Emelianenko ready for debut on U.S. prime-time TV
Such is the mystique around the Russian heavyweight, ranked No. 1 in USA TODAY/SB Nation's consensus MMA rankings, that he was asked about bear-fighting in a conference call promoting his debut on U.S. prime-time network TV, a bout for Strikeforce against Brett Rogers on Saturday (CBS, 9 p.m. ET; delayed on West Coast).
Emelianenko's brother, Aleksander, had boasted to MMA site Sherdog about hunting bears with knives and a long staff. The parody site Uncyclopedia also had a playfully doctored photo showing Fedor grappling a bear, along with an animation supposedly showing him doing an infinite number of pushups.
"I haven't met a bear personally," Emelianenko (30-1) said through a translator. "I had the opportunity to see them only in the zoo. But from what I know, the bear is a very strong animal, and it's really very difficult for a human being to be able to cope with him."
Infrequently active and separated from the American MMA scene by language, culture and his refusal to sign with the UFC, Emelianenko is known to casual fans by reputation only.
Most of his fights have been in Japan, seen in the USA only by hard-core fans. In the three years since Japanese promoter Pride collapsed, he has had only four fights, two mismatches and two against slumping former UFC champions.
He was due to fight Josh Barnett in his third appearance for Affliction, an offshoot of the clothing company of the same name. When Barnett was suspended over a drug test, Affliction canceled the card and got out of the fight-promotion business.
That left Emelianenko seeking new partners, and the UFC was eager to sign the biggest name by far to have never fought under the U.S. company's banner. But the UFC was unwilling to co-promote with M-1 Global, in which Emelianenko has an ownership stake. Strikeforce was.
"I could not sign a one-sided contract with the UFC," Emelianenko says.
Strikeforce offered a bout with Rogers, a fighter from Minnesota who worked in a tire shop until recently and is a heavy underdog. The Rocky Balboa comparisons end there.
Rogers is 10-0, winning all his fights by a quick knockout. (One fight was technically a submission due to punches.) Of his five televised fights for EliteXC and Strikeforce, only one has reached the second round. He knocked out Andrei Arlovski, a fighter who caused Emelianenko problems, in 22 seconds.
And Emelianenko bears no resemblance to Ivan Drago, the single-minded Russian who kills Apollo Creed with little emotion in Rocky IV. He lives and trains in Stary Oskol, Russia, saying he sees no need to change the training he has had since childhood. He's polite to reporters and gracious to opponents.
Emelianenko is the biggest name not in the UFC, but Strikeforce has loaded up its CBS debut card with other ranked fighters. Rogers is No. 8 in the USA TODAY/SB Nation rankings. Gegard Mousasi (No. 8, light heavyweight) fights Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou, and Fabricio Werdum (No. 13, heavyweight) fights Antonio Silva.
The card, contested at Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Ill., also has a middleweight title fight between Jake Shields (top 12 in two weight classes) and Jason "Mayhem" Miller.