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The great debate: Fedor Emelianenko and his place among the MMA elite

UFC President Dana White thinks Fedor Emelianenko is a fraud. A flabby relic from the mismanaged days of PRIDE that now hides behind the iron curtain, emerging only to fight hand-picked opponents that pose no threat to a self-proclaimed legacy.

In fact, White is so sure that the Russian heavyweight is at the bottom of the divisional rankings that he was willing to write him a blank check after Affliction MMA imploded under the weight of its own spending.

That makes sense.

Imagine how quickly the men in white coats would come to collect you if you walked onto the lot of an auto auction and told the yard barker: "I've got a check for five million dollars, please give me the biggest piece of shit on the lot."

Ever since the fall of PRIDE, there have been a lot of hard feelings between the UFC and Emelianenko's camp and I suspect a great deal of that has been "The Last Emperor's," ability to escape the Zuffa monopoly.

Men with White's power and ultimately White's greed are used to getting what they want. What do men in power want? Everything. Yet "those crazy Russians" have balked at every attempt the UFC has made to secure the WAMMA champion and keep him from the competition.

And why wouldn't they, especially when M-1 can have a monopoly of their own? As long as Emelianenko keeps winning, Vadim and the Finkelchtein Express can continue cashing in at the expense of other promotions who need an established headliner.

In the world of playground politics we call that "Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers."

While M-1 and UFC continue to argue over who the bigger A-hole is, fans of mixed martial arts are left with one of the most heated debates in the history of this young sport.

Is the man known as "Fedor" the greatest mixed martial artist of all time?

That, like the asinine "pound-for-pound" ranking system, is impossible to prove with any sort of irrefutable evidence.

I've been following Emelianenko since his 2003 win over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at PRIDE 25: "Body Blow." I expected him to lose that fight against "Big Nog," because at the time I didn't think anyone could overcome "Minotauro's" incomparable balance of boxing and jiu-jitsu.

And therein lies the problem with trying to qualify the greatness of a fighter such as Emelianenko. Many pundits believe, as Dana White does, that current UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar would smash the M-1 star with relative ease.

It's certainly within the realm of possibility.

No fighter is invincible. Anderson Silva has put together a string of victories that on paper look like the work of fiction, going 11-0 since PRIDE: "Shockwave 2004" and stopping ten of those fights by (T)KO or submission.

Yet during the span of his career, "The Spider" was also submitted twice, by fighters that would never be mistaken for title contenders.

Another one of today's top stars, Georges St. Pierre, has completely re-written the playbook on wrestling defense inside the Octagon. "Rush" seems to grow more dominant with each contest and could be one or two fights away from cleaning out the entire UFC 170-pound division.

But there was a time when St. Pierre was submitted by Matt Hughes and knocked out by Matt Serra just a few years later. Was the Canadian the far-and-away better fighter than "The Terror" at UFC 69? Of course, but this is what makes mixed martial arts so great.

A lot of people laud the sport for its unpredictability, but I disagree. Because of the nature of combat sports, I believe it is the margin for error -- not random chance -- that causes so many jaw-dropping upsets.

Randy Couture dodged an oncoming lunchbox in the second round of his fight against Brock Lesnar back at UFC 91 in November of 2008. Unfortunately the tail end of that punch clipped him on the fade-away and crumpled the elder statesman, forcing his heavyweight belt into the arms of the former WWE headliner.

Was it a bookie-busting upset? No, but it was a perfect example of how one small error can end a fight, especially in the new-look heavyweight division, where most of the up and coming fighters can bench-press a Volkswagen.

If I was asked to pick the best fighter currently competing at this present time, it would probably be Anderson Silva, for his amazing run over the past four years and the level of competition he's faced.

Sure, he had that stinker against Thales Leites at UFC 97, but it's difficult to fight someone who spends more time on their back than "The Huntington Beach Bad Girl."

Now if I had to pick the best fighter of all time, my first pick has to be Fedor Emelianenko. Again, I won't dispute that a fighter exists in the UFC that may have the tools to beat him, but I cannot ignore the body of work this fighter has compiled over the past nine years.

To go 31-1, including 27 straight, is an astounding achievement in the world of professional fighting. Is his record populated with the occasional tomato can or overgrown freak show? Sure, but show me an elite fighter that hasn't fought a pretender at some point in his career.

Matt Hughes, widely considered one of the most dominant welterweights of all time, has crushed so many cans in his career they've named a wing after him at the office building of the Environmental Protection Agency.

You can't excuse Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva for losing to lesser competition while simultaneously condemning Fedor Emelianenko for beating it.

After stopping Brett Rogers on November 7 under the Strikeforce banner, Emelianenko received heavy criticism for his performance during the fight -- just as he did when he knocked out former UFC Heavyweight Champion Andrei Arlovski at Affliction: "Day of Reckoning."

He could be the only fighter in history to be so widely panned for a winning performance. When Travis Lutter had Anderson Silva mounted at UFC 67 and began raining down punches, "Spider's" eventual escape and submission win were heralded as an "amazing comeback."

Yet when Fedor escaped the mount and ground-and-pound of Brett Rogers last Saturday night, he was "exposed."

No concessions for "The Grim" outweighing him by fifty pounds, no free pass because it was his first fight inside a cage, just a lot of finger pointing.

Great achievement is the bearer of great expectation, I suppose.

Conversely, the loyal fans of Fedor can sometimes be just as irrational. I try to remain realistic with my belief that a fighter exists who can eventually end his impressive winning streak.

The position Brock Lesnar had against Frank Mir to end their fight at UFC 100 looked about as inescapable as any position I've seen. Lesnar has a very good chance of beating Emelianenko -- but I don't think he's half the fighter that Fedor is.

How does that work?

Lesnar has five professional fights. One of them is to a Korean crab cake named Min Soo Kim, who's continued to dazzle audiences with his impressive 3-6 record.

Another two have been against the hot-and-cold Frank Mir. One of those ended in a loss. In Lesnar's defense, he did rebound with a victory over the barely-heavyweight Randy Couture, who cashes his UFC check on the same day of the month that he cashes his social security check.

Lesnar is big, powerful and talented. But in the world of MMA, he's proven very little. How will he respond when he's rocked by an A-level striker? Can he escape the submission attempts of a jiu-jitsu black belt?

The one chance he had to prove that he could was at UFC 81, and he failed.

I've seen Fedor get rocked and I've seen Fedor in submission trouble. I've also seen him cough up a round on separate occasions. Yet no matter how precarious the situation, Fedor always finds a way to come back and win.

I can't say that he would beat any other heavyweight out there because I don't know that for sure. What I do know is that since getting sliced open by Tsuyoshi Kosaka at Rings: "King of Kings" way back in December of 2000, Emelianenko has put together one of the greatest runs through any division in all of mixed martial arts.

Some performances were astonishing, some were barely enough to get by. In both instances, he found a way to win. That to me is what the legacy of Fedor Emelianenko is all about: A fighter at the top of his game who continues to win in a sport that allows only the tiniest margin for error.

There will always be individual greatness in the sport of mixed martial arts. It's just unfortunate that sometimes it requires us to look past our promotional allegiances to see it.

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