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Posts Tagged ‘Greatest’

On a map, it looks like the Dave & Buster’s in Manchester, Connecticut, sits along a quintessentially American stretch of blacktop.

Buckland Hills Drive cuts a gentle curve from east to west, just a stone’s throw north of I-84 and a little south of a thin blue pencil line called Plum Gulley Brook. It’s hemmed in on all sides by shopping centers. There’s a Home Depot right there, an Olive Garden, a Sam’s Club.

The restaurant itself sits across the street from a sprawling mall, where a Sears, a Barnes & Noble and a Dick’s Sporting Goods are among the anchor stores.

It seems fine, it seems like suburbia, but it seems impossible that Fedor Emelianenko could ever feel at home there.

It’s difficult, in fact, to imagine the enigmatic Emelianenko at a Dave & Buster’s at all—yet that’s exactly where he’ll be come Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. He’ll participate with a fleet of other aging “brand ambassadors” at a function called Bellator MMA Fan Fest, a few days before that fight company puts on its biggest event of the year so far, in nearby Uncasville.

This trip marks the first time Emelianenko has set foot in the United States since his Strikeforce run, which ended in 2011 on the heels of three consecutive losses. Prior to that, he’d gone undefeated for nearly a decade. Afterward, he finished up his legendary MMA career with three straight wins overseas, though the rebound couldn’t totally blot out the fall.

By 2012, he ran his professional record to 34-4-1 and then walked away from a sport where he was universally loved but never really known. Now he’s back, to spend an hour or two signing autographs and meeting fans alongside other Bellator emissaries like Ken Shamrock, Royce Gracie and Kimbo Slice.

At a Dave & Buster’s.

In Manchester, Connecticut.

If you could offer a penny for his thoughts, it might be fascinating to know what the religiously devout Russian knockout artist will make of this garish American chain restaurant, which markets itself as a glorified video arcade for grown-ups.

Unfortunately, we’ll never know. You could ask him, but Emelianenko probably wouldn’t say. The closest he’ll come this week is the following impenetrable report on how it feels to be back in America:

“There is a lot of diversity in America, cultural diversity,” he says through his interpreter. “There are a lot of things that I can appreciate about it, and there are some things that I’m definitely not used to and wouldn’t say that I welcome very much.”

Nearly three years into retirement, the consensus greatest heavyweight in MMA history still keeps most of his thoughts to himself. He’s still so judicious with words, his sentences still so difficult to parse, it’s hard to know if he’s just a very simple man or a very, very shrewd one.

Ask him if, now that it’s all over, he’s finally able to appreciate his status as one of the two or three greatest fighters of all time, and he says: “I never thought about it. I never try to think about it.”

Ask him if his new association with Bellator will last beyond this weekend and he says: “We’ll see.”

Ask him if he has a favorite memory of his fighting career and Emelianenko says: “The most colorful memory I have right now is when I realized God is with me.”

After a moment more to think about it, he adds that, yeah, that time he beat Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira to unify the Pride heavyweight title on New Year’s Eve 2004 was pretty good too.

(Ed note: I’m paraphrasing.)

At base, Fedor is still Fedor. As if you didn’t know, he still talks and looks exactly the same:

He’ll give you a full paragraph about how much he likes Bellator CEO Scott Coker, a few fleeting words about his ongoing love for MMA, but it’s still pretty hard to talk to the guy.

There’s the language barrier, there’s the translator, there’s the occasionally wonky phone connection. Sometimes you ask a question and the pause afterward goes three, five, 10 seconds. Even after he answers, you’re left wondering if either side’s complete message got through.

But the man seems different in subtle ways too. Maybe it’s just your imagination, but Emelianenko appears ever slightly more relaxed these days. He’s a bit more talkative—which is to say, still not very talkative at all—a bit more at ease.

He actually laughed at one point.

Even the idea of the Dave & Buster’s meet-and-greet, which you might assume would be tortuous for a quiet, painstakingly private man, appears to be his pleasure.

“It’s like meeting old friends,” he says. “It’s never forced, I don’t look at it as work. It’s always two-way love.”

Spend a few scant minutes trying to peer into the impossible fortress of his mind, and you come away with the distinct impression that retirement agrees with him.

The life he describes in his hometown of Stary Oskol, Russia—a city about the same size as Scottsdale, Arizona or Baton Rouge, Louisiana—sounds fairly idyllic. About a year ago, he reportedly divorced his second wife and remarried his first wife. Now he says he spends his free time with his family, going to church, going on trips, to museums and to the gym together.

“Now that MMA has become a very popular sport in Russia, it’s proved slightly more difficult to walk around on the street,” he says. “People do recognize my face.”

Today, Emelianenko describes himself as a full-time advocate for MMA. While it’s unclear exactly what that means, it’s easy to imagine him traveling the world, doing essentially the same thing he’ll do for Bellator this weekend: offering support and garnering free press just by, you know, being there.

Ask him if he ever has thoughts of a comeback, and he’ll say he never left.

“Even though I’m retired, I train every day,” he says. “I try to stay in shape to keep my stamina up. I’m still in the sport, but from a slightly different angle.”

Ask him a question he appreciates and he’ll thank you for it. Literally, he’ll thank you for asking. When the conversation concludes, he’ll thank you again and say he hopes you can meet in person one day.

He’ll say he hopes to continue the “dialogue,”—even though the talk you just had barely met the minimum requirements of a conversation—and then he’s gone.

Still Fedor.

Still the greatest.

And on his way to Dave & Buster’s.

 

Chad Dundas covers MMA for Bleacher Report.

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Chael Sonnen may not be mixing it up inside the Octagon these days, but that doesn’t mean his opinion doesn’t resonate throughout the MMA community whenever a hot issue arises.

His career may have been mired and eventually ended in controversy inside and out of the cage, but one thing the silver-tongued Oregon native could always be counted on was his work behind the microphone. 

Simply put: “The Gangster From West Linn” calls things as he sees them, and whether or not that perspective is slightly skewed is left up to interpretation by the listener.

Ever the showman, Sonnnen has never been one to pull his punches where his opinion is concerned. The former two-divisional title challenger stayed true to form during a recent appearance on the Louder with Crowder podcast (h/t MMA News).

During his appearance on the show, the ESPN MMA analyst discussed the careers and legacies of former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and former middleweight king Anderson Silva.

In the aftermath of “The Spider’s” failed drug test leading up to his return at UFC 183, Silva’s “greatest of all time” status has been called into question.

For Sonnen—who faced the Brazilian phenom on two occasions and became the former champion’s greatest rival—the pound-for-pound great category has already changed, and he shared his thoughts on the matter during the podcast:

I don’t think there’s any argument. It definitely goes to GSP. And GSP was ranked No. 1 in the world pound-for-pound. There was a press conference done and they said ‘No, Anderson’s the best’, and our president Dana White argued that. And that is his opinion, but the entire media shifted. They dropped GSP from No. 1 to No. 2, then moved Anderson to No. 1. Anderson’s a fantastic fighter. This isn’t a commentary on him, but if you want to talk about the greats, I’ve fought Anderson twice, I’ve worked out with Georges, I’m just calling it like it is. It’s Georges.

While Sonnen‘s take is simply a matter of the former contender’s personal opinion, there is no way to deny Silva’s once-prominent legacy is in jeopardy of being permanently damaged due to the failed test.

Silva has denied taking performance-enhancing drugs, and the former champion plans to fight the allegations. Should the current results remain, it would put the stamp on an ominous chapter for a once-proud champion.

Furthermore, it would cast a shadow of doubt over Silva’s entire run in the UFC.

It would also forever tarnish his place as the longest-standing champion in the promotion’s history and make the argument between Silva and St-Pierre’s placement on the all-time list a lopsided debate.

The French Canadian star made his exit from MMA when he was on top of the sport and holds recognition as the best welterweight to ever compete in MMA.

The 33-year-old Tri Star leader went into pseudo-retirement after edging out Johny Hendricks via split decision at UFC 167 in November of 2013, which was St-Pierre’s ninth consecutive successful title defense and 12th straight win overall.

Should Silva’s failed drug test stand, his victory over Nick Diaz at UFC 183 will be likely changed to a no-contest, and that would make the 39-year-old unsuccessful in his past three outings.

When compared to how St-Pierre left the sport, it would be difficult to argue Sonnen is wrong.

 

Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.

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Former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva goes back in time to talk about some of his biggest moments and historic victories inside the Octagon. He hopes to add another memorable chapter vs. Nick Diaz at UFC 183.

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In every sport, there exists a perpetual debate as to who the greatest of all time is. And with each passing generation, the line blurs between the ghosts of past, present and future

Mixed martial arts, under the banner of the UFC, turned 20 in 2013. In comparison to its more seasoned siblings, MMA is going through puberty. But that doesn’t mean the cage hasn’t showcased its share of brilliance.

What was once mostly spectacle, like matching a 600-pound sumo wrestler against a 170-pound whirling dervish, became a fully defined sport. And when it’s performed at its finest, MMA can be a ballet of violence.

A few names rise above the rest when talk turns to the greatest MMA fighter of all time. It starts with the self-effacing Russian heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko. In real time, some are already willing to proclaim current UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones as the man

Between those two in the debate are two different champions in Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva. You can make a case for both, as well as for the two aforementioned fighters, but for many, the guy who’s making his long-awaited return this weekend at UFC 183 stands tallest

Fans and pundits alike compare win-loss records. They debate respective strength of competition and add up who has more knockouts and submissions versus judges’ decisions. Win streaks and total time as champion matter. Bonus points if they’ve held belts in more than one organization. 

Beyond the calculators, protractors and the inexact science of it all, there’s the poetry found in motion. The splendor of Silva is what separates him from the others.

If Jones is currently channeling the ruthlessness of Michael Jordan, Silva is Dr. J. 

Think about the way he moved and the manner in which he flattened once tall men. Silva was the first mixed martial artist who made you feel you were breathing in the Matrix. He’d mastered the sequencing of ones and zeros and was giving us the woman in the red dress

We couldn’t look away. And then, just like that, it all came crashing down. With the flick of a wrist, Silva’s near seven-year reign was over at the hands of an agent of change in the unbeaten Chris Weidman.

In their first fight, Silva’s bullet-dodging backfired. Weidman dropped the champ with a left hook and followed it up with some retaliatory (Caution: Strong language) ground-and-pound. The second match added injury to insult with the leg break that put The Spider out of action for 13 months. 

Silva could have easily called it a career. The injury was an excruciating one.

A few months shy of 39 at the time, he had nothing left to prove. But he refused to be put out to pasture. Over the past year, various videos of Silva’s comeback trail flooded the Internet. The ones of him kicking with his mending leg were the most visceral. 

When he steps into the cage Saturday night at UFC 183, it will be a moment that lives with his fans forever. Jack Dempsey said, “A champion is someone who gets up when he can’t.” Silva didn’t have to get up, but he did. 

Combat sports are unforgiving by design.

Most career endings are not the stuff of Hollywood. There’s no guarantee that Silva’s final dance, whenever it comes, won’t be any prettier than if he’d hobbled out on a broken leg.

But at least he’ll be going out on his terms—GOAT status in tow for the time. 

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UFC 182 Aftermath: Jon Jones the greatest of all time? Not quite yet
MMA Fighting
There seems to be a collective habit in the mixed martial arts community whereby everyone rushes to proclaim everything the greatest of all-time in this still-young sport. Whether it's the greatest fight, fighter, event, submission, or greatest what

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Jon “Bones” Jones and Daniel “DC” Cormier have a plethora of skills between them, but they both have a specific quality that they need to accentuate if they hope to win Saturday’s main event at UFC 182.

Jones is already the longest-reigning light heavyweight champion in UFC history, and Cormier is a two-time Olympian with an undefeated professional MMA record. If the fight credentials weren’t enough to make this a must-see fight, the fact that both men hate each other only makes this bout more compelling.

Bleacher Report’s Jeremy Botter seemingly agrees.

Check out some of the hype for this fight in the video below from the UFC’s YouTube channel.

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ll be watching the fight—or at least wishing you could. There may never have been a more universally approved main event in UFC history.

As much as this fight will be about emotion, it’ll also be a chess match. Here’s a look at the most important piece for both men.

 

Jon Jones‘ Use of Length and Height

Aside from Alexander Gustafsson, every one of Jones’ opponents has had to deal with a massive reach disadvantage. The champion stands 6’4″, and his reach is a condor-like 84 inches. 

Against Cormier, Jones’ length will be an even bigger component in the fight. The challenger is just 5’11”, and his reach is only 72 inches. Length isn’t everything, but when the advantage is that dramatic, and when the fighter with the edge is a master at taking advantage of the situation, it could be the determining factor.

Most tall fighters don’t know how to use their length. Like Wladimir Klitschko, Jones has excellent spatial awareness. He knows when he’s in range to strike and when his opponents can’t reach him.

Before Cormier can have any success in Saturday’s fight, he must find a way to close the distance. Obviously that is much easier said than done.

 

Daniel Cormier’s Wrestling 

Cormier’s boxing skills are underrated. He has fast and powerful hands. He has shown them off in previous fights against the likes of Patrick Cummins and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva.

While that part of DC’s game deserves respect, his chances of winning begin and end with his ability to impose himself as a wrestler.

The former Olympian has perhaps the strongest wrestling base of any fighter in the UFC. He’s a step above Chael Sonnen and Rashad Evans in this category—both of whom Jones has already dismantled.

Can Cormier prove to be any different? That’s the million-dollar question that won’t be answered until the two gladiators settle their differences in the Octagon.

 

All height and length references per FightMetric.com

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Controversy, as always, is swirling around Jon Jones (20-1). On Thursday, it was a hallway war of words. What it will be tomorrow, no one can say.

The UFC light heavyweight champion has managed to stuff a career’s worth of drama into just a few short months in the lead up to his fight Saturday with two-time Olympian Daniel Cormier, a fight that will, finally, bring one of MMA‘s greatest feuds to a close.

The bad blood started years ago with Jones’ offhand claim he could take Cormier to the mat. Cormier, a proud wrestling legend, was not amused. That was the beginning. But the two were separated, at the time, by a weight class and by promotional boundaries. Nothing came of it except simmering anger.

It began in earnest last August with a scuffle at a pre-fight media appearance, a dustup that included a tumble off the hastily constructed stage, a terrified UFC PR flack and even a thrown shoe.

That was just the beginning, the first step in a journey that would peak with Jones asking Cormier,Hey p—y, are you still there?” between breaks (note: language in video NSFWduring a SportsCenter appearance when the two men thought the cameras had stopped running.

For Cormier, one of MMA’s true nice guys, it’s been an out-of-character foray into the world of trash talk and burning, uncontrollable anger. For Jones, a master of mind games, it’s just another fight, just another blood feud in a career full of them.

All this theater and the subsequent conversations in the MMA world about whether or not Jones is “fake” or a “hypocrite” simply distract from the question we should be asking each time he fights: Are we watching the best of all time compete in the cage?

The answer, resoundingly, is yes.

When you see Jones in the cage, you’re looking at the culmination of a 21-year journey that started with Ken Shamrock vs. Royce Gracie at UFC 1 in 1993. Back then, a fighter like Gracie could excel with a single skill set, in his case the superlative Brazilian jiu jitsu his family helped spread to the world. 

Four years later, when Frank Shamrock was the face of the UFC, things had evolved significantly. The top fighters had a working knowledge of several arts and excelled in at least two diverse areas. It was still recognizable as the sport Gracie built, but bouts between first-generation fighters and their successors (like Kazushi Sakuraba and Matt Hughes) showed the modern athlete was on a different level.

Ten years ago, when the UFC first burst onto the scene on Spike TV, Chuck Liddell became the UFC’s lead attraction with a potent combination of takedown defense and knockout power. Game plans were rudimentary. Two men met, one fell down, everyone went out to the bar.

Jones, and his predecessors like Georges St-Pierre, have helped the sport evolve yet again. It’s not enough anymore to be good in two areas. The top stars and champions must be able to compete successfully at kicking distance, in punching range, in the clinch and on the mat. There is no room for weakness—and Jones doesn’t have a significant one. 

Jones, of course, is far from perfect. No fighter is. He was pushed to the limit by Alexander Gustafsson in 2013, forced to reach into his soul for the heart and courage to overcome the Swede’s precision punching and persistent leg kicks and lateral movement. 

While many point to his struggles in that fight as a sign of weakness, I see it differently.

Fighting is one of the few sports where an athlete is exposed to the world, his strengths and weaknesses obvious to all. There’s a naked honesty to cage fighting, an ability to cut right to the chase, to see what a man is made of in a way few other pursuits can. 

Jon Jones passed that test against Gustafsson. Cormier is a formidable opponent. His wrestling and rare athleticism will allow him to challenge Jones the way few have. When he does, however, we know Jones won’t break easily. He’s been cast in the fire alreadyand emerged a stronger fighter. 

When you discuss the greatest of all time, many things come into play. At 27, Jones doesn’t yet have the weight of historical accomplishments to measure up to other legends like St-Pierre, Fedor Emelianenko or Anderson Silva. That will come with time.  

In the moment, however, as he walks into the cage at UFC 182, Jones is the best fighter MMA has ever produced. In a sport that only reached legal drinking age last November, it’s silly to think that will always be true. But, right now, his combination of skills, physical tools and mental toughness make him the ultimate fighter in the ultimate sport.  

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For the UFC, 2014 was an up-and-down year with multiple fighter injuries leading to flight cancellations, but despite all this, the company produced some of its most memorable fights ever.

These fights demonstrated serious displays of skill and involved the kind of brutality mixed martial arts fans simply lap up.

However, the year was marked by the absence of some of MMA‘s most bankable stars, including Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva, Chael Sonnen and Nick Diaz. While at least three of them are likely to be back in the cage in 2015, without them, this past year saw new stars in their divisions take the limelight

The following five fights made stars of contenders and cemented the reputations of champions.

Each fight in this list possessed high stakes, determining who would become a top contender or who would be champion. They were thrilling contests featuring brilliant performances by the fighters.

Begin Slideshow

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These are the times we should all hold dear.

Six months from now, if things go south again and 2015 turns into a repeat of this year’s drudgery, MMA fans will look back in awe at Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier.

The extended lead-up to Saturday night’s UFC 182 main event has been pure pleasure, with Jones and Cormier establishing themselves as one of the greatest pairings in our sport’s short history.

At this point, their actual fight will merely be the icing on the cake.

Until it’s over, we won’t know for sure if we can consider their rivalry the best ever though it’s certainly already in the running.

MMA has perhaps never seen a matchup that can compete with Jones-Cormier in all categories—including sheer stakes, prestige, competitiveness and actual, honest-to-goodness dislike. If the bout itself can even halfway live up to the hype, we’re talking about a clash for the ages.

In many ways, Jones vs. Cormier is a throwback to the light heavyweight division’s glory days. Their names don’t feel at all out of place in the same sentence with all-time UFC greats Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz or iconic Pride standouts like Wanderlei Silva, Dan Henderson or Shogun Rua.

This feud has come close to matching the genuine bitterness of Ortiz’s trilogy with Ken Shamrock, which spanned 2002-06.

The two men now feel as intertwined in each other’s career paths as Georges St-Pierre and B.J. Penn did during their pair of fights in 2006 and 2009.

The on-stage brawl Jones and Cormier started at a media event in August bested anything Chael Sonnen and Anderson Silva did for actual fireworks back in 2010.

When they meet in the cage on Saturday, it’ll feel as significant as Fedor Emelianenko finally getting together with Mirko “CroCop” Filipovic in 2005. It’ll seem as big a moment for the fight company as Eddie Alvarez vs. Michael Chandler was for Bellator in 2011. At least on paper, it could be as evenly matched as this year’s epic welterweight title bouts between Robbie Lawler and Johny Hendricks.

In fact, depending on exactly how things shake out this weekend, Jones-Cormier has a chance to surpass them all.

Jones has already established himself as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world and the greatest 205-pounder of all time. Back in 2011, he saved the vaunted light heavyweight division from the listlessness created by Liddell‘s decline and—with one notable exception against Alexander Gustafsson in Sept. 2013—has seemed all but untouchable.

He’s the odds-on favorite to go down as the best ever at any weight by the time his career is over. Yet all that doesn’t even tell the whole story.

Jones is a unique figure in the history of MMA. His signature complement of size, athleticism, creativity and occasional mean-spiritedness is unmatched even by the Emelianenkos, Anderson Silvas and St-Pierres of the world.

He’s so talented, he’s known to beat his opponents at their own game, attacking them where they are strongest in order to prove himself better there. When he takes on the former captain of the U.S. Olympic wrestling team, he says it’ll be no different, as he told MMA Fighting’s Shaun Al-Shatti last week:

I will try to wrestle Daniel Cormier. I definitely plan on making him work extremely hard for any takedowns he’s going for, and I’m definitely going to be looking for takedowns myself. I’m more than capable of taking him down, and I believe in my top game. So I’ll definitely look to attack Daniel at his strengths, and weaknesses.

Jones was such an athletic revelation when he first broke into the big time back in 2008 that some fans flatly didn’t buy his humble, “nice guy” act. They charged him with being fake. When Jones opened up and showed the world a bit more of his true self, they called him arrogant.

He’s the sort of guy who could easily play either the hero or the villain in the greatest MMA story ever told. Depending on how you feel about him, he’s ever more detestable or likable simply because nobody’s really been able to beat him.

Now comes an undefeated challenger to test everything we think we know about Jones and every conclusion we’ve already jumped to about his legacy.

Cormier was 13-0 at heavyweight from 2009-13, and were he not close friends with reigning UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, he likely would’ve stayed there. Instead, Cormier dropped to light heavyweight early in 2014 and through two fights at 205 pounds has proved the weight cut doesn’t deprive him of any of the fearsome skills that made him a force in his previous division.

He figures to be the stiffest test of Jones’ career and was so confident about his chances, he let it be known he planned to fight the champion with an injured knee when their bout was first scheduled in July. When Jones himself dropped out with a knee injury a month later, Cormier couldn’t help but note the differences in their approaches.

“It can be a blessing,” he told Mike Hill of Fox Sports 1’s America’s Pregame (h/t UFC.com’s Thomas Gerbasi) at the time, “but I would be outside of myself to not say that I went into this fight knowing that my knee was pretty jacked up and I was gonna fight through it to get a title. I don’t think (Jones) is ducking me. … Sometimes, you gotta just tough it out and go in there and fight.”

When they finally do that this weekend, Cormier will have to overcome Jones’ significant size and reach advantages, but his previous experience at heavyweight makes that nothing new. It’s hard to think back on him beating up Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Roy Nelson or body-slamming Josh Barnett without figuring he’ll be a handful for Jones, too.

Nobody knows for sure how it’s going to play out—if they say they do, don’t trust them—and that just adds an extra layer to an already stellar fight.

This event likely won’t crush any pay-per-view buyrate records. It stands to be a nice little seller for the UFC, but it won’t match the huge numbers put up by guys like Brock Lesnar and St-Pierre during the prime of their careers. That says more about the slumping state of the sport at large than the greatness of this matchup, however.

If you spent much of 2014 waiting for something to cheer for, or if you were part of the throng who drifted away from this sport during the last few years, now is the time to go all in once again.

Even if it’s for one night only.

Read more MMA news on BleacherReport.com

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