His awful three-fight losing streak finally snapped, Fedor Emelianenko must now turn his attention to a concept he’s long been loath to even acknowledge: The future.
After picking apart sitting duck Jeff Monson to claim his first win in more than three years on Sunday, Emelianenko took the microphone at M-1 Global in Moscow to proclaim that he's transformed himself into a new man -- one ready to move forward and erase the memory of his recent blunders.
Next stop: Olympic judoka turned occasional MMA fighter Satoshi Ishii in Japan on New Year’s Eve.
Of course, for a guy who has always seemed a lot more comfortable dealing with the past, it’s hard to believe there could ever be a "new" Fedor. Even if such a creature did exist, it would be equally impossible to know where he’s headed.
As the sport underwent an unprecedented period of growth and change during the last five years, Emelianenko steadfastly refused to evolve with it. He never altered his training, never sought out new skills, never changed his fighting style. Essentially, he simply sat on the laurels he had established from 2002-06, when he was Pride’s unbeatable champion.
Not surpringly, this approach was met with mixed results, and by the time his disastrous run in Strikeforce ended earlier this year, most everybody was ready to leave his career for dead.
In fairness, though, he did look like something of a changed fighter against Monson. Emelianenko came out of his corner content to work a steady game plan, stalking his opponent down with a barrage of leg kicks and even -- wonder of all wonders -- straight punches. He floored Monson on numerous occasions and if playing a bit of possum was part of the American’s strategy, Fedor wasn’t going to be fooled again. He didn’t rush in to try to swarm the downed man as he might have a couple of years ago, instead proceeding with some uncharacteristic caution before inviting Monson back to his feet again and again.
Is this a Fedor who is finally learning from his mistakes? It's too early to tell -- especially against such a handpicked patsy -- but the performance was, at least, encouraging.
Two of Emelianenko’s recent losses can be partially blamed on his own recklessness, after all. His fall from legend-status began when he practically swan dived into Fabricio Werdum’s waiting triangle choke in June '10, perhaps considering himself immune to trivialities such as submissions. A little more than a year later Fedor elected to turn an absolute must-win fight against Dan Henderson into a veritable coin flip, engaging Hendo exactly where he is most dangerous -- in a brawling slugfest. Emelianenko called tails, and Henderson knocked his head off.
Is it possible that in the wake of those performances someone in his close cadre of advisors finally realized that Fedor’s approach wasn’t working? Sure. Is it also possible that, with that knowledge in hand, they’ve transformed him into a fighter who might actually win a few bouts in today’s 265-pound division? Absolutely.
But a whole new Fedor? Don't hold your breath.
Clearly any performance against Monson can only be given so much weight. Same with Ishii, who has been fairly stagnant since changing out of gi in 2009. If what Emelianenko wants out his career from here out is to string together a couple of victories, make a little more money and then retire back to Stary Oskol, that's probably doable.
Anything more ambitious than that? Well, that's probably just not in his future.