Mark La Monica is the deputy sports editor for cross media at Newsday and writes about mixed martial
First, this topic requires a disclaimer using the first person: I'm not one of these Fedor Emelianenko apologists that floods the Internet with "WAR Fedor!!!" comments on message boards and attacks anyone who says anything negative about "The Last Emperor". Nor am I a Fedor hater, quick to dispell his skills and claim he fought 7-foot ham-and-eggers for too long to be good anymore.
Now that we've cleared that up, let's talk about the retirement discussions surrounding Fedor Emelianenko, the Russian mixed martial artist who lost his third straight fight last Saturday. This time, it was the powerful right hand of Dan Henderson that put Emelianenko face down on the canvas in the Strikeforce main event.
It seemed that in the seconds between Henderson knocking Fedor to the canvas and referee Herb Dean moving in to stop the bout, the MMA community began writing Emelianenko's epitaph. In fact, most probably had it written already and were just waiting to hit the send button.
This is what we do with sports. It's how we explain the unexplainable. Fedor won 27 fights in a row over a 10-year span, so how could it be plausible that he lost three in a row? Surely, at age 34, Emelianenko has diminished skills, right? It's the only feasible mechanism for understanding how a fighter some consider the best ever could fall so hard, so fast.
Well, here's a jab of reality: if Fedor had beaten Henderson last Saturday (and he landed some big shots and scored a knockdown), all those pro-retirement folks would be typing "He's back" stories, columns and blogs. Oh, how quickly the right right hand changes the narrative.
Emelianenko, once considered the best heavyweight in the world, endures a three-fight losing streak. Few other fighters of his caliber have gone through a similar fate. Randy Couture, a five-time UFC champion, never lost three straight. But Tito Ortiz did, and now he's fighting in the main event at UFC 133 against Rashad Evans. Chuck Liddell lost three straight -- all by knockout -- and he retired. Liddell looked old and slow at times in his final three bouts and lost the ability to take a big punch. It happens. He was 40 when he retired.
But Emelianenko hasn't shown signs of age or lessened skills in the cage. He's just lost fights. Fabricio Werdum did the unfathomable with a submission victory in June 2010, spoiling the Russian's Strikeforce debut. Antonio Silva, who outweighed Emelianenko by a good 40 pounds on fight night, dominated Emelianenko last February in the Strikeforce Grand Prix quarterfinals. The fight was stopped after the second round when Emelianenko's right eye swelled to the size of a golf ball. Against Henderson, Emelianenko looked in good physical condition, came out swinging and landed a number of big shots before getting caught with a big right hand from the back that he couldn't see coming.
To say that Emelianenko needs to retire now is unfair and short-sighted. He has lost fights, not skills. If Emelianenko wants to retire and spend time with his newborn daughter, that's his call. Not ours.