Emelianenko motivated to represent himself in U.S.

For years, Fedor Emelianenko has left his mark on competitors from around the globe. But now, the Ukrainian-born star he wants to represent in the U.S.

Updated: May 26, 2007, 12:12 PM ET
By Josh Gross | Sherdog.com

A yard away, the sound of it mimicked kids belly-flopping onto balled up bubble wrap.

For those of us sitting a good 25 rows above the five-roped ring inside a packed Yokohama Arena in the suburbs of Tokyo, Fedor Emelianenko's rocket of a right hand against PRIDE Fighting Championships' heavyweight titleholder Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira detonated like a shotgun blast.

Four years and 14 wins later, the Russian Emelianenko, widely regarded by mixed martial arts watchers as the best fighter they've seen, has left his mark on competitors from around the globe: the ability to strike another man so hard at such close range that, quite honestly, it doesn't seem fair.

Add an array of skills as varied as any mixed martial artist, and you can start to understand why Emelianenko (26-1-0, 1 NC) has captivated anyone who's caught glimpses of him on Youtube, or had the fortune of seeing him fight live -- unless, of course, you were in the ring with him.

While the Russian heavyweight, more Rocky than Drago, credits years of training for his almost supernatural ability to deliver an uncanny amount of blunt force trauma -- my words, not his -- it's hard to believe there isn't more to Fedor than drilling and dedication, of which he's done and has plenty.

What he did on the ground to the likes of Semmy Schilt, Heath Herring and Nogueira, twice, was not simply a matter of technique -- if it was, fighters from Moscow, Russia to Moscow, Idaho would bomb away like B-52s.

Asked to describe the philosophy behind his punching style -- Emelianenko's arms become almost whip-like, allowing him to create a tremendous amount of energy that flows from his shoulders and unleashes at his fists -- the 30-year-old with piercing blue eyes and a demeanor in the ring that makes the most serene yogi look like a teenager after three cans of Red Bull, said such information was reserved for only his closest compatriots.

Funny: Neither Fedor's brother Aleksander, a mean puncher if he's got someone standing in front of him, nor his other heavyweight training partners have plowed through opponents like they're the best on the planet.

Something is different about this man, who avenged his lone loss (a stoppage due to a fluke cut early in his career) in brutal fashion.

"The structure of my body might help for this particular technique on the floor," he finally conceded before moving back to the stump speech. "But again it's something you rely on and it's technique that you have to keep practicing."

Last October in Las Vegas, the six-foot, 230-pound Russian headlined PRIDE's first effort on American soil against veteran Mark Coleman. Though Emelianenko had never fought in the U.S., you wouldn't have known it judging by the reaction he received in the week leading up to the fight.

"I always wanted to fight in America," he said. "I know there are a lot of fans that admire me. I always wanted to represent myself."

Following news in April that UFC ownership had agreed to purchase PRIDE, the most popular Japanese MMA promotion during the past 10 years, fans immediately debated Fedor's return to these shores. But the Russian hasn't been quick to make that a reality, most recently stepping into the ring in St. Petersburg, Russia under the bodogFIGHT banner.

Though Fedor fulfilled a childhood dream by fighting in the States, it wasn't something he could have easily envisioned while growing up in the former Soviet Union.

"There was a notion that Americans were bad and Russians were good," Fedor recalled about growing up behind the Iron Curtain. "But I was 13 and I didn't really think about these kinds of things."

Gorbachev. Reagan. Glasnost. Perestroika.

For a teenage Fedor Emelianenko, statesmen and their policies held little importance. Rather, it was the steady call of youth sports that he remembers.

He took up judo and sambo, morphing from a physically weak boy to the world's top heavyweight mixed martial artist. Under the tutelage of trainers who also served as mentors, Fedor enjoyed the stability of a close camp, something that remains key to his success even today.

"There are like my family," the fighter said of Vladimir Voronov (grappling), Alexander Michkov (boxing) and Ruslan Nagnibeda (Muay Thai). "I trust them 100 percent. They trained me since I was young and it's very important to stick with them. But it's different because they're like family. They know me, I know them. It's very important to know the people that wait for you in the center of the ring and they know exactly what you need and who you are in the ring."

Alluding to his stone-cold demeanor during a fight, which has prompted some diehards to label Emelianenko a cyborg, the PRIDE champion said: "This is a sport. This is not the place to go and be aggressive. I go out there and do what I trained for."

"The idea is to prepare your body, both physically and mentally, like you already fought, so when you go out there your body is already warmed up and your mind is already warmed up," he continued. "So you're ready for it. You just do what you're trained to do. You're not going there and building from the start. You go out there and you're already in the middle of the fight. This is my way of thinking."

It's been quite a while since the Ukrainian-born star was forced to rely on his seconds, and as a pro he said the onus is on him to make adjustments during a bout.

Taking a cue from one of the most professional fighters in the history of the sport, Emelianenko is quite an admirer of current UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture, who returned from a year retirement to defeat Tim Sylvia this March.

"When I was in the service in the army I used to watch Randy's fights," Fedor remembered. "I liked everything, especially the way he conducted himself in the ring.

"I definitely learned a lot from Couture."

Three years removed from the army and having enjoyed success in various judo and sambo tournaments, Fedor concluded, after sizing up economic conditions in Russia as Y2K approached, it was in his best interest to fight professionally.

"I always wanted to compete, and I'm proud of my life now," said Emelianenko, who in April defeated American Matt Lindland while Russian President Vladimir Putin watched from ringside. "I'm proud of what I've been doing. I feel good about it. And I did what I wanted to do. I always wanted to represent myself and my city and my country."

More than anything else, Fedor insists nationalism and the men who have guided his career, as well as a ceaseless desire to be the best, are what motivate him today.

"I want to stay on top and show people that Russian fighters are very good," he said. "I want to represent myself and to be honored by the Russian people."

If Fedor isn't careful, he could soon have more than Mother Russia rooting for him.

Josh Gross covers mixed martial arts for Sherdog.com