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For one final time, Fedor Emelianenko will enter this cage this Saturday at Bellator 290.
At least that is what he claims.
One of the most decorated heavyweights of all time, Emelianenko confirmed he will retire even if he defeats Bellator heavyweight champion Ryan Bader. There will not be one more fight in Russia, and Emelianenko claims he will still retire regardless of whether free agent Francis Ngannou arrives in Bellator and challenges him live on CBS.
“This is my last fight in professional MMA,” says Emelianenko, speaking through a translator. “No matter what happens.”
Emelianenko (40-6, 1 NC) lost to Bader (30-7, 1 NC) in January 2019, suffering a knockout defeat only 35 seconds into their bout. Since then, Emelianenko has won two in a row—a victory against Quintin Jackson in December 2019, followed by a knockout of Timothy Johnson in October 2021. There has been a considerable gap in time since his last bout, largely due to the pandemic but also because it was initially planned to take place in Russia.
Yet this is the fight Emelianenko specifically requested. He has a long-awaited chance to exact revenge against Bader, as well as finish his career as heavyweight champion.
“I wanted my last fight to be against the champion,” says Emelianenko. “I won my last two fights, now I need closure. That’s why I asked Bellator to fight the champion.
“Bader is very disciplined. I like him a lot. He is a very good human being. And as a fighter, he is very committed. I am in my best shape to help everything go well.”
The son of a factory worker father and a mother who was a school teacher, Emelianenko has been fighting professionally for more than 20 years. He believes this is the right time to step away, retiring at a time when he still resembles the juggernaut that collected 16 knockouts and 15 submission victories against elite opponents during the height of his dominance.
“My mother is waiting for me to be done,” says Emelianenko, cracking a light smile. “My family wants me to retire. I want to spend a lot of time with my girls. I can live without fights. I love fighting, but it is time to stop.”
Fighting runs through Emelianenko’s veins. At 46, he is no longer the same physical specimen he once was, yet his mind is sharper than ever. He will continue working with his students, which include Bellator light heavyweight champion Vadim Nemkov, heavyweight contender Valentin Modavsky and Anatoly Tokov, who challenges for the middleweight title on the 290 card.
“I’m very happy we’re together,” says Emelianenko. “There is a very positive fight culture. They all have good families, we’re all great friends, and they’re all hardworking fighters. I’m no longer 26 years old and can train like I used to. They motivate me.”
Emelianenko seeks to quench his long thirst for championship gold on Saturday, giving viewers tuning into CBS a violent spectacle. While so many prize fighters go out in defeat on their back, he has a different scenario in mind: exiting as heavyweight champ.
Despite all the controversy surrounding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Emelianenko said he will end his career in the exact same manner in which he started: by proudly representing his homeland of Russia.
“I represent my country,” says Emelianenko. “That is most important to me.”