Fedor Emelianenko, arguably the greatest mixed-martial artist in the short history of the sport, announced a return to action on Saturday night.
The Last Emperor, boasting wins over Mark Coleman, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Tim Sylvia, Ricardo Arona, Mark Hunt, and Andrei Arlovski, ends a three-and-a-half year retirement on a card involving Bellator on New Year’s Eve in Japan.
Emelianenko’s opponent remains unknown and even the promotion he fights under appears somewhat cloudy. Though he made the announcement on a Bellator broadcast, and Spike TV airs the Japan card, Pride founder Nobuyuki Sakakibara promotes the comeback fight with an assist from Scott Coker and Bellator. Whether Bellator promotes future Fedor fights and whether the comeback comes in a Pride-style ring or a Bellator cage remain among the unanswered questions.
“I am a fighter,” the Last Emperor explained in English on Saturday night. “And I am ready. I will see you New Year’s Eve on Spike TV.”
Rumors swirled that the greatest heavyweight in MMA history would finally fight under the premier promotion’s banner. But when Breitbart Sports caught up with Emelianenko in February—before talk of a comeback heated up—he offered critical words about the UFC.
“The organization must first learn to respect the people with whom they wish to work,” Emelianenko told Breitbart Sports in Russian about why he never fought for the UFC. “I did not sign up because the UFC organization does not show respect for the people that work for it.”
Emelianenko’s announcement came as part of a blockbuster card in San Jose featuring kickboxing, a Bellator title bout, and a rare two-fights-in-one-night tournament.
Long-legged Liam McGeary, enduring ground-and-pound from Tito Ortiz, defended his light-heavyweight crown with an inverted triangle coaxing a tap with 19 seconds remaining in the first round. Phil Davis submitted Emanuel Newton in the first round of his first fight in the four-man tournament and then landed a looping left to knock out Francis Carmont, a substitute for an injured Muhammad Lawal who dominated Linton Vassell earlier in the evening, in the finals to win a shot at McGeary’s light-heavyweight title.
But the somewhat surprising appearance by Emelianenko, popping up to perform promotional work for Bellator in 2015 and teasing an announcement for weeks, stole the headlines from the unique card.
“In contrast to [the UFC],” the 34-4 fighter told Breitbart Sports earlier this year, “I have known [Bellator President Scott] Coker for a long time, and he is an old friend. He invited me to come to Bellator and I agreed with pleasure.”
Seven months later, Coker invites him back to competition with pleasure.