Commentary

Emelianenko, Silva aim for redemption

Updated: February 9, 2011, 11:21 AM ET
By Franklin McNeil | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- The greatness of a mixed martial artist can't be measured solely in wins and losses. Not even the quickness of his reflexes, power in his strikes or submission skills offer an accurate barometer.

A fighter's strength of character -- the manner in which he handles adversity -- must also be taken into consideration. How does he respond to accusations of wrongdoing, or losing a high-profile bout?

Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva and Fedor Emelianenko are scheduled to fight each other Saturday (Showtime at 10 p.m.) in East Rutherford, N.J., as part of Strikeforce's highly anticipated World Grand Prix Heavyweight Tournament. It's a one-shot deal: The loser goes home.

But Silva (15-2-0) is fighting for more than a spot in the second round. This bout offers him another step toward restoring his tarnished image.

To many, Silva is a cheat. It's a label he has struggled to remove for nearly three years, one that was placed on him when he tested positive for a banned substance after capturing the EliteXC heavyweight title in July 2008. Silva was suspended for a year by the California State Athletic Commission, but he has continued to protest his innocence.

"What caused the positive test was a supplement," Silva told ESPN.com. "And I am ready to do any test anytime, anywhere.

"The supplement that I took that caused this positive result, Novedex, was prohibited after the fact -- then it was taken off the market.

"I could have proved everything. I had the receipts, but was never allowed to prove my innocence."

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Henry S. Dziekan III/Getty ImagesFedor Emelianenko, left, is putting his faith in God's hands for his fight against Antonio Silva

New Jersey, a state with some of the stiffest drug-testing standards, is the perfect setting for Silva to prove he isn't a dirty fighter. Passing New Jersey's stringent drug tests, however, might not be enough to lessen the resolve of Silva's detractors.

Emelianenko won't point a finger specifically at Silva, but he isn't ready to declare him a drug-free fighter. He will enter the cage with reservations about Silva's cleanliness.

Emelianenko's handlers requested Olympic-style prefight testing procedures to assure that every contestant in the tournament was void of performance-enhancing drugs.

"I can't say how confident I am going to be," Emelianenko told ESPN.com. "But I can say it was [manager] Vadim [Finkelstein] who requested the testing be raised to Olympic standards.

"I would love to perform and fight against fighters who are clean. The fights have to be honest. I don't use drugs, but believe that those who do will try to escape the testing in any possible way."

Despite having won four of his five fights since the suspension, suspicions about Silva persist. But the finger-pointing has only strengthened his resolve. As a result of his ordeal, Silva is not only a changed person, but also a changed fighter.

"Hard, difficult moments make a person stronger," Silva said. "I feel very good mentally. I feel very good physically. I am very excited for this fight.

"I'm in very good shape. A lot of people are dismissing me in fighting Fedor. But I wasn't at home eating pizza and drinking soda pops.

"I was working hard. This is a very bad time to face me."

That might be so, but Emelianenko is unmoved.

At a time when he would appear most vulnerable -- he suffered a loss in June 2010, only his second mixed martial arts defeat in an 11-year career -- Emelianenko hasn't altered his lifestyle or prefight routine.

The loss last year to Fabricio Werdum, who also is participating in the tournament, is viewed by Emelianenko as a good thing. He accepts the loss as God's will.

And a burden was lifted off his shoulders.

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AP Photo/Paul BeatyAntonio Silva, left, needs a victory over Fedor Emelianenko to go to the next round... and to change his image in the U.S.

"Nothing has changed," Emelianenko said. "My training, exercise and weight have stayed the same. I've continued to do the same things. I can't say that this loss has changed anything in me, that I was broken in any way.

"I don't feel any pressure going into this fight; maybe some relief.

"I am very thankful to God that I lost. Now people know that I am just an ordinary person who makes mistakes."

And if he should come up short against Silva, that would be just fine too. Emelianenko (32-2-0, 1 no-contest) has never defined his success in wins and losses.

As a man of God, he is prepared to accept any outcome Saturday. A second straight loss won't weaken his faith.

Besides, he has done everything -- physically and spiritually -- to deliver his best performance.

"I try to live with peace in myself and live by God's laws because I am a believer," Emelianenko said. "I am a religious person.

"I try my best to come into my fights in the best physical way, but all the rest is God's will."

Franklin McNeil covers MMA and boxing for ESPN.com. He also appears regularly on "MMA Live," which airs on ESPN2. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Franklin_McNeil.