Photo courtesy of Strikeforce, shot by Esther Lin.
Fedor: Wait, Who was Exposed?
BY NATHAN JOHNSON
Last Saturday night, Fedor Emelianenko engineered another methodical victory. He did it 1:48 seconds into the second round. Big John McCarthy stepped in shortly after a momentous F-16 of a punch crumpled his behemoth opponent. He did all of that in the relatively unfamiliar habitat of a cage. That being said, the whole thing amounts only to this: Fedor has been exposed. Really? Exposed? Why is that? Because Joe Rogan says so.
In my opinion, Joe Rogan is the best MMA color commentator in the business. He’s employed by the UFC, easily the biggest direct competitor to Strikeforce, Fedor’s current meal ticket. Plenty of people are endeared to Joe. So if he says that Rogers exposed Fedor, there’s probably a little band of Afflictioned drones firing up its squadron of noobcycles, ready to gallop like spray-tanned Paul Reveres through the streets of MMA fandom repeating it. Last Saturday night, just after a halo of punch-drunk birds were chirping around the periphery of Rogers’ horizontal mohawk, Rogan sauntered by with his own flourish of harmonic tweeting: “As for the fedor fight, I thought it was very interesting, but I thought Rogers hesitated, and I felt like Fedor got exposed a bit.” Fedor got exposed. Joe posted the comment on his Twitter account. Was his failure to capitalize Fedor’s name intentional? It’s an interesting question. Tweedily-deetily-deet.
I admit that I underestimated Brett Rogers. He was undefeated before Saturday. In June, he cracked Arlovsky’s crystalline jaw like a spastic, overweight kid in a Tiffany lamp emporium. And his larger resume reads like a sweaty urban gladiator’s personal chalkboard in a surly Irish pub. Punches, punches, punches, punches. TKO, KO, KO, TKO. All but two of his fights ended in the first round. Six of them, inside of two minutes. But like listening to a vinyl recording of Paris Hilton singing pop music, it’s hard to evaluate that sort of record and make any informed conclusions about his skills below waist level. So I admit that I assumed he would roll around like Butterbean after Thanksgiving dinner if Fedor put him on the ground. Obviously, I was wrong. Aside from having a little maturing to do, Rogers is the real deal.
Why was I so unfair? Maybe it was Kimbo’s most recent joke of an exhibition that left me biased against big, hyped strikers. Maybe I’m just mean by nature. Whatever. Fedor had his hands full. That sneaky, opening shot to his nose was concerning to this committed Fedor fan. At one point, when Fedor was flicking streams of plasma out of his eyeballs and using his fingers like a broken set of windshield wipers, I was texting short phrases of panic to whoever happened to turn up on my cell phone contact list. With a minute and a half remaining in the first round, when the dwarfed Russian was on his back and in thick mohawky crosshairs, absorbing a string of, albeit, glancing bombs, I was nauseous. My wedding ring might have edged a glass canyon in the neck of the domestic beer bottle that I strangled during the duration of those punches. But, halleluj, halleluj, halleluj, hallelujah, I was wrong to worry.
Fedor won the fight. He didn’t blanket his opponent to a decision. He did it with flair. So why this obsession with identifying weakness in the greatest representative of our sport? Why this talk about him being exposed? Rather than attempting to provide a comprehensive answer, I’ll just suggest that this contagious need to verbalize doubt probably says more about us than it does about Fedor Emelianenko. We either need him to win, or we need him to lose. Personally, I needed him to win on Saturday. I’m not sure why. It’s probably the result of some forgotten kindergarten playground mishap. Maybe I’ll light some candles and draw a bath and do some reflecting. But in the case of Rogan, he might as well stay dry.
I’m suspicious that Joe’s thoughts here are more the result of the Dana Hancock on his paychecks than anything. Look, Joe has dotted his career with really admirable individuality when it comes to his honest perspective of MMA. But Fedor is different. He’s the most critical cog in the larger machine of commercial MMA today. And while he isn’t going to shut down a very robust UFC, he may be the most significant sustaining factor for an organization like Strikeforce. He’ll at least allow them to act as an increasingly resilient lamprey. He wields even more power outside of the ring than he does in it. He’s got the ability to create, sustain or destroy an organization. Like Atlas, he’s balancing a subtly gyrating world of Fertitas and Cokers and savvy Russian promoters on his shoulders.
All of that said, could Rogan still be right? Was Fedor exposed by Rogers? Sure, parts of him were exposed. Some of his blood was exposed, for instance. An inch or so of his epidermis around the bridge of his nose was exposed. Hell, he’s probably exposed right now in some brotherly spa in Stary Oskol. But was he exposed in any ominous sense? Even a bit? Of course not. If Fedor has exposed anything of note, it’s simply because he’s provided a little broader glimpse behind the iron curtain of his astonishing mystique: that he’s not a significant beneficiary of chance, that he can absorb an as-yet undefined level of punishment without losing his lungs or his calm, and that he is always dangerous. At no point last Saturday did Fedor approach a condition of submission, either by tap or by unconsciousness. He never looked tired. And most importantly, he never panicked. He worked out that same old stoic formula. So it all comes down to this: icons like Fedor inflame primal emotions in all of us otherwise stable adults. In doing so, they expose all sorts of things. And in the final analysis, after all our reflexive doubts and impassioned supports are betrayed, it isn’t Fedor who has been exposed. Nope. It is us.
Nathan Johnson/ 2JupitersTooMany can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.