If Chael Sonnen was hoping to ruffle Fedor Emelianenko’s feathers ahead of their contest at Bellator 208 he doesn’t sound interested in maintaining any hostility now that their fight is in the books. The ‘Last Emperor’ put a swift beating on the former UFC title contender in their heavyweight Grand Prix semifinal match, TKOing him with ground-and-pound just 14 seconds before the end of round 1.
In the time since, the ‘American Gangster’ has been frank about what went wrong – notably his “rope-a-dope” strategy to GnP defense – and about his true feelings toward the man he called a “dumpy dwarf” that made his legacy in a “fixed” PRIDE organization. Sonnen recently appeared on the MMA Hour, and while there made it clear that he considers the Russian as likely the greatest heavyweight mixed martial artist of all time (transcript via MMA Fighting).
“I have it down to three,” Sonnen said, when asked about his rankings for all time great heavyweights. “My three might surprise you and I actually enjoy this topic. I have Fedor in the conversation, I have Werdum in the conversation, but I I‘m always surprised people don’t say [former UFC champion] Josh Barnett in that conversation. I feel like they weren’t watching back in 1999 and 2002 and 2003.
“So I have those three guys. What order do you want to do it? I would probably put Fedor at number one. I love the debate, but for me it’s down to those three.”
One of the notable traits that Sonnen singled out in his praise of Emelianenko was Fedor’s ability to break rules, much like Sonnen himself has. But, the Team Quest talent wasn’t talking about his own history for PED use, rather his ability to redefine the narrative.
“I’ve had to break a lot of rules in my career too – and I’m not talking about laws,” Sonnen explained. “There are rules that say ‘If a fighter gets old, when a fighter slows down, when a fighter stops looking the same then he can never come back.’ I don’t like that. I’ve never been in a situation where you don’t use that as motivator and use that use that tape and use that footage to get better.
“But there seems to be a rule out there where when you look bad against a Fábio Maldonado that it’s over. You’ve got to break those rules. You can’t let it apply to you and I don’t think Fedor let it apply to him. He started training differently and that’s what a real fighter does. He gets better and finds a way to come back and I admire that in anyone that can do it. But I also look down on the guys that can’t. Don’t let that stuff stick to you.”
No word yet on what Sonnen’s next opportunity to break the rules will be. But for Fedor, he gets a chance to continue on his late career success against Ryan Bader at the Grand Prix finals in January of 2019. Bader defeated Matt Mitrione at Bellator 207, just one day before Fedor’s win over Sonnen, to clinch his own spot in the last round of the tournament. A win there for Emelianenko would truly make for a fantastic addition to an already remarkably career.