Fedor Emelianenko's farewell tour is off to an outstanding start.
Emelianenko landed a big right hand to knock out Quinton Jackson at 2:40 of the first round Saturday night in the main event of Bellator Japan at Saitama Super Arena. It was the first time Jackson had been stopped since 2005 and the first time ever he was finished via punches.
The fight was billed as the return to Japan for a pair of mixed martial arts legends who became stars there in the now defunct Pride Fighting Championships promotion. Emelianenko re-signed with Bellator in June for what was called his "retirement tour."
At his postfight news conference, Emelianenko clarified that he is not retired, as his interpreter had said during his in-ring interview immediately after his win over Jackson. Emelianenko said he is eyeing one final fight in the United States and then a retirement fight in his home country of Russia.
"For this day, particularly this day, [two more fights] is the plan," he said. "But we'll see."
Emelianenko looked close enough to the version of "The Last Emperor" that dominated Pride in the aughts when he became perhaps the greatest heavyweight and one of the greatest fighters ever to compete in MMA. He ripped Jackson, best known in the MMA world as "Rampage," with combinations to begin the fight and was clearly the faster, more agile man.
Jackson came into the heavyweight bout at 265 pounds -- 65 pounds heavier than he fought in his prime. Emelianenko peppered him with punching combinations and leg kicks before landing a missile-like right hand that sent Jackson crashing to the canvas face first.
Jackson acknowledged that weight was an issue Saturday and said he wouldn't fight at heavyweight again.
"I got to get my damn weight down," he said. "I felt like a hippopotamus out there. But that's my fault. No excuses. It's all right. I'll be back. But I ain't coming back at heavyweight. I've got to lose this weight."
For Emelianenko, Saturday marked his final fight in Japan. Addressing the Japanese fans afterward, he said, "I'm very happy that one more time I was here and I was able to entertain you guys and make you happy."
Emelianenko (39-6, 1 NC) has won three of his past four fights and five of seven since returning from a three-year retirement in 2015. This was his first fight in Japan in four years. Emelianenko, 43, knocked out Chael Sonnen and Frank Mir last year in the Bellator Heavyweight World Grand Prix, only to be knocked out by Ryan Bader in the finals last January.
Emelianenko will leave an excellent yet somewhat complicated legacy. He is a former Pride heavyweight champion and 2004 Pride heavyweight world grand prix champion, winning both during a time when Pride was regarded just as highly as the UFC and had a better heavyweight division. Emelianenko went undefeated from 2001 to 2010.
Emelianenko never did compete in the UFC, though, with negotiations stalling several times. UFC president Dana White has said Emelianenko was one of the fighters he regretted the promotion was unable to sign. In July, White called a potential megabout between Emelianenko and Brock Lesnar perhaps the only huge MMA fight that the UFC failed to make in his tenure.
Jackson (38-14) is a former UFC light heavyweight champion who had lucrative title rivalries with Jon Jones and Rashad Evans. The Memphis native has now lost three of his past four fights. Jackson, 41, was a star for Pride in the mid-aughts, known for his aggressive style and violent knockouts. "Rampage" had not fought in Japan since 2012.
In the co-main event of Bellator Japan, the promotion's first card in the country, Michael Chandler knocked out Sidney Outlaw with a right hand at 2:59 of the first round. It was Chandler's 17th Bellator win, a total that is second in promotion history behind Patricio Freire (18). Chandler, a three-time former Bellator lightweight champion, earned his 12th stoppage, a new Bellator record. Outlaw was filling in for the injured Benson Henderson on three weeks notice.
Also on the card, the exciting Michael Page won his third straight fight via knockout, stopping Shinsho Anzai at :23 of the second round. Page (17-1) lost his only career fight by knockout to current Bellator welterweight champion Douglas Lima earlier this year and is hoping for a rematch in 2020.