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Passing the Torch: 'The Last Emperor' Fedor Emelianenko edition

We see it in every venue of entertainment; from movies and television to music to combat sports. Someone is all the rage one moment and then -- poof -- it's all gone.

But while a once-hot actor or actress might be forced to star in direct to DVD movies or a former chart-topping artist is reduced to "Where Are They Now?" status, their falls from grace -- although apparent -- are played on such a public stage as those of fighters.

Passing the Torch is a special about those fighters who were once on top of the world but suffered at least two losses that forever altered their career -- either leaving them shells of what they once were or forcing them to retire outright.

There probably won't ever be as polarizing a fighter as Fedor Emelianenko.

He went from being the undisputed heavyweight king to a maligned puppet, controlled by "crazy Russians" who was more interested in taking on easy fights for huge paychecks.

But facts are facts: In 3,687 of active competition, across 33 bouts, "The Last Emperor" lost only once. From RINGS to Pride Fighting Championships (Pride FC) to Affliction to Strikeforce, no one could honestly say they bested the Russian.

But that time has come and gone.

Here we go!:

From the moment Fedor Emelianenko beat Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in early 2003 for the Pride FC heavyweight title, the Russian had a target on his back. 

Sure, every fighter hopes to take on the champ and win but the Russian was a slightly different case. The way he dispatched of his opponents made beating him the ultimate achievement for heavyweights -- and even some lighter fighters -- around the world.

He wasn't afraid to to hang around in "Big Nog's" guard on the several occasions they fought and when he took on former K-1 kickboxer turned MMA striking nightmare Mirko Filipovic, the plan of taking "Cro Cop" down -- which seemed like an afterthought -- was thrown out the window and "The Last Emperor" stood toe to toe with the Croatian.

Each and every opponent fell to their knees in front of the heavyweight king. And while he was known for his submission grappling, Emelianenko began to finish fighters off with his hands with alarming consistency.

A rear naked choke won him his bout with Tim Sylvia but it was a strike that dropped the goliath and made the submission possible. Two near decapitations over Andrei Arlovski and Brett Rogers followed after.

On his feet or on the mat, "The Last Emperor" seemed to have everyone's number.

He's rocked!:

Even though he dispatched Rogers in the most brutal way possible, there was still rumblings that Emelianenko had lost a step. Rogers did well in the first round -- moreso than the Russian's previous two opponents and was able to draw blood.

When he was booked against Fabricio Werdum, not much was thought of it. "The Last Emperor" had already defeated "Big Nog" two times and the former champion was no slouch of the ground who also possessed stand-up that was light years ahead of Werdum's.

Emelianenko had outstruck strikers and outgrappled grapplers. It didn't seem like "Vai Cavalo" had much of a chance.

Then what seemed impossible before become a reality before our very eyes.


It's all over!:

Having suffered his first legitimate defeat of his career, Emelianenko went back home to Russian to contemplate his next move. When he spoke to the press, he seemed hopeful for his career stating that, "one who doesn't fall never stands up."

We saw it happen with Georges St. Pierre. His loss to Matt Serra turned him into the unstoppable welterweight machine that he is today.

While he angled for rematch against the Brazilian, surgery put Werdum on the shelf for the rest of the year. Instead, "The Last Emperor" agreed to enter Strikeforce's heavyweight grand prix. But when he wasn't booked against Alistair Overeem, the usual allegations of favorable matchmaking were once again heard loud and clear.

Antonio Silva was always seen as a talented -- but not great -- fighter. While everyone who stepped inside a ring or cage against Andrei Arlovski was knocking the former UFC champ out cold, "Bigfoot" won via decision.

And then there was the incident where the Brazilian nearly got finished off by Mike Kyle after the American stepped in due to injury on five day's notice.

When there were fighters like "Ubereem" and Josh Barnett in the tournament, it seemed like a waste of time to pit Emelianenko against Silva.

In the first round, the Russian seemed intent on landing a singular killing blow -- a la his knockout of Arlovski -- while Silva refused to engage in a wild striking exchange. He responded with sharp jabs and counter punches that bloodied Emelianenko's nose.

Still, "The Last Emperor" was the aggressor for the first five minutes and was able to dictate where the fight took place -- stuffing takedowns and standing from the ground when he wanted to.

The next round immediately started off poorly for the Russian. "Bigfoot" timed a strike perfectly and dropped Emelianenko to the mat. That's when it went from bad to worse.

The giant Brazilian punished the former Pride champ with hammerfists and punches from on top and turned his opponent's face into a swollen, grotesque mess that would have made Joseph Merrick blush.

When the round ended, the doctors deemed the damage too severe for Emelianenko to continue. And like that, "The Last Emperor" had two consecutive losses.


The aftermatch:

After his loss to Silva, Emelianenko hinted at retiring although later backtracked. He simply said he would retire when God willed him to.

He accepted a catchweight bout with Dan Henderson five months later and after slugging it out with the heavy handed American, he seemed to have had "Hendo" on the proverbial ropes.

The Olympic wrestler -- kneeling on the mat with the Russian above him -- was able to reverse the position and landing an uppercut from under Emelianenko's body that caught him right on the jaw.

He went limp and fell to the mat, his face dragging along the canvas as the rest of his body attempted to flatten out.

If you want to debate whether the stoppage was early or not, there's a litany of posts you can air your opinion on. This isn't one of them.

Early stoppage or not, the era of Fedor Emelianenko has come to an end.

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