Fedor isn't what you'd expect of a top caliber fighter. He's chubby and round, hardly physically imposing. He's soft-spoken and articulate, and he's always smiling. Looking at him, you half-expect him to be greeting you at Best Buy or bagging your groceries, not hitting mitts or throwing armbars. If you’ve seen him train, or heard him comment about his training, it’s not particularly spectacular. A little boxing, a little grappling, then some push-ups and pull-ups, a fair bit of running. Definitely not the vicious conditioning and sparring you’ll see on UFC’s Countdown shows. He's disarmingly unassuming, shy even. People expect fighters to be like Brock Lesnar, fierce and powerful, more mountain than man. Fighters should be bold and adventurous, proud and sensational.
So what makes Fedor Emelianenko such a big deal?
He doesn’t fight with the jaw-dropping talent of Anderson Silva, nor does he have the flawless technique and execution of Georges St. Pierre. He’s not the super-athlete like Lesnar or Shane Carwin, he’s not the caged tiger like Wanderlei Silva or Sean Sherk. He walks to the ring calmly, even as chaos surrounds him. If you’re lucky you might catch him crack a smile here or there as he prepares for battle, but mostly his face is blank and unreadable. Truly, the only person who knows what Fedor Emelianenko is thinking at those moments is Fedor himself.
So what makes this man the most feared fighter in mixed martial arts?
The answer lies in those exact moments. He likely knows that he’s not the biggest or strongest, not the most skilled or even the most aggressive. It’s likely that it is because he knows all this that he pushes forward, to fight against the steepest of odds, to come back from the deepest of dangers, to throw punches until his hands break. His determination to always fight back, to never give his rivals a moment to rest—this is what makes him a dangerous fighter. He uses controlled aggression in one solid burst beginning when the bell starts and ending only when the ref pulls him off the limp body of his opponent. And as soon as it’s over, he’s the first one to shake hands with the man he’s beaten, a smile on his face once again.
It’s been said that Fedor’s never been truly tested by the top competition, but I contend that this is untrue. If you watch his fights, even the short ones, it rarely looks like he has an easy night. He gets hit frequently, and often finds himself in dire straits as his opponent starts working the game plan. But somehow, by constantly pushing the pace and forcing the action, he finds his one opening, his one chance at victory, and he pounces on it as soon as he can.
There’s a lot we can learn, as fighters and as people, from this method, because as unsophisticated as it seems, it continues to win him fights.