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Why Fedor Emelianenko’s Wins Over Tim Sylvia & Andrei Arlovski Mattered

I just felt that once Fedor fought someone with great talent, he would finally get his loss. You can’t believe the hype, as they say… Has he ever been tested? Maybe once or twice? You can’t say you’re the best in the world if you haven’t competed against everybody in the world, and he hasn’t. And I think by him not coming to the UFC put a big (stain) on his record. You can have a company back you and say you’re the best guy in the world, but until you compete against the best guys in the world, you’re not that guy. There’s a lot more things going on behind the scenes, and it’s not just Fedor making those decisions. Fedor is fighting for his country. But it is what it is, and it just proves that he’s not invincible and that he’s not one of the top heavyweights in the world. I think he’s a decent fighter overall… (Fedor’s wins over “Cro Cop” and Nogueira) were a long time ago. That was when he was in his prime, I guess you can say. He hasn’t fought anybody on the UFC’s level, and the best guys are in the UFC.

—Tito Ortiz, via, reacting to Fedor Emelianenko’s first loss

The only reason I’m posting Tito’s quote is because I think it echoes this sentiment floating around that Fedor Emelianenko no longer deserved the title of  best heavyweight in the world because he was off fighting “UFC washouts” Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski instead of fighting the “best” in the UFC.

Okay, well the problem with that argument is that rankings and perceptions in this sport are very fluid. If you’re going to consider someone’s level of competition over the course of his career, you have to consider the level of his opponent at the point in time in which he fought him. In other words, it’s not fair to punish Fedor now for fighting who was considered top competition then.

Let’s take Tim Sylvia for instance. On July 19, 2008, when Fedor fought Sylvia, Cain Velasquez had just won his second UFC fight earlier that night against Jake O’Brien. Hardly anyone knew who Shane Carwin was, he just recorded his first UFC win against Christian Wellisch. Junior dos Santos hadn’t been discovered yet. And Brock Lesnar, he hadn’t even won his first UFC fight yet.

Meanwhile, Tim Sylvia had just lost a UFC interim heavyweight title fight against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira that he was winning rather handily until Big Nog pulled off another one of his amazing comebacks. No, Tim wasn’t ranked #2 then, but he was still considered a highly ranked heavyweight. In fact, many people at that point in time genuinely thought Tim Sylvia would defeat Fedor Emelianenko. And before that, there were people who believed Fedor was ducking Sylvia. Hell, after Fedor destroyed him, Dana White told Kevin Iole he was even impressed.

Fast forward six months later, and Fedor fights Andrei Arlovski. Most people don’t remember this, but there was a strong case to be made that Andrei Arlovski deserved to be ranked #2 when Fedor fought him. Maybe it was more by default, but still, at the time it was hard to argue anyone deserved to be ranked above him. And not only that, there wasn’t this huge call like there was recently for Fedor to fight in the UFC, because back then it was widely believed that Affliction had the strongest heavyweight division in MMA. In fact, UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture tried to break away from the UFC to fight Fedor in Affliction. If Randy had been successful, Fedor would have fought in arguably the biggest fight the sport had ever seen.

Of course, the counter-argument is “But Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski weren’t as good as we thought they were. Look at what happened to their careers after Fedor.” Okay, well there’s a few things to consider with that as well. BE’s Kid Nate explains:

And as we’ve seen from the post-Fedor performances of Brett Rogers, Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia, fighters tend to fall off the table after they’ve fought him.

It’s got to be an incredibly intense psychological experience to be chosen to face the best heavyweight in the world, fall short in brutal fashion and then have to pick up the pieces. One day you think that you just might have a chance to knock him off his pedestal, the next day you know you didn’t and you never will. Not only that, but if you’re like Sylvia, Arlovski and Rogers you found yourself coming to after being choked or knocked out and if you watched the fight later, realized just how badly you were drubbed.

This is why I come down so hard on people who try to denigrate a fighter’s wins based on the subsequent performance of their opponents. All we have to go by is how well regarded they were at the time of the fight. So much can change in a fighter’s life — injuries, accidents, mental troubles, loss of motivation, business problems, drug problems, etc etc etc — that it’s just not valid to draw conclusions based on future performance.

This is especially true with a devastating fighter like Fedor. Fedor Emelianenko doesn’t just beat fighters, he breaks them.

I think this especially applies to Andrei Arlovski, who later admitted to playing Russian roulette after losing to Fedor, and Brett Rogers, who couldn’t stop talking about Fedor from the moment he lost to the moment Alistair Overeem demolished him.

Anyways, my point is when Fedor fought Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski, the scary group of contenders you see in the UFC now were just getting their feet wet in the organization. They didn’t emerge until the last year or so. If you want to blame Fedor and M-1 for signing with Strikeforce instead of the UFC late last year, I’ll certainly give you that. But to suggest his fights with Sylvia and Arlovski weren’t any more significant than his fights with say Zuluzinho or Hong Man Choi is revising history. All three deserve better than that.

Image via Esther Lin for Showtime

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