Even Dana White admits that Fedor Emelianenko not joining the UFC is one of the biggest ‘what if’ moments in the promotion’s history.
“The only fight that I wanted to make that was never made was Brock Lesnar vs. Fedor Emelianenko,” White revealed back in 2020. The UFC certainly made their play, however, with a noted failure to negotiate a jump for the Russian MMA star from Strikeforce into the Octagon back in 2011.
With the ‘Last Emperor’ retiring from competition on Saturday night—following a disappointingly foreseeable TKO loss to Ryan Bader—a lot of talk turned to the lasting legacy of one of MMA’s all time great heavyweights.
Following a lack-luster Fight Night offering from the world’s largest MMA promotion that same evening, White fielded questions from reporters (transcript via MMA Fighting). Despite his long held, self-stated interest in bringing Emelianenko to the UFC for a huge super fight, the UFC boss didn’t have much praise for the man as he left his gloves in the Bellator cage.
“Listen, what is the guy, like, 46?” White told the assembled media. “He shouldn’t be fighting. But he’s a grown-ass man who can do whatever he wants to do. But yeah, he probably should have hung it up a few years ago.”
White buttressed his feelings with a reminder that he doesn’t actually “dislike Fedor, or anything like that.” It’s just that, as far as he’s concerned, the former PRIDE champion was never one of the greats.
“I don’t want to shit on the guy,” White added. “He’s retiring tonight and all that stuff, but you guys know the deal with interviews with me. I never thought Fedor was that—I mean he got knocked out by middleweight Dan Henderson.
“I think some of the guys in the business—people liked him, so they praised him. He never got to test himself over here. I was never one of the guys that thought he was one of the greatest of all-time.”
The Former Red Devil Sport Club star forged the bulk of his reputation as a top tier performer well before the height of the UFC’s Zuffa era, with an unbeaten 28-fight streak from 2001 to 2009. A streak that included victories over Semmy Schilt, Heath Herring, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, Mirko CroCop, Mark Hunt, Tim Sylvia, and Andrei Arlovski. Following The UFC’s purchase of PRIDE, Fedor moved over to Strikeforce, where he had a disastrous 1-3 run for the promotion, losing back-to-back-to-back fights with Fabricio Werdum, Antonio Silva, and Dan Henderson.
With the UFC Purchasing Strikeforce in 2011, Emelianenko bumped around the regional scene for several years before debuting with Bellator in 2017. Despite a shocking first round KO loss to Matt Mitrione in his first fight with the promotion, he went 4-3 under the Bellator banner overall—and was coming off two straight wins heading into his fight with Bader on February 4th, having been out of competition since late 2021. Fedor retired with an overall record of 40-7 (1 NC) and the feeling from many (Dana not included) that he was one of MMA’s very best in the prime of his career.