Every time a Fedor fanpost goes up, it's the same thing. The mix between those fans who admire Fedor and those who don't, the arguments about how good he is, and how great he was. The what-might-have-beens, the what-ifs and the never-weres. It's tiresome and tedious at this point, and yet it will continue for so long as Fedor continues to make headlines in minor league promotions fighting other washed up fighters and irrelevant MMA talent.
So, why do fans harbour such hate and vitriol for arguably the best heavyweight fighter in MMA history? He's always been quiet, humble, deferential, and respectful. He's never demonstrated an ounce of arrogance, braggadocio, or mean-spiritedness. He was as emotionless following his first defeat as he was following his 30th consecutive victory. Why, then, does he continue to be so controversial a figure in this sport?
The answer is simple. Those qualities which made him an enigmatic champion have proven detrimental as a fading failure in his old age. While he was a rising star in the sport's infancy, Fedor was a difficult fighter to understand because he seemed entirely divorced from his own success. He never cried in joy, shook nervously before a fight, screamed in victory, leapt onto a cage, fell to his knees in gratitude, or grabbed at a microphone to beg for a title shot.
It was always difficult for fans to identify with this seeming automaton, this emotionless Russian who seemed to be the benevolent version of Rocky's Drago, crushing all in his path. He never stared down his opponents, never showed any urgency or emotion in the ring or the cage, or acknowledged the cheers of fans. When the referee would break a clinch, Fedor would walk calmly, almost disinterestedly away from the action, rubbing his nose in that classic Fedor way, before turning to face his opponent again as though they were about to clink glasses in a toast.
It had been so difficult to love Fedor, though love him many did, for all those reasons, but the final reason was his confusing inability to enjoy the throne upon which he sat. Fans would look to Fedor as a champion, but he seemed a reluctant, disinterested one. Are you not happy to be our King? Are you not vainglorious in your utter dominance of your peers? Have you not the spirit to cry out your boastful superiority to all the world? Why do you not care about your greatness?
But Fedor didn't care. And inasmuch as it attracted fans to his cold, systemic demolition of all opponents, it was building the hubristic foundations for his failure. For if Fedor didn't care, what did we care for? There were other champions who did care, who took their glory and revelled in every moment of it. When Chuck Liddell laid waste to another challenger in the cage he would arch his back, stumble in reverse, and begin screaming, his tremulous body shaking with adrenaline and released energy, his emotions spilling out into the arena like a pent-up force. The fans would feed from this energy like the famished at a banquet, drinking in the moment with gratitude and appreciation to share in his happiness, his dominance, his demonstrative superiority as champion.
What was there to share with Fedor? A nod, a shy smile, followed by a boring interview, always translated from Russian, and always eschewing the spotlight. When he at last was defeated by Fabricio Werdum he shared with us the same nonchalance, the same nonplussed look as he had always shared. Werdum was more emotional in victory than Fedor was to lose in convincing defeat for the first time in a decade. And what did he tell fans? What were his words of wisdom to one and all?
It was God's will. That's all. Once again, the man had divorced himself from his own actions. It was not he who had defeated Big Nog twice, or dominated an unstoppable Mirko Cro Cop, or made the UFC's first heavyweight champion look like an amateur. It was all God's will, both in victory and in defeat.
After Fedor fell twice more, fans began to turn against him. But why? What had Fedor wrought that he deserved such derision and scorn? What had he ever done to deserve such hatred? Nothing. And that's probably the entire point. Fedor had never done a thing to share himself with fans, which was fine during his glory, but became intolerable as he began to fade. Symptomatic of this affliction was his unwillingness to learn English in the decade of his dominance, despite the fact he held MMA fans by the thousands in America. He demonstrated an unwillingness not only to share himself inside the cage, but to make the most modest of efforts to reach out to his adoring fans.
And finally, it has come to this. A 35-year-old former prodigy now facing a 38-year-old former UFC fighter who hasn't been relevant in nine years since he beat Ricco Rodriguez at UFC 45. A battle in which nobody can honestly say they are remotely invested in as a fan. Fedor has agreed to fight Pedro Rizzo for reasons nobody can quite understand or care about, other than the fact it will presumably enable both men to pad their bank accounts.
All fans are left with from Fedor is the sort of sad, hypothetical arguments about what might have been if he didn't have the management he has, if he had decided to face the premier competition in the UFC, if he had been less ambivalent about his MMA career. It is almost a remorse-by-proxy, the same sort of feeling one gets when one watches a movie about unrealized potential and failure. It's just... sad.
We could blame M-1 and Vadim. We could blame the UFC. We could blame fans for not appreciating what he gave us in Pride. But really the only person who deserves any blame is Fedor himself. He has reaped what he has sown. He has become what he wanted to be. In the end, he is to blame for our inability to sympathize with him, for he has refused to share with us his own disappointments, his own fears and hopes and dreams. He has shut us all out for his entire career, and so it is only fitting we do the same now.