Bellator 214 this past Saturday night at The Forum in Inglewood, California, may have featured the last 35 seconds in the famed career of “The Last Emperor.” That’s all the time Ryan Bader needed to brutally knock out Fedor Emelianenko, capturing the Bellator World Heavyweight Grand Prix and Bellator Heavyweight Championships. Bader is now a two-division champion in Bellator (he’s also the promotion’s light heavyweight champion) and will move on to bigger and better things. Emelianenko, on the other hand, has to be contemplating retirement for the second time.
The legendary Russian fighter is now 42-years old and the Bader fight was the last bout on his contract. As good as he looked in his TKO wins over Chael Sonnen and Frank Mir in the first two rounds of the tournament, it’s not hard to forget the brutal knockout loss he suffered at the hands of Matt Mitrione in his Bellator debut. Adding the Bader knockout to that and it’s not a good combination going forward. Not to mention Emelianenko’s contract with Bellator is now finished, as confirmed by president Scott Coker. He’s a big-ticket item and at this point in his career it might not be worth it for Bellator to give him the same kind of money he’s been making considering his age and the state of his chin.
Having said that, Emelianenko is still a big name in the sport, and he’s still someone who draws eyeballs to the television. At this point, it’s totally up to him what he wants to do. In many ways, he doesn’t have anything left to prove in the sport. He might not be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world anymore, like he was during the 2000s, but no one will forget the amazing career Emelianenko has had. Even if he never fights again he will still go down as one of the best to ever do it. Sure, beating Bader and winning the Bellator heavyweight tournament would have been a storybook ending, but alas, that wasn’t in God’s plans, as Emelianenko himself would say.
At this point, retirement makes a lot of sense for Emelianenko, but we saw back in 2012 that he retired and then returned in 2015. He’s a born fighter, and it’s hard for guys like him to completely step away. But at this point of his career he needs to start thinking about his health, and the fact he got dropped and finished by essentially a jab is not a good sign. Sure, Emelianenko could probably take his wares to RIZIN and fight some easier opponents there, but the question he and his team have to ask themselves now is if it’s even worth it. Selfishly, I’d like to see Emelianenko go to RIZIN and fight some freak show bouts, but it just doesn’t make sense for him to do so.
We don’t know yet if Saturday night was the last time we saw Emelianenko inside the cage, but if it was, he’ll go down as arguably the greatest heavyweight in MMA history, and at least in the top three. As for Bader, the fight was essentially a passing of the torch from “The Last Emperor” to “Darth,” who is quickly becoming one of the pound-for-pound greats in the sport. After running through Mitrione and Muhammad Lawal in dominant fashion, finishing the tournament off with the win over Emelianenko should turn Bader into a household name. While it would have been nice to see Emelianenko win the tournament and walk away as a winner, that’s very rare to happen in MMA. Most fighters end up staying too long, and Emelianenko arguably has already. But he now has a chance to get out with his wits intact. Let’s see what he does now, and what God’s plan is for him.