Aging badly or not, it's must-see TV when Fedor Emelianenko appears in the cage (or ring)—even if it's against a 2-2 Indian-born kickboxer named Jaideep Singh.
Fedor dispatched of Singh with consummate ease at Rizin FF's inaugural New Year's Eve show and many thought the Russian living legend would continue following that trajectory against Fabio Maldonado—a Brazilian brawler who enjoyed mixed fortunes in the UFC and was hand-picked by Fedor himself—on Friday at EFN 50.
It didn't go exactly to plan for the former Pride heavyweight champion. Despite having the better of Maldonado during the opening minutes of the first stanza, landing some heavy punches in among a prolonged flurry which largely landed on his opponent's arms, Emelianenko was within a whisker of being stopped by his counterpart.
Maldonado's combination of a left and right hook floored Fedor and the Brazilian was on hand to dish out a ground and pound beating subsequent. Most referees would have called off the fight seeing the punishment endured by Fedor during Maldonado's ground-based onslaught. But, then that referee, like the three judges sat ringside, is a member of the Russian MMA Union—an organization of which Fedor remains the president of despite his return to competitive MMA.
Fedor ultimately survived the hellish first round and earned an extremely debatable majority decision victory over Maldonado with scores of 28-28, 29-28, 29-28—despite being on the receiving end of numerous big punches from the wild Brazilian in the latter two rounds. Maldonado was immediately gracious in defeat, but his camp told MMA Fighting's Guilherme Cruz they would be challenging the decision loss.
"We're very happy with Fabio's performance, he made everything right inside the cage. One of our main goals was to show the world the fighter he truly is and what he can do when he is 100% focused, and we did that. But we went there focused on winning and we feel like the judges took that away from us. The promoters didn't agree with the result and most of the fighters who were there also think the result was strange.
"Round 1 was clearly a 10-8 for us, Round 2 Fedor got a close 10-9 and round 3 was very close but we think Maldonado got the better shots. It was a least a draw, and we will appeal to Russian MMA Union to review this result."
Despite the majority of the MMA world decrying such a controversial decision—including Russians such as EFN 50's English-speaking commentator Roman Mazyrov—the sole judge to rightly score the first round a 10-8 in favour of Maldonado, Maria Makhumutova, thus scoring the fight a draw, was forced to explain her scorecard on Russian television (below transcript via MatchTV and H/T Karim Zidan). An interview which shows the glaring conflict of interests which blighted this contest from the beginning: the hand-picked opponent, generous refereeing and the hometown decision.
Did you score the first round 10-8 or 10-9?
The rest for Fedor?
You look worried. Is this due to the fact that the result has not converged with the results of the other two judges?
No, it's not because of the draw. Fedor is very close to me. Firstly, it was very difficult to look at it, almost without showing emotion. Secondly, it is always hard to make a decision not in favor of a person who you are close to. But the judges have to be judges, it is work. I think Fedor will understand.
Has someone consulted with you about the damage Fedor took?
I looked at the general condition of Fedor and saw that the eye had been closed after the first round. If the doctor told me that the fight should be stopped, I would have stopped the fight and would not argue with the doctor.
If you were the referee, would have stopped the fight?
Yes, I would have stopped. In Russia, MMA tournaments are run by a judge from the Union of MMA in Russia, the organization created by Fedor.
However, as predicted, Maldonado's pleas have fallen on deaf ears. According to BloodyElbow, Maldonado's appeal was rejected for a bizarre ruling—which I'm sure is news to many in Russia and beyond – by a former training partner of Emelianenko's, Radmir Gabdullin—a former MMA fighter who now sits among the Russian MMA Union's hierarchy.
An excerpt of the Russian MMA Union's statement reads: "There were no protests in the judicial decision of the Union of MMA in Russia and the World Association of WMMA side Maldonado not filed in officially prescribed manner. According to regulations, the official time to contest a decision must be within 40 minutes after the fight. Team Maldonado, his manager, coach and athlete he fully agreed with the judge's decision made at the end of the fight.
"The judges evaluated the fight in accordance with international rules, given the number of strikes and the accuracy of hitting, and aggression, attempts to attack. The decision of the court collegium made within the regulatory documents approved by the Ministry of Sports of the Russian Federation and the World panel of judges."
So, despite the obvious injustice suffered at the hands of the judges on Friday night, Maldonado's pleas have been ignored because he didn't lodge a formal complaint within 40 minutes of battling perhaps the world's greatest heavyweight of all time. Let that sink in.
I would like to say something doesn't add up here. But, it all adds up—the unsightly side of nepotism and conflicting interests has reared its ugly head. It's a massive shame for the battle-hardened Maldonado, but arguably more so for Fedor himself: one of the most beloved characters among hundreds of great men and women to have graced MMA with their presence.
Fedor Emelianenko doesn't deserve to have his name sullied by the circus surrounding the Russian MMA Union as much as he didn't deserve to earn the decision win over Maldonado in the first place.