give them. Or they just don’t want to take it. Many of our fighters consider themselves to be seasoned and experienced fighters. They reject my help many times. So I am only left to work with newcomers. It’s easier to work with them.

“Of course, now I’m official executive. Now I try to develop MMA in our regions. I try to do everything that depends on me. But, no matter what, I’m a person of sport. MMA is in my blood until the end.”

Fedor Emelianenko retired from pro MMA with a record of 34-4 (1NC). He recently featured as one of four cover stars (along with Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua, Wanderlei Silva and Kazushi Sakuraba) on the special ‘Pride Icon’ edition of Fighters Only magazine.