This was a lot different from fifteen years ago.
Back then, Fedor Emelianenko and Wanderlei Silva were arguably the two baddest men on the planet, PrideFC’s heavyweight and middleweight champions, respectively. On the way to cementing their legends, each man ran roughshod over the competition, both putting together seemingly unstoppable winning streaks of over twenty fights that were the talk of the MMA world.
And now all these years later things have finally come full circle.
The Canadian Football league of MMA, the UFC’s chief rival, and the stupidest-named promotion in history, Bellator, held their much-hyped PPV “Bellator 180” over the weekend. The place where old fighters go to die did once again disappoint, as the viability of top stars in their forties remains questionable at best. Still, after plenty of the usual age-related insults leading up to it, even more usual, come fight night all eyes of the MMA community were glued on the co-main events regardless.
The night’s feature attraction saw one of the sport’s most heated and personal rivalries of the past several years explode—or would that be fizzle—into a boring, academic three-round decision for Chael Sonnen (30-15-1) over Wanderlei Silva (35-13-1 (1)). It was Silva’s first fight in over four years and he looked it, getting dumped on his back literally seconds into the fight and being taken down virtually at will from then on. Sonnen used his vastly superior wrestling to take Wandy down repeatedly, then hold him there and render his offense ineffective as he monotonously pounded away. The legendarily heavy-handed Silva did have a few moments, like when he clipped Sonnen with a right hand that dropped him in the first round and when he rocked him again with strikes in the second, but mostly it was a ground-and-pound clinic. A frustrated Silva shoved Sonnen off him at the final bell and complained to the ref, while similarly discouraged fans, in lieu of the action such a fierce rivalry should dictate, complained to each other.
The co-main event preceding the Sonnen-Silva snoozefest was another sad chapter in the decline of the greatest MMA fighter of all-time, when Matt Mitrione (12-5) TKO’d Fedor Emeliannko (36-5-1) at just 1:14 of the first round. Following an alleged retirement in 2012, Fedor returned to competition three years later and despite a pair of victories, has not looked anywhere near the fighter of old. The fight with Mitrione was going to be his first test against another top heavyweight since 2011, and unsurprisingly had some longtime fans nervous.
Those nerves were jangled when after a minute of uneventful circling and feinting, both men exploded with simultaneous right hands. Each man’s punches landed heavily, resulting in a rarely-seen double-knockdown. Then before Fedor could scramble back to his feet the younger Mitrione recovered first and was on him, pinning him down and throwing uppercuts underneath Fedor’s arms as he tried to stand back up. While both men were still on the canvas, Fedor picked his head up to try avoid punishment and was smashed with a series of hard punches, including a right hand that knocked him out.
So what’s next for these four combatants? Sonnen, apparently not discouraged by Fedor’s crushing loss, expressed a desire to fight him, or failing that, welterweight star Rory MacDonald. In other words, ever the consummate businessman and showman, Sonnen wants whatever is the biggest fight that will make him the most money, which will likely be a re-match with Tito Ortiz providing the Huntington Beach Bad Boy comes out of retirement. Since there’ll be a couple hundred thousand reasons for Ortiz to do so, I’d say it’s a relatively safe bet.
As for Silva, he plans on soldiering on, but at 40 and following an over four-year layoff, he’s now 4-7 in his last decade of fighting. At what point does he finally retire instead of waiting until he falls off the list to fight top contenders entirely, and is forced to start fighting unknown opponents in smaller organizations?
Fighting unknown—or lesser known, or similarly aged—opponents in smaller organizations has been Fedor’s career for the past several years. Now with an emphatic defeat against a middle-of-the-road contender, a step down in competition seems the only alternative to avoiding similar results. But once again, as with Silva, at what point does Fedor call it quits instead of wearing his fighting abilities and legacy down to a nub?
Mitrione has by far the most upside regarding his MMA future. At a relatively damage-free 38, which is not that old for a heavyweight, and with solid performances in his last three bouts, he is the only one of these four with a little bit of his fighting career still ahead of him, instead of long behind him.
Long behind Fedor and Wanderlei—who somehow never fought each other despite being inextricably linked in both their primes and now in perhaps their final bouts—are their oft-celebrated glory days. This wouldn’t be a pretty ending for either of them, but for my two all-time favorite MMA fighters, I hope it was an ending just the same.