He’s got the physique of a professional bowler not a brawler, the disposition of a dead fish and a name you can’t pronounce. But make no mistake, Fedor Emelianenko is the most exciting and dangerous fighter on the planet. He’s the Babe Ruth of mixed martial arts, and on Saturday night he will headline the biggest MMA fight of the year, Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Rogers, airing live and for free on CBS.
Fedor, as he’s known, has lost just once in 31 fights, and that was nine years ago. Among the fallen are four former UFC heavyweight champs, three current UFC heavyweight contenders and one 7-foot-2 giant. He’s beaten them with punches and he’s beaten them with grappling. All but a handful of his fights have been in Japan, where he’s regarded as something between a rock star and Godzilla.
With dollar signs in its eyes, the UFC tried desperately to sign Fedor three months ago, envisioning a showdown with its musclebound champion, Brock Lesnar. But the inscrutable Russian chose the lesser-known Strikeforce and fans reacted the way people did when the Red Sox sold Ruth to the Yankees — with anger and disappointment.
As hazardous jobs go, fighting Fedor ranks up their with ice road trucker and bomb defuser. The man who will play Beowulf to Fedor’s Grendel is Brett Rogers, a soft-spoken mountain of muscle with a Mr. T mohawk and sleep in his fists. Rogers is undefeated in 10 fights, but until four months ago he made his living changing tires. Punching people unconscious was merely a hobby.
Then, Rogers knocked out former UFC champ Andrei Arlovski in just 22 seconds, which is almost three minutes faster than it took Fedor to knock him out.
Now, Strikeforce has set up a fight even Hollywood couldn’t script, a mythic invincible Russian versus an all-American underdog with the proverbial puncher’s chance of winning. Come to think of it, this was a movie, Rocky IV. While Fedor is obviously Ivan Drago, it just remains to be seen whether Rogers is Rocky Balboa or Apollo Creed.