By Josh Stein on Nov 08, 2009
Fedor Emelianenko (31-1-0-1 MMA, #1 IWMMAR) took two rounds last night reminding the world why he’s the best heavyweight, not just active in the sport today, but in the history of mixed martial arts, when he demolished Brett Rogers (10-1 MMA, #6 IWMMAR).
While there are those who think, for some reason or another, that Fedor’s showing against Rogers exposed some problems dealing with the cage, it’s clear that what we saw against Rogers was nothing new for people familiar with Fedor’s skillset. It was simply the execution we’ve come to expect. In that respect, the showing was mundane, but it was meaningful in terms of the argument for Fedor, potentially, fighting UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar (4-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC, #2 IWMMAR).
There’s an argument that Fedor showed issues working with his back against the cage. But this is really superficial. Fedor spent some time with his back on the fence in the fight (most notably from the 1:00 mark to the 2:00 mark of the first round), but during that time he did what any fighter who knows the ins and outs of the clinch game should do: he waited for his bigger, heavier opponent to either pull his weight back for a second to throw a knee to the midsection, to drop and look for a takedown, or to step to far to the side.
The logic is pretty simple: it’s a waste of time to try and move a 280 pound heavyweight who’s got an underhook and your body pinned against the cage. Don’t waste energy. Let him lean on you with his head, and let your back sit against the cage to reduce the pressure. Fighters burn energy against the cage when they get into fighting for underhooks and try to slip their hips out to procure a reversal of position. Fedor didn’t do that. He got out of the clinch when Rogers stepped to far out and he [Fedor] threatened with a quick judo trip, when Rogers chose to open up the space.
That’s the kind of intelligence we’ve come to expect from Fedor, and it wasn’t diminished by having his back on the cage, it was just a different reaction to a situation we hadn’t seen him in before.
What’s impressive about Fedor’s win, though, and what should be more important to the discussion of a potential matchup with Brock, or even Shane Carwin (11-0 MMA, 3-0 UFC, #5 IWMMAR), has everything to do with how he handled a size and reach disadvantage against a monstrous and powerful striker. Granted, Rogers is not as heavy, from what I’ve seen, as either Carwin or Lesnar, and he’s not as athletic, but he’s certainly got more technical striking than Brock (perhaps not more technical than Carwin, given that Shane has developed some pretty solid boxing skills). What’s important is the problem that those three fighters each present to any opponent: they’re big, they have reach and they have weight behind every punch. Anybody going into that fight knows that they have to avoid taking a hard shot and they have to work around the reach, meaning they can’t simply look to close the distance, as that usually means eating a jab (it’s a sacrifice that, most of the time, is worth it).
Fedor showed that he can do that. While he ate a jab early in the fight (the punch that opened up his nose), the rest of the fight he worked easily around Rogers’ reach. In round two, the punch that put Rogers out was picturesque, and watching the replay, it’s clear exactly what problem both Carwin and Lesnar would have with Fedor: he cuts under hooks with faster punches. Fedor will wait to draw his opponent into leading with a hook, which is what Rogers did (and something that both Carwin and Lesnar do, very effectively against opponents who are less technical standing up) and deliver the right hand hard. We know that Carwin can be put out with a punch, because we saw Gonzaga almost do it. Whether Lesnar can be stopped with a right hand like that may be debatable, but I don’t think it is. Certainly, Lesnar has an untested chin, but that right hand has been devastating every time its landed, and it’s hard to imagine Lesnar reacting differently.
As far as the grappling component goes, that’s an element that’s worth taking into consideration for both Carwin and Lesnar. After all, Lesnar and Carwin are both much better wrestlers than Rogers, as former NCAA champions. However, there are still definitely holes in Lesnar’s ground game, and the fact that we know that Fedor can work off of his back against an opponent with decent (though not excellent) grappling skills and a similar build to Lesnar and Carwin, I think it’s clear that Fedor wouldn’t simply be subject to a lay-and-pray type offense.
Anyway, these are some thoughts on what can happen.
What’s more important, though, is that Fedor stopped his fifth opponent in a row since the fall of Pride. Three have been top ten heavyweights going into their fights, and all three have been devastated by his power. One of the things that is worth noting in these most recent three fights is a departure from the standard gameplan. Sure, Fedor was willing to take Rogers down once the two entered the clinch, and Fedor was even quick to engage it, but Fedor’s ground game in his last three fights has been overshadowed by devastating standup that, while certainly apart of his arsenal, wasn’t really considered his shiniest tool. The crown jewel of his game was always seen as the vicious ground-and-pound he delivered against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, but Fedor hasn’t really used it in his last three bouts, instead demonstrating the dynamite in his hands.
The performance last night was another huge win for Fedor, and it will be interesting to see who is placed against him next, hopefully Alistair Overeem (31-11-0-1 MMA, #8 IWMMAR).
About the Author: Joshua Stein is a writer and editor for MMA Opinion. He has worked as a photographer and journalist and has a number of print journalism credits. He also works as a moderator for MMAForum.com and a grappling columnist (covering judo, collegiate wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and submission grappling) for profighting-fans.com.