It has been nearly two weeks since heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko returned to competition -- and many remain unsure exactly what to make of it.
Emelianenko, 39, came out of a three-year retirement last month to headline Rizin Fighting Federation's inaugural event on New Year's Eve outside Tokyo. Led by former Pride boss Nobuyuki Sakakibara, Rizin hopes to revive a Japanese fight scene that stagnated after the 2007 dissolution of Pride.
It turned into an easy night for Emelianenko (35-4), as the iconic Russian immediately took down Jaideep Singh (2-1) and finished him with strikes. It was obvious from the start that Singh, an Indian professional kickboxer, was badly overmatched.
Negotiations for Emelianenko's next appearance are already underway. He said he could fight again as soon as Rizin's next event on April 17, but both Sakakibara and senior vice president Jerry Millen said it will likely be later.
"We don't talk publicly about contract negotiations, but Fedor will continue to fight for Rizin," said Millen, who is a longtime adviser to Emelianenko. "He won't fight in April, but we have a couple cool things Fedor could be involved in. It could go one of two ways, but fans won't be disappointed."
Frankly, plenty of fans were disappointed in Emelianenko's comeback.
The selection of Singh, 28, as an opponent generated little buzz. Rizin didn't even officially announce the matchup until Dec. 17, and Singh was widely viewed as having no chance. Oddsmakers made him a 6-1 underdog.
Sakakibara defended Rizin's choice for Emelianenko's first opponent, saying it coincides with the federation's long-term goals.
"The whole concept with Rizin and Fedor's agreement is to give opportunities to a younger generation," said Sakakibara, through an interpreter. "Our goal is to create a new character, a new star, to face Fedor.
"If by the time Fedor fights again people are more buzzed about him fighting an older name like [former UFC champion] Randy Couture, we'll have to consider trying to put that together -- but as of right now, our main goal is to create new stars for Fedor to pass the torch to."
Although he mentioned Couture by name, Sakakibara said he has not had serious fight negotiations with the 52-year-old.
Rizin is currently planning four shows in 2016. In addition to April 17, the promotion is looking at dates in July and September and New Year's Eve. It is in negotiations with several broadcasting platforms in Japan. In the U.S., events may continue to run on Spike TV, where the Emelianenko fight aired.
While Millen said any Emelianenko fight on free television is nothing to complain about (and that at this point, the former Pride champion has nothing to prove), he does acknowledge the public's desire to see him in a competitive fight.
"He doesn't have to go to the UFC and fight [champion Fabricio Werdum] to prove he's No. 1 anymore," Millen said. "Singh was a young guy and good for the Japanese market. Who knows? He could have shocked the world that night.
"I definitely want to see him in competitive fights. I do want to see him in battles and I think he has a couple battles left. After this fight he felt great and I think you're going to see him around a couple more years. Maybe not fighting every three or four months, but twice a year. Then he wants to pass that torch to the next Russian generation, the next Fedor."
Bellator MMA remains a potential source of Emelianenko's next opponent, although neither Sakakibara or Millen would firmly commit to that idea. Former Strikeforce champion and current Bellator fighter Muhammad "King Mo" Lawal fought on Rizin's event and has called for a bout against Emelianenko.
"Anything is possible," Millen said. "Personally, I'd love to see a Bellator-Rizin co-promotion like they did [in September] with the Dynamite! event. Have a ring and a cage in the same building again."
One former Pride veteran who did not fare as well as Emelianenko on the Rizin card was Kazushi Sakuraba (26-17-1). In his first fight since 2011, the 46-year-old lost in devastating fashion to Shinya Aoki.
Sakakibara said that fight was a "brutal reality" for Sakuraba but seemed optimistic he'd fight again.
"As far as him fighting again, we have to discuss," Sakakibara said. "We've talked about a class of 40-year-olds and over. It's not over for Sakuraba in my mind."