ROSEMONT, Ill. – For someone once revered as one of the most feared mixed martial arts heavyweights in the world, Fedor Emelianenko doesn’t cut a necessarily imposing figure.
The legendary Russian is 41 now, but even when he was much younger, his soft-spoken nature and humility didn’t help strike fear into his opponents. Instead, they just watched what he did during a stretch that saw him go 31-1 over nearly a decade and that was enough.
But fans always cast a little doubt on Emelianenko’s superiority. Despite a 27-fight winning streak, because he wasn’t fighting in the UFC during his run, there always were critics wondering what would’ve happened had he not been fighting for PRIDE in Japan.
Saturday, Emelianenko (36-5 MMA, 0-1 BMMA) might be able to chase some of those questions away when he fights Frank Mir (18-11 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) in the Bellator 198 main event at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., near Chicago.
When Emelianenko was ruling as PRIDE’s heavyweight champion, Mir won the UFC’s heavyweight title in 2004, then its interim heavyweight belt in 2008. A fight between the two is one hardcore fans were pining for more than a dozen years ago. Now it finally will happen under the Bellator banner as part of the promotion’s ongoing heavyweight tournament. The winner will advance to a fight against Chael Sonnen in the semifinals.
“Frank Mir is a remarkable and strong fighter, and I’m very happy to fight him,” Emelianenko told USA TODAY Sports. “This was a fight I was looking for for some time, as well. There was a time he was one of the best fighters, so he occupied the top of the rankings. During my career, I watched his fights, and I followed his career. I’m quite aware of his fights.”
But when it comes to wondering about his legacy as one of the all-time greats, Emelianenko falls back on his humility.
“The main thing for me is that I would like be remembered by fans not as a fighter, but as a person – as a Russian Orthodox person,” Emelianenko said. “I don’t think about what I haven’t done yet. Certainly, I’d love to win the tournament, because that will add to the prestige of my country.”
Mir will come into the fight as a slight favorite despite returning from a layoff in excess of two years thanks to a failed drug test for a banned steroid after his final fight in the UFC in March 2016.
But he isn’t worrying about his own legacy much, either. Mir does acknowledge a fight with “The Last Emperor” is one that will mean something not just to fans, but to him, as well.
“Of course I’ve always wanted to match up against him, and I feel like I match up well against him,” Mir said. “Fedor’s not a big guy. He’s quick and he’s fast, but that’s why I came in shape. When I’m in shape, I’m just as quick as he is. … I think it’s an interesting fight, and I’ve wanted to put myself out there and dance with him for a long time.”
[Reprinted with permission from MMA Junkie.]