MMA’s most legendary anomaly is no more.
The entire foundation for Fedor Emelianenko’s singularly mythical status was anchored by his virtually untarnished career. His only loss preceding “Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Werdum” came via a cut from an errant Tsuyoshi Kosaka elbow in an organization where the strike was not permitted, with no DQ or NC on the menu to implement. Even if one doesn’t understand or chooses to refute the RINGS rules, it is inarguable that Fedor was never clearly proven an inferior fighter by the traditional method of being soundly outperformed by another mixed martial artist--until last night.
The fact that Fedor had defeated a greater number of elite heavyweights than any other served as the bedrock for his lofty pedestal in the heavens. He was likened to an inhuman cyborg with no emotion, no flaws, and seemingly no other purpose on earth but to dismantle anyone and everyone that dared oppose him, and he did it in electric fashion. He could logically be insisted upon as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world because everyone else in the mix had at least one legitimate loss more convincing than his sole pseudo-defeat.
A deadly Brazilian Jiu Jitsu concoction comprised of a triangle and arm bar administered by Fabricio Werdum shattered it all.
Many times I’ve pondered what emotions would wash over me should Fedor finally lose: shock, horror, disbelief, disgust; the overwhelming urge to immediately commence with suicide, a rampant shooting spree, and/or becoming a Buddhist monk who adhered to a lifelong vow of silence in the bitter isolation of my living room.
Before any of those perfectly viable courses of action had a chance to take hold, one comment by Fabricio Werdum in his post-fight speech changed everything for me.
“Tonight, I was the better fighter… but Fedor is the greatest in the world.”
This statement perfectly embodies something bigger than Fedor, something that will forever encompass mixed martial arts and everything it stands for: honor, respect, acknowledgement, and admiration for a fallen foe. MMA would not be alive were it not for the simple rule of thumb that it’s honorable to tap out and yield defeat to the superior competitor. Without that precedential ideology, our sport could never be sanctioned and would not exist. For exemplifying that integral nucleus, Fabricio Werdum deserves all the credit and respect in the world, and proves he deserves to hold the title of the man who finally beat the one who was thought unbeatable. Perhaps more significantly--it makes me feel good about it.
It's worth noting that the technique that secured this phenomenal accomplishment for Werdum and consummated the impossible was derived from the same revolutionary system attributed to changing the face of hand-to-hand combat as we knew it. It was delivered to us at UFC 1 by none other than the great Royce Gracie, the famous member of the family that created the caged proving grounds to really find out what style was the best. The gift of submission fighting bestowed upon the world by MMA's first cult icon circa 1993 proves timeless and invaluable by being put to use 17 years later to defeat the second and only remaining cult icon in the sport.
In turn, epic statements after the cataclysmic fallout from Emelianenko also represent the positive basis of all athletic activities and diversity in life, such as, “One who doesn’t fall cannot get back up.” Beyond competition and the framework of MMA, the most powerful and personal statement ever uttered by the stoic and mysterious Russian was another indicator that maybe this was meant to happen: “I never wanted to be a god.” In the eyes of many--perhaps too many--he was.
The defining moment of Fedor’s defeat has not triggered a chaotic uproar of discord as I imagined; in fact, it’s somehow unfolded with a beautiful harmony that seems more befitting than unnatural. This is MMA. This is why we say "everyone eventually loses". Being mortalized by defeat does not tarnish Fedor's amazing feats in the past, nor prevent more in the future. If winning every fight was a requirement for heroism, 18-10 Randy Couture would not still be adored. This is what we love, want to see, what we signed up for, and want to be a part of. It's not the end, but simply a new beginning.
Scott Coker has mentioned a Fedor vs. Werdum rematch might be incoming, and the long awaited collision between Fedor and Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem could still be on the distant horizon, and potentially even more compelling now that the machine has been humanized. Of course, a rematch between Werdum and Overeem is far from disappointing, and Brett Rogers and Antonio Silva are looming in the background as hungry and ever-improving contenders. This shift in the landscape merely leads to the blossom of intriguing new opportunities.
What many thought would be the end of a dream has only unfolded as a fresh step towards an exciting future.
Many more prestigious authors may choose to quote prominent historical figures like Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, or Albert Einstein to capture the way this grand complexity has seemingly climaxed with synchronicity. I shall close with a philosophical proverb by an influential incarnation of my generation to capture what at first seemed like an ominous and foreboding conclusion of the story, but only set the stage for the next chapter to come.
“The circle is complete.”
Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope