Sports is like politics. People can twist the facts to fit whichever narrative they wish to be true. It is a branch of confirmation bias and general biases toward our favorite fighters and against those we dislike. Yes. The Greatest of All Time in any sport will always be debatable since it is in fact a matter of opinion. But this seven part series presents as lucid an argument for the best MMA fighter of all time that you will find anywhere on the Internet. And if you disagree, jump right in and let’s have an open debate. But just remember one thing….sports, like politics, may boil down to what one wants to believe….but it also does contain cold hard facts. This list is not about favorite or media darlings or the most popular fighters, it’s about objective facts. And by the end of this series, the evidence will show who is as factually close to being the greatest fighter of all time as possible. The seven parts of this series are as follows:
Part 1: The Honorable Mentions
Part 2: The Notorious Mention
Part 3: Explanation of the fifth greatest fighter of all time.
Part 4: Explanation of the fourth greatest fighter of all time.
Part 5: Explanation of the third greatest fighter of all time.
Part 6: Explanation of the second greatest fighter of all time.
Part 7: Explanation of the greatest MMA fighter of all time.
Let’s begin part 3.
Part 3: Fedor Emelianenko vs. The UFC
Sports evolve with time. Not just with its rules, regulations, sanctions, and the like….but the athletes within the sport and their prowess As a species, and with technological advancements, athletes become bigger, stronger, faster. Which is why whoever ends up on #1 may very well be only in the top 5 or 10 within 10-20 years time. This “sports evolve” truth is more apparent in MMA than any other sport. It’s not like basketball, football, tennis, etc, where the same basic moves are being performed in different ways. In MMA, not only are athletes becoming stronger and faster, but more techniques and defenses are being learned and more and more fighters are becoming adept at either doing everything or defending everything. For this reason, any fighter in the primitive UFC era, i.e. Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn, and even Royce Gracie have a really difficult time making the cut. They were involved in the sport when it was more raw, but less pure. With someone like Royce Gracie, there is no denying the technique and the influence he had on the sport. But there IS denying the level of his competition at a time where any willing participant could fight and there weren’t even weight classes….a system Royce has in the past advocated to have return.
But then there is what we will call the pre-modern era. An era where the sport had truly arrived, but yet, it was still in the advancing stage as far as the skill level of the fighters. This is the era of the Chuck Lidells, Tito Ortizes, Randy Courtures Quinton Jacksons. Where most fighters were only really strong in one or two areas, and as a result, suffered many significant losses. Some fighters from this era continued to fight onto the the modern era….and they, too, evolved. Anyone from the pre-modern era is qualified to be the greatest of all time, and obviously, anyone competing today is also qualified to be the greatest of all time–something that isn’t true for most sports, but it’s true for the MMA because of its youth. But the question today is: Is there anyone in the pre-modern era that deserves to be on this list ahead of Fedor Emelianenko? And why is or isn’t Fedor the greatest of all time regardless of the era he is pitted against.
There are perhaps only five fighters who are universally considered to be in the center of the GOAT conversation. Fedor is one of those five. Many hardcore MMA fans will argue to the death that Fedor’s 27 fight win streak has never been matched in MMA, and until anyone else does it, Fedor deserves to be considered #1 on the GOAT list. While not complete nonsense like the McGregor argument, it is still drastically flawed logic indeed.
Before we even look at the win streak, let’s begin with the fact that while Fedor’s 36-4 is arguably the best record in MMA history, there are still, in fact, four losses. This is important because if we are to give Fedor credit for having more consecutive wins than anyone else, we must also give credit to fighters who have not yet lost four times. If that logic seems unfair because you can’t blame Fedor for fighting more than most others, then it is equally unfair to blame the other fighters in the GOAT argument for this same fact. In other words, if we are to wait for the other GOAT contenders to win 27 fights in a row or have 36 wins, then it would seem only fair to wait to see if they lose four times in order to consider Fedor the greatest of all time. Confused yet? You should be. Because the 27 win-streak argument makes no sense. It’s not like the Super Bowl where one might say, “Tom Brady has won four super bowls. Until Greg Ward Jr. does that, he could never be the GOAT.” That logic actually makes sense. Because in football, the achievement is solely on WINNING, not on the act of not losing. For example, if after entering the NFL, Greg Ward Jr. continued to get hurt in the playoffs, and never lost in the post-season, he still would not be the GOAT because he never won a Super Bowl. But in MMA, it’s not just winning, it is EQUALLY as much about not losing.
But let’s say you disagree with this argument. Let’s say you maintain, “Nope. You’re wrong. 36-4 and 27 straight wins has to be matched for them to be considered better than Fedor. Period.” Alright, then. Let’s look at who he has beaten, shall we? Surely, if your argument is dependent on his win streak, then whom he has beaten must be the true crux of this argument, yes? Before we begin this investigation, to be fair, Fedor has competed in the hardest division to stay consistent: heavyweight. The fact that his record is 36-4-1 and that he won 27 straight should not be dismissed, and it is precisely this that makes him the greatest heavyweight of all time in the sport. But as we will discuss this series, being the best in your weight class’s history is entirely different than being the best altogether. Overriding the turbulence within the HW division does not exclude Fedor from the requirement of defeating elite competition in order to be the GOAT.
The term “elite” is another term that will be common this series. The term “elite,” depending on whom you ask, can be argued to be any fighter who made it to the highest level of the sport, it could be a fighter who has consistently won against stiff competition, it could be exclusive to champions, or it could even just be dominant champions. Right there, I just provided four criteria for what could be considered “elite” in ascending order of importance. What is interesting is that the very first, most basic criterion, “making it to the highest level” is something that Fedor himself willfully has not done. And this isn’t necessarily a knock on Fedor for not entering the UFC, it’s more of a knock on the level of competition he faced.
Now, please don’t misunderstand. Pride and Strikeforce had many of the same exact names that would later or previously be in the UFC, and Fedor defeated most of them. Of those victories, Rodrigo Nogueira is the only fighter where one can point to and say, “That’s a hallmark victory,” especially when looking at Nogueira in his prime. You MIGHT be able to give Tim Sylvia that same respect, but it’s not as definitive. But here’s the thing about not competing at the highest level….those names become outliers, not the norm. There are other wins Fedor accumulated in his prime against rookies, no-namers, or even carny attractions such as Wagner Martin, Choi Hong-man, and Yugi Nagata to name a few. Fedor was given plenty of softballs during this 27 fight win streak, but at the UFC, he would have been given none. THAT is why competing at the highest level matters. And THAT is why he is instantly disqualified from being the GOAT. And if that doesn’t convince you, the fact that his TWO greatest opponents: Dan Henderson and Fabricio Werdum not only defeated him, but both made short work of him in the first round, should.
Let me repeat that. His TWO GREATEST OPPONENTS BOTH BEAT HIM IN THE FIRST ROUND. So what we have is a fighter who never competed at the highest level of the sport, has been thrown many a softball and continues to be thrown softballs to this day, lost his two biggest challenges, and also lost to Big Foot Silva, a guy who has failed to show any consistency throughout his MMA career, and you want to tell me that Fedor is the greatest of all time? One last ditch effort from one making this argument could be, “Those losses came when Fedor was past his prime.” This argument is countered in two ways:
1) Whose fault is it that he did not put himself in a position to have more hallmark victories prior to this? When he was supposedly in his prime?
2) Whether or not he is past his prime, it does not negate the fact that he loss to his two greatest opponents. How could it? Again, if the timing sucks for him as far as when he faced his two greatest opponents, that’s on him. But the fact is, he lost to them.
And those counters are even IF we are to believe he was past his prime, which is doubtful. In both these defeats he was only in his mid-thirties. So that’s a fail on that excuse
I could write an entire article on the Dan Henderson loss alone and how this bout by itself could be a disqualifier. Dan Henderson is not even a heavyweight and Fedor had every opportunity in the match to use the advantages afforded to being a true heavyweight. He got in slugouts with Henderson, where heavyweights should have a power striking advantage, and was also in the clinch for most of the fight and allowed Henderson to control him even though Henderson was the smaller fighter. When we think about things like weight divisions and P4P rankings, we think two things: If you are in a higher weight class, you have an overall advantage. And as for the P4P rankings, the belief is that if you are the true P4P best, then in a fair catchweight or catchweight-like situation, you should come out on top. Someone who is the GOAT would not be the exception to these universally-agreed-upon rules. And back to the potential argument that he was not in his prime, even if that were true, the weight advantage should more than compensate for that. Besides, DAN HENDERSON IS SIX YEARS OLDER THAN FEDOR! So what we have is someone who is arguably Fedor’s toughest opponent but still a weight class below the supposed GOAT (in some people’s eyes), and Fedor could not get the job done. There is a such thing as legacy moments, folks. And this legacy moment woke up on the terribly wrong side of the bedwork of any argument for Fedor as the GOAT.
The moral of the Fedor Emelianko story is: if you want to be the GOAT at anything in life, you have to put yourself in the position to get there before it is too late. If, on the other hand, you just want to pad your stats and your pocketbook, then you do exactly what he did. Fedor is one of the smartest businessmen in MMA history; but from his own doing, he has removed himself from the argument of the GOAT. And if he hadn’t in the eyes of the objective MMA fan, then Dan Henderson, Fabricio Werdum, and Big Foot Silva removed him for us.
Part 4 tomorrow. Where the 4th greatest fighter in MMA history will be revealed and detailed.