Sunday, February 13, 2011

Strikeforce tourney a knockout; literally

All good things must come to an end, or so the saying goes. In this case it is not a good, but great thing as legendary Fedor Emelianenko (pictured @ left/post fight) lost his second fight in a row, this time in the first round of the Strikeforce heavyweight (207-265 lbs.) tournament. Could we have just seen the last of 'The Last Emperor'?

Fighting in the main event of the heavyweight fight card that took place at The Izod Center in East Rutherford, NJ, Emelianenko (31-3, 8 KO's 16 subs) took on the man known simply as 'Bigfoot', Antonio Silva. Silva (16-2, 11 KO's 3 subs), now riding a three-fight win streak, fought the fight of his life as he held his own exchanging punches with the former 'Pride' heavyweight champion in the first round, before totaling dominating and beating him down during the second. Emelianenko, with a closed right eye and badly bruised face survived the round and beatdown, but could not get past the ringside physician who stopped the fight.

To his credit, Emelianenko, who was giving up more than five inches and at least 40 pounds to his opponent, never quit when he ended up underneath Silva in full mount position for nearly four minutes. He tried his best to fend off the onslaught and escape, but it was hard to do against such a massive man with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt pedigree. Besides the punches, Silva had at least three submission attempts during the round, including a rear naked choke, a tight arm triangle choke and a knee bar, but somehow Fedor survived every one. Miraculously, he nearly turned the tables at the end of the round, attempting a heel hook of his own on the "Bigfoot."

When asked in his post fight interview, what was his mind set having coming off his first ever two fight losing streak, the always humble Russian legend stated through his translator, "thank you for your love and support. Maybe this is it; maybe it's time to move on." The knowledgeable packed crowd, with a large Russian contingent in attendance; showed their emotions as in unison you could hear a somber "no" ring throughout the arena. Sadly, he may not be the only former Russian champion to have lost on this night and possibly for the last time.

Andre 'The Pitbull' Arlovski (15-9, 11 KO's 3 subs), who just turned 32 a week ago, appears to be at the end of his career as he lost his first round tournament fight against fellow Russian Sergei Kharitonov (18-4, 9 KO's, 8 subs) via first round knockout. Arlovski, who just a short five years ago was at the top of the game as the former UFC heavyweight champion, has now lost four in row, including three by vicious first round knockouts. Meanwhile, Kharitonov looks like a live dark horse in this eight-man tournament, especially with Emelianenko losing in his side of the bracket.

In another exciting heavyweight affair, up and coming Shane del Rosario (11-0, 8 KO's 3 subs) traded bombs with 'Big' Lavar Johnson (15-4, 13 KO's 2 subs) before finally catching him with an arm bar submission in the first round. With the win, Del Rosario put himself in position as the first alternate in the heavyweight Grand Prix tournament, should one of the original participants has to drop out for any reason. The second half of the first round tournament fights will take place the first weekend in April.

In another heavyweight tilt on the main card, Chad 'The Grave Digger' Griggs (10-1, 9 KO's 1 sub) continued his spoiler winning ways in Strikeforce. Coming off a surprising win over pro wrestling sensation Bobby Lashley, Griggs put on an exciting display of punching power as he outlasted a game, but undermanned Gian Villante (7-2, 5 KO's 2 subs). Villante, a young talented prospect from nearby Long Island, NY, had a few moments in the nearly three minutes the fight lasted before being stopped and finished by a flurry of Griggs punches.

However, it was Emelianenko who, even in defeat, was the star of this evening. Should this be his last hurrah, sadly, many casual and new fans to the sport may not realize the magnitude of this legend's career. When he reigned supreme during the heyday of the Pride Fighting Championships, he fought and defeated some of the best in their prime including Mirko Cro-Cop, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Mark Coleman. Along the way, he has defeated five former UFC heavyweight champions, while never once fighting for the organization. Yet, it is beyond the fighting where he may be most revered.

Idolized in his native country and beloved worldwide, the quiet champion with the humble demeanor possesses an aura about him that only a select few ever attain. I compare it to the living legend that is Muhammad Ali. In other words, there could be a room of high level dignitaries and celebrities, yet if Ali walked in, they would all be in awe of him. The same reverence seems to follow the deeply religious Fedor wherever he goes. Strangely, if this should be the end of his storied career, as time passes the aura will not fade as it does with most retired athletes, but it will grow instead. That is the mark of a true legend and such is Fedor Emelianenko.

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