Fedor Emilianenko has had a long and storied career as one of the all-time great mixed martial artists. But he’s likely never had a more bizarre experience than he encountered on New Year’s Eve of 2007, when the Russian, not a small man at 235 pounds, found himself in the ring with the 7’2″ giant Choi Hong-man, known to the Japanese press as the “Korean Monster.” A former wrestler in his native land who had made his reputation as a kick-boxer, Choi was somewhat limited as an athlete, but was not an ineffectual prodder by any means. Though not as talented or diversified a competitor, he nonetheless presented a genuine challenge for Fedor, if for no reason than his sheer size.
Most observers had little doubt that Fedor, the former PRIDE heavyweight champion who was considered by many the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, would emerge victorious, but precisely how he would do it was a subject of some question. His approach, as it turned out, was not to sit back and wait for an opening, but to be aggressive from the outset and take the fight to the massive hulk. At the opening bell he rushed Choi from across the ring, backing him into the ropes, but from there Choi took him to the canvas and got on top of him.
It was apparent that Choi did not know what to do to exploit his potential advantage. And Fedor threw some punches to the side of Choi’s head, but they were of little consequence.
Fedor had a maneuver or two up his sleeve, however. He used his legs to swing around and hook Choi into an armbar. He could have ended it there, but didn’t have it all the way, and Choi, with brute strength, got out of the hold, at which time he threw a few blows at Fedor as the two men got back into a standup position.
This was probably what Choi preferred, simply because, with a 14-inch height advantage and superior reach, it offered him his best shot at winning. But the shorter Emilianenko jumped in with a well-timed left hook that nailed Choi flush, and he followed by bulling him into the corner. Fedor then took the Korean down on top of him, seemingly by design. The two flailed away a bit, but eventually got into a position similar to where they were before.
At this point Choi may have thought he could easily get out of Emilianenko’s counter-measure if he tried it again. But Fedor was not known as a man who missed the second time. He once again was able to get his leg up over Choi’s right arm, then applied the other leg to lock it in. Choi had, for all intents and purposes, been checkmated, and did the inevitable, which was to tap out at the 1:49 mark of the first round.
Fedor Emilianenko may well face much more talented fighters in the future (perhaps one of them will be Randy Couture), And he’ll have bigger fights. But he’d have to go a long way to fight a bigger opponent.
Like all the great ones, however, he found a way to chop down the redwood tree.