Last night, Bellator made a big announcement regarding their latest big signing and what his first fight would be. During the Bellator 165 broadcast they announced that none other than “The Last Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko is coming to Bellator.
Fedor has signed a multi-fight deal with the company and his return to MMA in the United States begins on Feb. 18, 2017 in San Jose, Calif. at the SAP Center with his opponent already decided – former UFC Heavyweight and Ultimate Fighter contestant, Matt Mitrione.
Mitrione signed with Bellator earlier this year, leaving the UFC as a free agent and is 2-0 in the Bellator cage so far with two knockouts, with an overall 11-5 record.
Bellator President Scott Coker commented on the huge signing. “It’s great to be back in business with Fedor,” he said. “The man is a legend both inside and outside of the cage and I’m elated to bring him back Stateside for the American MMA fans to witness him fight Matt Mitrione in San Jose. He and I go quite aways back, and I look forward to continuing to build our partnership here in Bellator MMA.”
Both Fedor and Mitrione appeared on the Bellator 165 broadcast after the announcement to comment on their upcoming fight. “I’m happy to be fighting here in San Jose,” Fedor told Bellator announcer Jimmy Smith. “I’m happy to be fighting in Bellator.”
Mitrione made his way out for an interview and revealed that he had signed a contract to fight in February, but didn’t know who he would be fighting or where. He said he is now excited to find out that Fedor would be his opponent. “I’m honored,” he said. “Welcome to the family. I’m so excited I get to touch gloves with you” said Mitrione as he greeted the legendary heavyweight.
Fedor is regarded by many as the greatest heavyweight of all time, building an almost mythical reputation during his unbeatable run in Pride where he reigned as Pride Heavyweight Champion for over three years until the company folded, disposing of legendary names such as Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, Mark Hunt, Andrei Arlovski, and Pedro Rizzo along the way.
Fedor is still a popular figure in MMA. However, now at age 40, he has experienced a bit of a difficult road since returning to professional mixed martial arts (MMA) in late 2015.
He made his return on Dec. 31 of last year for RIZIN Fighting Federation. However, instead of taking on a big name fight to make his return a special one, he decided to fight a man with only two professional fights under his belt, Singh Jaideep, something which was seen by the MMA community as a bit of a copout and an easy fight. It turned out to be as easy as people expected, with the far more experienced Fedor defeating Singh via submission due to punches in the first round.
Next for Fedor was a fight back in June of this year against former UFC Light Heavyweight Fabio Maldonado for Eurasia Fight Nights in St Petersburg, Russia. This fight caused some controversy as Emelianenko took a majority decision win over Maldonado in a fight which most people scored as a draw after three-rounds. Most people put this decision down to the Fedor’s working relationship with the Russian MMA Union.
Aside from the controversial decision, Fedor’s performance wasn’t great in this fight either, with Maldonado doing damage with strikes several times during the bout with some observers pointing out that had the fight been anywhere but Russia, it would have been stopped for a Maldonado TKO win.
So as Fedor prepares to make his return to MMA in the United States, he has something to prove. In his fight with Mitrione, he has to win and win convincingly to justify having a multi-fight deal and that he still has what it takes to compete at a high level in a serious Heavyweight Division.
His last U.S. run in Strikeforce ended badly with three straight defeats against Fabricio Werdum, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, and Dan Henderson. After his fight with Maldonado in June, it’s hard to see him doing any better in this run. He is now five years older to start with and, based on the Maldonado fight, he is susceptible to strikes, Maldonado is naturally a Light-Heavyweight. So to now take on someone like Mitrione who has legit heavyweight knockout power, it could spell danger for the legend.
For Mitrione, 38, fighting a legend like Emelianenko is a great step forward for his career and a win here would be a big scalp for Mitrione. In fact, it could establish him as the big name in the Heavyweight Division and as one of the promotion’s main attractions.
Whoever wins this fight will most definitely be in the running for a shot at the vacant Bellator Heavyweight Title with a new champion likely to be crowned in 2017 with other names such as Bobby Lashley and Chieck Kongo in the mix also.
For Bellator, no matter the outcome, they have signed another big name for their promotion and continue to build their reputation in MMA. They have made the best of fighters who are arguably past their prime in the past such as Tito Ortiz. They will likely do so again here with one of their biggest signings in Fedor Emelianenko. Win or lose, there is still money to be made and for anyone who beats Fedor, a chance to raise their profile in the MMA world.
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(D.R. Webster writes “The Sunday Supplement” for MMATorch each week and also authors the MMATorch Daily Trivia feature. He has written for Daily Record Sport, WrestleTalk TV, Sports Kings, and a variety of other combat sports sites and publications, including review shows and DVDs, news reporting, columns, and fantasy articles.)