UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Fedor Emelianenko didn’t show his hand while promoting his Bellator 208 fight vs. Chael Sonnen. He kept his answers to reporters’ questions short through his translator and let his opponent speed down the one-way street of solo lip wrestling.
Once Saturday’s heavyweight grand prix semifinal bout between the two rolled around, “The Last Emperor” showed Sonnen nothing but hands — quite possibly, the greatest hands mixed martial arts has ever seen, thrown by the man widely regarded as the sport’s G.O.A.T.
Sonnen scouted Fedor’s feared right hand ahead of the fight, but it took all of four seconds for Emelianenko to crumple “The American Gangster” with a vicious left. A few minutes later, Fedor was pounding out Sonnen, who by this point was in the fetal position, with two dozen left hands to the head for a scintillating first-round TKO.
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“Explosive,” Sonnen said in the postfight press conference of Emelianenko’s strikes. “With his punches, there wasn’t a ton of setups. They just came and they came hard, and even on the ground I had some good positions on him and he would just explode.”
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Having secured the victory, it was finally time for Emelianenko to do some talking.
Upon hearing his translator say, “Chael is a very good fighter and we were prepared for that,” Emelianenko shot her his infamous icy stare before whispering in Russian to her.
“Wrestler,” she clarified.
The dig was a direct response to Sonnen saying, “The best heavyweight of all time (Emelianenko) is about to take on the best fighter of all time (himself).” Emelianenko clearly took exception to that statement and used his knuckles to force the correction.
The 41-year-old showed us in that moment that he heard his opponent’s comments loud and clear, even though he repeatedly told the media that he was drowning out Sonnen’s trash talk.
The “wrestler” clarification was all Emelianenko was willing to offer as an acknowledgement that Sonnen’s words irked him, however. He went right back to not showing his hand — something he has down pat outside the cage.
When the postfight conversation quickly changed from Sonnen to Ryan Bader, Emelianenko’s opponent in the grand prix final on Jan. 26, Fedor would only oblige this: “We take into consideration the specialties and certain features of all the opponents we meet.”
“Me and my team will make the necessary conclusions (about Bader),” he added.
That’s all that Bader is likely to get.
Bader isn’t the talker or self-proclaimed “heel” that Sonnen is, but like Sonnen, Bader has to know he won’t get anything else from Fedor during the promotion of their fight. He will, however, get everything he can handle inside the confines of the cage in just over three months’ time.
Already, Emelianenko’s quick work of Sonnen has Bader mystified.
“If you’re going to get with Fedor, you don’t know any of his motions,” Bader said during the postfight conference. “For me, watching this [Sonnen-Fedor] fight, he was the unknown. What’s he like on the ground? How’s his cardio? We didn’t get to see much in that first fight [the grand prix quarterfinal]. We saw one round in this fight.”
Despite that, Bader expressed confidence about facing Fedor.
“There’s definitely things I saw that I could exploit and use,” he said after watching Emelianenko.
He added that facing a legend like Emelianenko in a highly anticipated fight has him reminding himself that “it’s just a man, a name and someone standing in your way.”
Just a man, one who’s as dangerous striking in standup as he is when demonstrating his Sambo grappling game.
Just a name that’s synonymous with being the sport’s G.O.A.T., with only five losses in the past 18 years.
And just someone standing in your way, ready to show you all the hands he didn’t show during promo.
Good luck, Mr. Bader.