Last month, former heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum competed for the final time in the UFC. Following his win over Alexander Gustafsson at UFC Fight Island 3, Werdum is now a free agent and has made it clear he will not be re-signing with the promotion where he became champion. But just because he’s leaving the UFC does not mean he will lack for big fights. In fact, there is a huge-named opponent waiting for him in Bellator: former foe Fedor Emelianenko.
Werdum is the man who broke Fedor’s stranglehold on the heavyweight division, submitting “The Last Emperor” with a triangle armbar in Strikeforce in 2010. It was only the second loss of Fedor’s career, and the first true loss (his previous loss being a cut stoppage from an illegal strike). When Werdum declared his intent to leave the UFC, he mentioned a possible rematch with Emelianenko and nearly a decade later, Fedor would also like the opportunity to run it back.
“For myself, yes, I would like to fight him,” Emelianenko told MMAJunkie. “Whether that’s a fight fans are interested in seeing or Bellator is interested in putting on, I don’t know that.
Fortunately for Emelianenko, it seems that Bellator is interested in putting that fight together. Bellator CEO Scott Coker was the head of Strikeforce when the first matchup happened and has already made it clear he is interested in pursuing Werdum in free agency. So with that, and given all that Fedor has accomplished in the sport, Coker says that if that’s a fight Emelianenko wants, he will make it happen.
“I love Fabricio, and it’s something really that’s Fedor’s decision,” Coker said. “One of the things I’m going to talk to Fedor (about) tonight is, ‘Is this an important fight for you?’ Whatever he says, then we’ll go make it happen. If it’s an important fight to him, then we’ll probably put it together. If not, it doesn’t mean we won’t still pursue Fabricio.
“The fight with him and Fedor would be something that, if it was an important revenge-type scenario for Fedor in his mind and something that still eats at him every day, then it would be something we’d be interested in.”
So now it seems there is only one thing standing in the way: COVID-19. The coronavirus pandemic has played havoc with MMA scheduling this year, especially with the plans of Bellator and Emelianenko. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, Bellator has been planning a retirement tour for Fedor, culminating in a final fight held in Russia. Those plans have been waylaid by the pandemic though and even as Bellator begins to host events again, Coker is still reticent to move forward with Fedor fights in the absence of fans.
“(The plans) haven’t changed,” Coker said. “It’s just now we have a little beat now because of the COVID situation. We’re going to see how it goes because Europe has started to open up where you can actually have some fans. The numbers are way down, and they kind of have it under control a little bit better than we do.
“… But listen, Fedor has to fight in front of fans. I think that’s why you don’t see a lot of the MMA stars fighting now, because they need the fans there to support it. Fedor is the same way. He’s the greatest heavyweight of all time. For me, it would be a shame for him to fight in an arena where there’s nobody there to watch his last few fights. We’re going to play it by ear.”
That could be a sticking point for Emelianeko though. Fedor will turn 44 in September. and though he says he doesn’t currently feel a pressing need to fight soon, he also acknowledges that he’s no spring chicken anymore and that if the impediment is having fans in attendance, that shouldn’t prevent it from happening.
“I don’t necessarily feel a sense of urgency, but I also don’t want to wait too long, either,” Emelianenko said. “If there are no people in the audience then the TV audience is that much larger. It doesn’t take away from the fight. Eyeballs are still watching.”
Fedor and Coker are currently in Uncasville, CT for Bellator 244 which features Emelianenko’s protege, Vadim Nemkov, challenging Ryan Bader for the Bellator light heavyweight title.