Is this the end, my friend?
Mixed martial arts is changing. It's not how it was before. Things we used to be able to count on, we just can't count on anymore. The stars we used to know and love are slowly but surely fading away.
When Royce Gracie used to walk to the cage with his legendary family, you just knew that his opponent that night, whoever it may have been, was either tapping, losing a limb, or going to sleep.
Chuck Liddell used to hot step is way to the Octagon to the blaring sounds of DMX and knock fools out like it was going out of style. We loved him because we could rely on him to do this each time he competed. Or at the very least, we knew he would do his damnedest to deliver us as much.
And then there was Fedor.
This is a man that joined the incredibly short list of individuals that can get away with using one name because he's always been such a badass, he didn't need the other. A Russian machine that never quit and simply could not be destroyed, Fedor was so remarkably consistent, we came to expect his victory.
No matter how deep the maze, he would find the cheese. No matter how high the mountain, he would reach the top. And no matter who the opponent, he would find a way to defeat him.
This was comforting. It's nice to know exactly what you have. Change is hard, and adaptation, while a key to life, is a profound process.
That's what made it difficult in so many ways when "The Last Emperor" finally came up short against Fabricio Werdum. And it was only compounded when he was utterly disfigured at the hands of Antonio Silva in his very next fight.
The mixed martial arts world, as they say, was flipped upside down.
All things change; it is inevitable. But the very abruptness of Fedor's fall from grace was a painful pill to swallow. We're talking about a man that began his MMA career in May 2000 and didn't lose a fight (legitimately) until June 2010.
Encompassed within that time was 33 fights. Did he beat his share of cans? Of course he did. No one in good conscious could argue that Zuluzinho, Hong-Man Choi and Brett Rogers is a murderers row of martial artists.
But he also went to war with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Mirko Filipovic in their respective primes. And, like he always did, came out on top, by whatever means necessary.
This has been his trademark; his uncanny ability to overcome adversity. The same way he did when Kazuyuki Fujita had him doing the standing stanky leg after a vicious right hand. Or when Kevin Randleman dumped him directly on his head. Both men were eventually submitted, succumbing to the iron will of the wily Russian.
What are we to expect now that Fedor is facing the hardship of a two fight losing streak?
A win over Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion Dan Henderson may very well bring him back from the depths of his despair. Defeating "Hendo" is no easy task, but it's a realistic goal, even for a fighter whose mental stability may or may not be up to par.
A loss, though, could very well mark the end of the career of the greatest heavyweight in the short history of MMA.
During a recent teleconference (via Sherdog), Fedor deflected any questions of his pending removal from active competition. Here's how he explained his feelings:
"I don't know. We'll fight our next fight, and, after that, we'll see. I'm not thinking about what might be. Right now, I'm just thinking about this fight, and after this fight, we'll sit down and figure out what to do next. I'd like to continue to fight. Thank God, right now I feel great. My health is great, but we'll see. Everything will be known after the fight. It's better to talk about that and answer that question after the fight."
The former king of Pride later went on to say that his two recent defeats to Werdum and Silva, respectively, haven't shaken his confidence. He's just as spry as ever and ready for war later on tonight in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
But can we really believe that?
Immediately following his loss to "Bigfoot," Fedor was very clearly beaten. Not just defeated in sport but also in mind and body. He had had enough. He was ready to call it quits, right there in the hexagon in front of the world.
We saw that. Jarring as it may have been, we saw it and we were powerless to shield our eyes against it.
A match-up against the 205-pound division champion was enough to lure him back to the cage to give it one more go. One last time to be what he's always been and to do what he's always done ... win.
But if he doesn't, will it be the end?
If so, the accolades will come quickly and the affection will be showered upon him. And you know what? He will deserve every last second of it.
Long live Fedor.