When unheralded Brazilian Fabricio Werdum tightened his legs around the prone neck and arm of Fedor Emelianenko last Saturday night (June 26th), many rubbed their eyes in utter disbelief and others nodded their heads with a sense of satisfaction and vindication. While Fedor's first genuine professional loss astounded some, it also acted as timely confirmation for those far more skeptical of the the Russian legend's claims to be the greatest heavyweight in the world.
It took Werdum only 69 seconds of the first round to force Fedor to reluctantly tap, a scenario many believed would have been frequent had 'The Last Emperor' taken on the world's best in the UFC at any stage. Competing on every promotional platform outside of the UFC, Fedor staked his claim for greatness through amassing a lengthy unbeaten streak and displaying an ability to motor through overmatched opponents, most of which were former victims of the UFC conveyer belt. Saturday's opponent Werdum was, of course, another heavyweight who fell off the UFC's production line, released not long after a first-round knockout loss against rampaging fellow Brazilian Junior Dos Santos.
Fedor's immense run in PRIDE, punctuated by classic wins over Antonio 'Minotauro' Nogueira and Mirko Cro Cop, will unquestionably help keep his status as a leading heavyweight afloat, yet the humiliating defeat to Werdum was never the way most expected Fedor to finally crack. Many believed it would take a Fedor venture into the UFC to bring about his first genuine career loss, and that a combination of increased competition and Father Time would have eventually taken its toll on the Russian star. Nobody envisaged him getting submitted by a UFC cast-off, despite the obvious talents, especially on the ground, of Werdum.
Although neither fighter requires any added inspiration, rival heavyweights Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin will have both drawn immense satisfaction from Fedor's demise last Saturday, as they both prepare to contest the UFC heavyweight title at UFC 116 this Saturday (July 3rd). Champion Lesnar has often proclaimed his right to the number one heavyweight slot and, while many agreed with his stance, many more preferred Fedor's far more substantial body of work, constructed away from the UFC and mostly in Japan.
The consensus top two in the world, a fight between Lesnar and Fedor would have undoubtedly been the most profitable fight in UFC or mixed martial arts history, and yet now, in light of Fedor's first loss, the bout would appear to have substantially plummeted in stock. Lesnar and the like can simply claim Fedor was never that special in the first place and that his incredible run of results was due more to lacklustre opposition than God-given skill.
Instead, far more emphasis is now placed on Lesnar's match this Saturday (July 3rd) with Carwin, an unbeaten and hard-hitting wrestling behemoth, and now presumably Brock's foremost rival to the number one spot. Sure, Fedor can conceivably bounce back, defeat Werdum in a return and then claw back some of his shattered mystique but, in the short-term, at least, Lesnar's grip on the world's heavyweight division only tightens. Not only that, his premier rivals to the throne, save for perhaps Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem, would all appear to reside in the UFC. Carwin aside, Lesnar is also glancing over his shoulder at the jaw-droppingly swift progress of both Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos, clearly the two best young juggernauts in the business.
If greatness is ultimately measured by competition, Lesnar now has his path clearly mapped out, starting with Carwin this Saturday and extending to the rest of the chasing UFC pack. Fedor, meanwhile, struggles to regain all that was lost in a Werdum triangle choke, and perhaps now realises that, when the time comes to finally lose, sometimes it's better to lose to the very best.