The Bizarro World is a planet in the DC Comics universe where everything is backwards. Bizarro-Batman (Batzarro) is the World’s Worst Detective. Bizarro-Green Lantern (Yellow Lantern) receives no power from his ring. Bizarro-Aquaman can’t swim. The planet, Htrae, is a cube. Up is down. Left is right. Good is evil.
MMA had its own little Bizarro World in the spring of 2007. On March 27, the UFC purchased long-time rival Pride Fighting Championships. Less than two weeks later, Matt Serra stopped UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre in a stunning upset. Hours later, Sokoudjou knocked out Ricardo Arona at Pride’s final show, his second major upset within two months. The MMA snow globe had been given a violent shake.
A week later, Fedor Emelianenko fought in his first bout outside the Pride organization since participating in Antonio Inoki’s New Year’s Eve show in 2003. He had signed to fight in St. Petersburg, Russia, with free-spending MMA star-up promotion BodogFIGHT. His opponent? Matt Lindland, a man then recognized as one of the top fighters in the sport…at middleweight.
A special clause allowed Emelianenko to sign with Bodog a month before his final bout in Pride against Mark Hunt. The clause gave Emelianenko the right to fight outside of Pride, so long as the fight took place in Russia.
With Emelianenko under contract, Bodog went in search of an opponent. Randy Couture could not be coaxed despite a $3 million dollar offer. (“That’s more money than I’ve ever been offered to fight,” Couture later said.) Negotiations with Plan B, Jeff Monson, fell through as well. That’s when Matt Lindland stepped in.
“[T]hey were looking for a suitable opponent for Fedor Emelianenko,” Lindland told MMANews.com. “And there’s not a lot of Heavyweight free agents out there. … I’m one of the top fighters in the world and I think they wanted a quality opponent.”
Emelianenko and Lindland met at the Ice Palace, an ice hockey arena built to house the 2000 IIHF World Championship, in St. Petersburg, Russia. Then-Russian President Vladimir Putin sat ringside, a personal guest of Emelianenko.
Lindland opened up Emelianenko’s notoriously weak epidermis with the first punch of the fight, a looping overhand left. A cut, especially around the eyes as this one was, always adds a sense of drama. The hearts of MMA fans beat even harder given the events of the week prior, not to mention the circumstances surrounding Emelianenko’s only professional loss (a cut brought upon by an illegal elbow from Tsuyoshi Kohsaka in a RINGS tournament).
But it wasn’t the cut that became the focal point of post-fight discussion. Rather, it was the sequence that followed. Lindland used his punches to close the distance and secure double underhooks around the Russian. As they played a game of balance and leverage, the referee repeatedly admonished Emelianenko for grabbing hold of the ropes. The two danced along the edge of the ring, the referee swatting at Emelianenko’s hand before Emelianenko used Lindland’s momentum against him to secure a takedown.
It didn’t take much longer for Emelianenko to demonstrate his superior grappling. He moved to mount, where he allowed Lindland to turn over in an attempt to give his back. Emelianenko used the transition to attack the arm and force a tap less than three minutes after the opening bell.
Lindland demanded a rematch shortly after, citing Emelianenko’s alleged rope grabbing.
“I absolutely, absolutely would like a rematch,” said Lindland. “I’m not saying the outcome would have been any different, but that’s a much different fight if the referee does what he’s supposed to, and I wind up on top and am able to utilize my skills there.”
There would be no rematch. The event tanked at the box office. Dave Meltzer estimated the show earned less than 15,000 buys. BodogFIGHT shut down operations a year later after losing a reported $38 million.
Lindland took a year off before returning to defeat Fabio Nascimento in an uninspired performance at Affliction: Banned. He would go on to lose four of his next five, including two toe-curling knockout losses to southpaws Vitor Belfort and Robbie Lawler. He has since announced that he is probably done competing in MMA.
Emelianenko found himself in another Bizarro World opposite the seven-foot Hong-Man Choi at the first big post-Pride MMA show in Japan. After handling the likes of Tim Sylvia, Andrei Arlovski, and alleged wife beater Brett Rogers, he suffered his loss in nearly a decade when Fabricio Werdum caught him in a triangle choke. A doctor stoppage led to his second-consecutive loss, this time against Antonio Silva as part of the Strikeforce World Heavyweight Grand Prix.
Emelianenko will meet Dan Henderson this Saturday at Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
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