By Kal Thompson
Every sport has an icon: an all-time great by whom all others, who came before and after, are judged. Be it Ruth, Jordan, Ali, Gretzky or Unitas, each of these legends has left behind a legacy that transcends time itself. While some came along during the golden age of their sport, others more recently made their permanent mark.
What is the formula that creates a true icon? Like mythical Greek gods, some appear as if they were born to inherit the crown. Other athletes lived each chapter of a Cinderella story: going from nothing to everything within the span of a career. Regardless of where they started, the end result was sheer domination of the competition: greatness in their era.
At first glance, the sport of mixed martial arts may seem like an infant in the eyes of a sports historian. After all, MMA has only been followed by the public eye for a mere decade and a half, and even less as a true sport. Its rules are still being fine-tuned on a somewhat regular basis. Head-butts have come and gone. Elbow strikes may, or may not, be allowed. So much depends on specific organizational rules, but its basis is set in stone. MMA is a sport of man versus man. Each warrior competes to test his skills in combat. Their tools come in the form of grappling, striking, and joint-lock submissions. Whether by knockout, tap-out, referee stoppage or judges’ decision, the ultimate goal is to win the contest.
Fedor Emelianenko hails from Russia. Still, to most MMA fans, he needs no introduction His hands, as heavy as kettle bells, are wrecking balls covered by a layer of skin; and he has the grappling ability of a red-tailed boa with arms. With a record that is actually impeccable, Fedor has taken on, and defeated, all-comers who aren’t blocked by ridiculous politically-invoked contract stipulations. His only loss came in the form of an illegal strike that caused a cut. This single blemish should actually read as a no-contest. Note: He later defeated this very opponent within the first round during a rematch.
Throughout his MMA entire career, Fedor Emelianenko has been a monster among men. No fighter has made so many crucial fights appear to be so easy. Some playfully claim that he is half robot. On the rare occasion that Fedor has found himself in trouble, he has regrouped with seemingly effortless reversal. A true destroyer within his realm, outside of the ropes Fedor remains a gentleman. You’ll never hear the man admit that he is the best ever. All too often, when posed the question of “how or why” he is so good, he has responded that there is still much work to be done within his skill-set. If he had the gift of gab like an Ali, he’d rule Nike.
The year is 2009, and the sport of mixed martial arts is still growing in popularity while continually gaining more mainstream acceptance. Not only do I feel confident to say that I believe Fedor Emelianenko is an MMA icon, but also a true sports icon. The path is being paved; and it’s only a matter of time before MMA fight results are reported as widely as Monday Night Football scores. And it’s only a matter of time until the true sports fan mentions “Fedor: The Last Emperor,” in the same sentence as “The Babe,” “His Airness,” and “Johnny U.”
In his most recent fight on January 24th, Fedor Emelianenko defended his WAMMA World Heavyweight MMA title vs. former UFC Heavyweight Champion Andrei Arlovksi during “Affliction 2” at the Honda Center in Anaheim California. It was merely one more brick in the wall that is fast becoming an impeccable legacy.