Former PRIDE FC heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko, widely-considered one of the greatest big men in the history of mixed martial arts (MMA), had an opportunity to close out his storied career against the likes of former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos.
A rematch with longtime rival Fabricio Werdum was also on the table.
Instead, “The Last Emperor” was paired off against Bellator MMA journeyman Tim Johnson, a rugged wrestler who also spent time inside the Octagon. And it sounds like Johnson was just as surprised as everyone else when it came time to announce the Moscow headliner.
“I honestly didn’t even think I was going to be in the neighborhood of getting it, initially,” Johnson told MMA Junkie. “I heard the same names everyone else did. Since the announcement, there’s been a lot of people — it’s been not received with open arms, I guess you could say. Well, here it is: Fedor watched me fight for 25 minutes up close and personal (against Valentin Moldavsky). The same list everyone was talking about, Fedor has in front of him. He had a say in the matchmaking.”
Johnson (15-7) was riding a three-fight win streak for Bellator MMA but came up short against Valentin Moldavsky last June at Mohegan Sun. And not to speak for Scott Coker and Co., but finding marquee names for Emelianenko has proven to be a tricky proposition.
“It’s either one of two routes: He picked me because he thinks he can knock me out right away,” Johnson continued. “I don’t want to think that way. I think he picked me because Fedor’s a warrior. He has a warrior mentality. I’ll bring the fight to him. He’s not going to get a guy who is going in there to just have a name to fight Fedor. He knows he’s going to have a fight.”
Bellator Moscow takes place on Oct. 23 at VTB Arena via Showtime.