Sunday, February 13, 2011

STRIKEFORCE fails to prop up Fedor

Fedor after losing to Silva
By John McMullen

East Rutherford, NJ - Critics of the pedestrian-looking Fedor Emelianenko have been trying to poke holes in his aura for years.

They finally got the ammunition they needed in June of last year when Fabricio Werdum stunned the Russian mixed martial arts star with a triangle choke in
just 69 seconds.

Before Werdum, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, proved he was a mere moral, Emelianenko (31-3, 1 NC), powered by an unprecedented, record-setting run of 28 straight bouts without a loss, was the consensus No. 1 heavyweight in the world, even though the industry leader, the UFC, wouldn't meet his asking price.

Instead Fedor spent most of his time overseas, destroying inferior competition before inking a deal with the now-defunct Affliction promotion. In fact, prior to stopping former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia in Anaheim back in July of 2008, Emelianenko hadn't faced a ranked heavyweight since downing Mirko
"Cro Cop" Filipovic almost three years earlier. In between he faced fighters like middleweight Matt Lindland, aging veteran Mark Coleman and freak show attractions like Mark Hunt and Hong Man Choi.

The lack of competition gave Emelianenko's doubters, most notably UFC president Dana White, carte blanche to hurl "overrated" claims against the Russian. That looked silly, however, when Emelianenko followed his 36 second submission win over Sylvia with the dispatching of another former UFC champ, Andrei Arlovski, in a first round knockout.

Once Affliction bit the dust it seemed like a foregone conclusion that White would finally get his man and fight fans would finally see the matchups they desired, namely Fedor against the biggest box office draw in the sport, Brock Lesnar.

No matter what he says publicly these days, the boisterous UFC point man wanted Fedor badly and thought he had him before Emelianenko's promotional arm, M-1 GLOBAL, balked and kept Fedor out of UFC in favor of more control as his co-promoter with the fledgling STRIKEFORCE promotion.

The one positive of the deal was exposure on CBS when Emelianenko KO'd Brett Rogers, a rather lightly-regarded heavyweight out of St. Paul, Minn. Rogers, a former tire technician at Sam's Club, exposed or at least magnified some chinks in Fedor's armor when he opened up a deep cut above his eye in the first round before the veteran responded early in Round 2 with one violent right-hand that ended it. Watching that bout, however, I remember thinking the referee might have to stop it, the cut was that bad.

However, dreams of the first STRIKEFORCE pay-per-view bout with Fedor headlining against the company's heavyweight king, Alistair Overeem, then went up in smoke with Werdum's choke.

Werdum was the obvious choice to face Overeem for the title but both STRIKEFORCE and M-1 GLOBAL realized Fedor was still their top meal ticket and came up with the STRIKEFORCE World Grand Prix, an eight-man single elimination heavyweight tournament to take place throughout 2011.

The tourney kicked off at the IZOD Center on Saturday with Emelianenko facing Antonio Silva and Arlovski battling another Russian, Sergei Kharitonov, the last man to defeat Overeem.

While certainly an accomplished fighter, Silva seemed to be tailor-made for Fedor, or at least his mystique. The former super heavyweight, who suffers from acromegaly, a syndrome which causes the enlargement of facial and body features when the pituitary gland produces excess growth hormone, relies on his prodigious strength and lacks movement skills, a sitting duck for Emelianenko's supposed fast and accurate hands, along with his strong submission skills.

Or so everyone thought.

The big Brazilian, however, never got that memo and decimated the former world No. 1 with a devastating ground-and-pound attack in the second round that shut Fedor's right eye and forced the ringside doctor along with referee Dan Miragliotta to stop the fight. Silva (16-2), who was listed at 6-foot-4 and 264 pounds came into the cage at about 285 pounds, a 55-pound weight advantage over Fedor.

In fact, Silva looked like a big cat, torturing a helpless mouse with his huge paws. On his back, Fedor was getting hammered by Silva's oversized fists. When he turned on his stomach, Silva was there, looking for a rear-naked choke.

The partisan crowd exploded as the round ended with a desperate Fedor trying to lock in a heel hook but Silva just smiled and waved his finger at the Russian as to say nice try.

The fighters went to their stools and Miragliotta surveyed the damage before quickly halting the fight. As unpopular as he is, Miragliotta had no other choice.

“I told him he was No. 1, that he is still No. 1 and that he would   always be No. 1," Silva said after the fight. “There will never be a fighter like him. He was a great, great champion. I hope he doesn't t retire. I got some great advice from Fabricio Werdum, who forced Fedor to tap out last year. The game plan was to take him down and ground and pound."

The plan to rehabilitate Emelianenko with an easy win against an overmatched opponent and get him ready for the winner of the scheduled Overeem-Werdum fight later this year died in north Jersey.

"Something went wrong from the very beginning and I didn't readjust myself," Fedor said through a translator after the fight. "Maybe it's the time to leave. I've had a great beautiful, long sport life. Maybe this is God's will."

Of course whether STRIKEFORCE accomplished its mission and elevated Emelianenko was largely going to be immaterial. Even if the old Fedor reappeared for one night against Silva, at 34 years old the best case scenario for Emelianenko was a very limited shelf life with few fights left, at least as one of the world's best.

Focusing on young, charismatic fighters with upsides should have been STRIKEFORCE's focus all along.

Now it has to be.

In the other Grand Prix quarterfinal match Kharitonov (18-4) won a date with either Rogers or Josh Barnett by destroying Arlovski (15-9) with strikes before the referee jumped in at 2:49 of Round 1.

"I was nervous because Andrei is a very tough fighter," Kharitonov said through a translator. "I could care less what the experts think, I am going to win this tournament."

The SHOWTIME portion of the card started with Overeem's older brother Valentijn stopping K-1 veteran Ray Sefo by submission at 1:37 of the first round in the first tournament alternate bout. Overeem (29-25), who was originally supposed to fight Silva back in December but had to pull out with bone chips in his elbow, came in with a huge ground game edge over the 40-year-old Sefo (2-1), a six-time world kickboxing champ that was participating in just his third MMA bout. As soon as it went to the ground, it was over.

"I had to go out there and have some fun, but be careful and fight my game," Overeem said. "I knew Sefo didn't want to go to the ground but I could have stood up with him, too."

The second alternate bout saw Chad Griggs (10-1), who is best known for beating former pro wrestling superstar Bobby Lashley, stop Gian Villante (7-2), a former Hofstra football player that had tryouts with the Eagles, Jets and Buccaneers, in a slugfest with little technique that resembled a bar fight and ended at 2:49 of Round 1.

“Give me some credit, I try to be an exciting fighter," Griggs said. “Fans want to see people stand up and bang. It's the power of the sideburns.”

The final alternate match saw the undefeated Shane Del Rosario (11-0) stay that way when he caught crowd favorite Lavar Johnson (15-4) in an arm bar at 4:31 of Round 1. Johnson, a heavyweight prospect that nearly lost his life when he was shot three times in a drive-by shooting at a family reunion, came out strong but withered late in the round and left himself open..

"I knew he was gonna come out and pressure me," Del Rosario said. "I thought Lavar was going to come out and just try to bang.  But he left his arm out and I went for it."

The undercard featured a heavy dose of local fighters. Perth Amboy's Jason McLean (6-3) kicked off the night by winning a split decision over Bricktown's Kevin Roddy (11-12-1) in a 145-pound bout. McLean knocked down Roddy in the second round and that was enough to win over two of the three judges.

In other 145-pound matchup Fall River, Massachusetts native Joss Laberge (8-4) got his hand raised over New York's Anthony Leone (8-3) when the doctor stopped things after Round 1. Leone took an elbow to the nose and his corner couldn't stop the bleeding.

The Philadelphia Fight Factory's Sam Oropeza (5-1) brought a large contingent with him that started the chant "Sammy O." Things worked out well for the Briarcliff, Penn. product as he got the best of upstate New York's Don Carlo-Clauss (6-4), who verbally tapped out at 4:10 at Round 1.

In a battle of New Yorkers Igor Gracie (3-2) locked on a side triangle choke to put away John Salgado (3-5-1) at 3:04 of the second round in a 170-pound bout.

The final preliminary bout saw Renzo Gracie protege John Cholish (6-1) dispensed of New York's Marc Stevens (12-6) at 155 with a kneebar submission at 3:57 of the second round.


*Gina Carano was on hand and announced her intention to return to fighting.

*The Grand Prix will continue with two more two quarterfinal matchups on Saturday, April 9.

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