Haters gonna’ hate, the saying goes. Chuck Mindenhall of ESPN wrote a scathing article last week on his site entitled “The cans are starting to align for Fedor“, which discussed why he believed that the potential opponents named for Fedor Emelianenko’s next fight were worthless, especially Randleman since Mindenhall called him “A warm body with a subliminal link to the past that Fedor can waltz through.”
In spite of his pessimistic view on the next step in Fedor’s career, Mindenhall makes a valid argument for the matchmaking that may occur with this bout and that offering him a sacrificial lamb does not answer any questions about him. Fedor would be committing career suicide if he fought someone like Alistair Overeem next, and fighting a guy like Randleman, whose record speaks for itself, would come off incredibly weak to pundits and fans alike. It would be impossible for Fedor to fight in the UFC as well due to the ongoing co-promotion issue that M-1 wants with Zuffa, so Lesnar, Crocop, and Carwin are totally out of the question. This led me to create this list on who I thought would be the ten best opponents for Fedor’s comeback fight, moreso fighters who were not just easy wins.
The goal here was to find credible opponents that offers a compelling storyline, good amount of challenge and be an actual threat to Fedor, but enough that a game Fedor could still triumph over after some abuse (in the best situation). That danger would amplify interest in a comeback fight, rather than feeding the former Pride FC Heavyweight champ a tomato can. The opponent has to be credible, even if credibility comes purely in a recognizable face that is not a highly-ranked fighter, since Fedor is quickly dropping off the top ten anyway. The goal is to prove to the haters that even though he is undefeated no longer, Fedor is still a legit contender and great fighter who is, like most humans, getting older and not quite as sharp. As a bonus, at the end of this piece I will list who should not be his next opponent and why. Let’s kick this thing off and start pissing off some fanboys!
10. Todd Duffee:
Being touted as one of the next big things in the UFC heavyweight division about a year ago, a knockout loss courtesy of Mike Russow sent him out of the company, followed up by a quick knockout loss to Alistair Overeem in DREAM. Fans quickly forgot about Duffee and many threw his name among the cans of MMA. Lest we forget, Duffee made his UFC debut with a seven second knockout against Tim Hague, who had not been knocked out in any of his previous eleven fights.
Before Duffee’s pair of losses, he was 6-0 with all of his victories by KO or TKO. Young and still untested, Duffee was fed to Overeem on short notice to be destroyed, and has not seen action since then. The Colorado native was expected to fight in July in DREAM but was forced to pull out due to an injury, but if Duffee can get himself a win or two, he could be on track for a shot against Fedor. His strength would be a serious factor for Fedor to overcome, and it’s this kind of situation that the Russian needs to be put in.
9. Ricco Rodriguez:
Ricco is going through a career rebirth on his own. With 12 consecutive wins, Ricco has yet to fight much of a hard opponent in a long time. At Bellator 48 this weekend in Connecticut, the former UFC heavyweight champ will meet Seth Petruzelli in what will be his most challenging match since fighting Antonio Silva in 2008. Ricco’s stock is going up lately and he is becoming a go-to-guy for many companies in need of some star power. However, Ricco needs a challenge to really show where he is at, and Fedor is that challenge.
Hit the jump for more of who I think are the next best opponent’s for Fedor!
8. Kenny Garner/ 7.Pat Bennett:
While not tying for a spot on this list, they are on equal terms in regards to relevance. Both of these fighters have fought with M-1 Global and have equal drawing power, which is not much compared to others on this list, but the company has been building them both up and a fight with either one of these two could make sense (while being cost-effective).
Bennett, a New York state local, made it to the finals of the M-1 Americas selection tournament, meeting Kenny “Deuce” Garner (pictured above) in the finals. Both showed tremendous mettle getting to that point and went to war in their last match to determine the American representative for the M-1 Challenge series. Garner has actually defeated Bennett twice, once by TKO and the most recent with a clean knockout. Bennett’s only other loss was against Bellator FC Heavyweight Champion Cole Konrad, and even Cole could not knock Bennett out. Both are skilled wrestlers with powerful hands and offer Fedor fans an exciting fight, while offering Fedor nothing he has not seen before stylistically but challenging him with their sheer physical attributes and ability to take a beating and keep going.
6. Pedro Rizzo:
Pedro Rizzo was once one of the top dogs in the heavyweight division, pushing Randy Couture to the limits in their duo of matches. Formerly a legend killer in his own right, but at this phase in his career he has been battling cans and fellow journeymen.
One opponent that never crossed paths with Rizzo was Fedor, and in my mind an interesting match. Both are good strikers with vastly different styles, and have grappling skills that would balance each other out. It could be a competitive match that might never get to the ground, or it could be one that never leaves it. This match truly should have happened long ago in Pride, so why not have it now before it’s too late to ever occur?
5. Brett Rogers
Another fighter who was pushed too quickly into the spotlight, Brett Rogers did a tremendous job when he fought Fedor in November, 2009. Rogers turned the Russian’s face into mush, and gave Fedor one of the toughest fights he had faced in a long time. Rogers ultimately lost by knockout in the second round, and then notched losses against Overeem and most recently Barnett, men he was also simply outclassed against.
Enough time has passed for Rogers though, and I believe that while Overeem and Barnett could still eat him alive now, Fedor would be a better opponent for Rogers to have a revenge match with. Rogers is currently facing serious legal issues, but if things are settled, a rematch with him and Fedor could be a big draw seeing the storyline that they can carry over from their Strikeforce match.
4. Keith Jardine
The inconsistent “Dean of Mean” is trying to make a comeback like Ricco Rodriguez, but unlike Ricco, Jardine started taking tough fights after only two tune-up fights. Most recently, Jardine fought to a draw against Mousasi (although whether he deserved that draw or not is still up in the air). In terms of skills, Keith is from the new younger breed of MMA fighters but the main attraction I have with him for this list is his drawing power.
Jardine is a TUF alumni and was a mainstay of the UFC roster for several years. From a promoters standpoint, it’s a marketable fight and Jardine is dangerous enough to offer plenty of resistance against Fedor and has knockout ability (although he does have the tendency to be on the receiving end of that as well). If Keith can add some mass going into this fight while moving up to heavyweight, he could put on a good show against Fedor and sell plenty of tickets as well.
3. Gabriel Gonzaga:
Another guy UFC was pushing in the heavyweight division for some time, “Napao” went 7-5 in his tenure with the company. Back to back losses against Brendan Schaub and Junior Dos Santos, two fighters poised for stardom within the UFC now, led to his release from the company and left him a free agent. Since then, Gonzaga has focused on other things but is stepping back into the cage this fall in “Reality Fighting” in Connecticut.
Gonzaga’s losses include two losses to Fabricio Werdum, and the rest are all former title-holders or serious contenders. Gonzaga is interesting in that he is essentially a mystery at this point. Having been out of MMA for so long, no one will know what to expect, but his past performances give us evidence to believe that he will not be an easy opponent for Fedor by any means. A fight with these two would revive Gonzaga’s career and Fedor’s simultaneously.
2. Neil Grove:
Grove has been on a roll in Bellator, only suffering one loss against Bellator FC Heavyweight Champion Cole Konrad. Konrad has hands like boulders, but is not invincible when it comes to a punch to the face and as we have seen in the past, neither is Fedor. A fight with these two men would be a knockdown brawl, with heart-stopping moments when inevitably each man will get knocked down and have to fight to get back to their feet and survive. It would be an ugly fight, and a tough test for either man, and ultimately it would come down to who has the most sense of how to survive through the punishment. If Fedor haters want to question his heart, this would be the match to shut them up.
1. Andrei Arlovski:
At the second Affliction show, Arlovski and Fedor met inside the giant ring, where Arlovski wobbled Fedor early on then continued to push the action. The hand speed of Arlovski kept Fedor from coming too close to him, as did his stinging low kicks. When it came to wrestling, however, Fedor outmuscled Arlovski with ease. When the fight came to an end, Arlovski was starting to pick up the pacing when an errant hook from Fedor made a quick night of Andrei’s work. Many argued that if Arlovski had not jumped in the air, things would have turned out differently. I say, let’s find out!
With both Arlovski and Fedor coming off numerous consecutive losses (four for Andrei and three for Fedor), neither fighter would want to lose this one, making it such a strong story from a marketing standpoint. Two former champs, now fighting to survive in the competitive world of MMA! Arlovski is currently contracted to ProElite, so co-promoting with M-1 Global would not be out of the question and would only help push ProElite further by giving them some serious name-power.
Who should Fedor NOT fight next:
Tim Sylvia – Another former victim of Fedor, the Sylvia that fights today is not the same one that fought Fedor back in 2008. A trip down memory lane perhaps, but Sylvia can do even less now than what he could have during his peak.
Jeff Monson – Sad to say, Monson is no match for anything that Fedor has to offer and is too easy of a win for the Russian.
Kevin Randleman – Last time I checked, he was retired.
James Thompson – While being similar to Neil Grove in how the fight would turn out, Thompson is noticeably less skilled and after James is put on his back, he will become a fish out of water waiting to be armbarred.
Ray Mercer/ James Toney – Fedor has done enough freak show fights in Japan, let’s keep it that way.
Agree? Disagree? Think I am absolutely insane, or just plain retarded? Let me know in the comments, and more importantly back up your thoughts by saying who you think should be added or removed from my list!