Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author.
Fedor Emelianenko is a name that is synonymous with heavyweight mixed martial arts (MMA). The Russian fighter was an iconic figure in the sport for over two decades until his retirement, amassing an impressive record of 40 wins and only seven losses.
Many fans and analysts consider Fedor the heavyweight greatest of all time (GOAT), but what sets him apart from other fighters? In this article, we will explore Fedor Emelianenko’s career, achievements, and impact on the sport to determine whether he truly deserves the title of heavyweight GOAT.
Why is Fedor Emelianenko Regarded as the Heavyweight GOAT?
While he may not be on the Mt. Rushmore of MMA for most observers, Fedor certainly has a case for being the greatest heavyweight of all time and is considered by many to be so. Why is this the case?
One just needs to look at his accolades, for starters. The Russian was most notably the PRIDE heavyweight champion, boasting a reign that lasted 1,663 days. Additionally, he has won the heavyweight title in a number of other organizations as well, in addition to amassing wins in organizations like Strikeforce, Bellator, and RIZIN.
He was also a complete mixed martial artist, being able to strike with the best in the game as well as dominate on the ground and use his jiu-jitsu to full effect. Only 9 of his 40 wins came by decision, with 16 knockouts and 15 submission victories.
There’s also his longevity. He only retired in 2023 at the age of 46, and while he should have hung his gloves up sooner, he still left the sport with an impressive 40-7 (1NC) record.
More than anything, however, is his resume and the names he’s beaten. Emelianenko went on an unprecedented 28-fight undefeated streak over nine years, taking out many of the greatest and top-ranked heavyweights along the way. Some of those names include Antonio ‘Big Nog’ Nogueira (x2), Mirko Cro Cop, Mark Hunt, and Andrei Arlovski.
The win over Nogueira (another heavyweight GOAT contender) was especially impressive as he did it on the ground, which is the Brazilian’s realm. Even more impressive is the fact that he went so long without defeat in the heavyweight division of all divisions, where one punch is enough to turn the lights out.
All these factors, combined with the respect he has gained from his peers in the sport, are why “The Last Emperor” is regarded by many to be the heavyweight GOAT.
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Why is Fedor Emelianenko not the Heavyweight GOAT?
There are some arguments to be made against Fedor being the greatest heavyweight of all time. While he had an impressive unbeaten streak, he didn’t always face the best competition on a regular basis. Names such as Zuluzinho and Hong-man Choi stand out as some of the lower-level wins on Emelianenko’s record during his 28-fight unbeaten run.
Speaking of his unbeaten run, it also came to an end after the Russian was TKO’d by Dan Henderson at a Strikeforce event. While Henderson is known for his explosive knockout power, he was also a natural middleweight. And so, it’s seen as a slight against Fedor’s legacy that as the greatest heavyweight of all time, his unbeaten run was snapped by an undersized opponent, as you see in the following video clip.
There’s also the fact that he never competed in the UFC to test himself against heavyweight fighters in the UFC, which is widely viewed as the most elite MMA organization in the world. UFC president Dana White claims he tried to sign Fedor to fight in 2009, only for it to not pan out.
“I’ve signed Brock Lesnar, who came from the WWE, James Toney from boxing – he’s a nut chasing me all over the place – Tito Ortiz, whom I hated, and he hated me. I signed him twice when we hated each other. I’ve kept Chuck Liddell, kept Matt Hughes, kept Rich Franklin, when they were all champions. Anderson Silva, I’ve dealt with all the crazy [expletive] with him. But I can’t sign Fedor? How is this possible that I can’t sign this guy? It’s not possible. These guys don’t want to fight the best in the world.”
Why Do People Say Stipe Miocic is the GOAT of Heavyweights?
Today, most MMA fans would argue that Stipe Miocic is the greatest heavyweight of all time over Fedor Emelianenko. He has the resume to back it up as he is a two-time UFC heavyweight champion who notably holds wins over the likes of Francis Ngannou, Junior dos Santos, Daniel Cormier (x2), Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum, and Mark Hunt.
He also broke the record of consecutive UFC heavyweight title defenses in a row with three, while he also has the most overall with four. Additionally, he has the joint-most wins in UFC heavyweight title fights (6) along with Randy Couture. He also boasts crisp boxing ability as he was a former Golden Gloves champion and can wrestle, too, being an NCAA Division 1 wrestler.
The only arguments against him are that he didn’t have the longevity or unbeaten streak that Fedor had in his prime. However, it can be argued that it didn’t matter as he was facing better competition on a consistent basis and has more impressive names on his resume as a whole. Overall, the debate over who is the greatest heavyweight of all time is subjective.
Who is the Greatest Heavyweight MMA Fighter of All Time?
We’ve gone over two of the most prominent heavyweight names, Fedor Emelianenko and Stipe Miocic, as far as whom many believe to be the greatest heavyweight MMA fighter of all time. However, there are a few other contenders.
Mirko Cro Cop: Mirko Cro Cop is another heavyweight GOAT contender who competed in PRIDE, the UFC, K-1, RIZIN, and Bellator.
He holds notable wins over the likes of Josh Barnett, Wanderlei Silva, and Mark Coleman and has faced some of the best fighters in both MMA and kickboxing, including names like Fedor, Antonio Nogueira, and Frank Mir.
He is only one of two fighters to win a world championship in MMA and kickboxing, while he has the most finishes in ZUFFA and PRIDE history (joint-tied with Wanderlei Silva). He retired with a 38-11-2 (1NC) record.
Cain Velasquez: Cain Velasquez is a two-time UFC heavyweight champion and was arguably the most talented heavyweight of all time, being highly adept at all facets of MMA, particularly with his striking and wrestling.
However, he was plagued by injuries and ultimately had to cut his career short. His most notable wins include Antonio Nogueira, Brock Lesnar, Junior dos Santos (x2), and Antonio Silva (x2). He retired with a 14-3 record in MMA.
Antonio ‘Big Nog’ Nogueira”: Antonio Nogueira was the first PRIDE heavyweight champion in addition to being a UFC interim heavyweight champion. His resume speaks for itself, having faced a number of killers in their prime.
Over his first 37 MMA fights, he beat every fighter he faced other than Fedor while avenging his loss to Dan Henderson in the process. He holds wins over the likes of Henderson, Bob Sapp, Mirko Cro Cop, Mark Coleman, Josh Barnett, Tim Sylvia, Fabricio Werdum, Randy Couture, and Semmy Schilt. He retired with a 34-10-1 (1NC) record.
Who is Considered the MMA GOAT?
While Fedor Emelianenko and Stipe Miocic are considered the heavyweight GOATs, they’re not exactly considered among the contenders for MMA GOAT as a whole. That accolade goes to a certain few individuals.
Georges St-Pierre: A former two-weight UFC champion who went undefeated from 2008 to 2013 as the welterweight king. The French-Canadian holds wins over Matt Hughes (x2), Carlos Condit, Nick Diaz, Jake Shields, BJ Penn (x2), and Josh Koscheck (x2), to name a few. Avenged both his losses in MMA and retired with a 26-2 record.
Jon Jones: The youngest champion (23 years old) in UFC history. Holds wins over Daniel Cormier, Glover Teixeira, Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida, Quinton Jackson and Mauricio Rua. Undefeated in 15 UFC title fights and became a two-weight UFC champion after defeating Ciryl Gane to become the heavyweight champion in 2023.
Holds a 27-1 (1NC) record, with his only loss coming by way of disqualification, meaning he is yet to be truly defeated. However, his failed drug tests have been used as an argument against him being the GOAT.
Demetrious Johnson: Arguably the most skilled fighter in MMA today, Demetrious Johnson was the first UFC flyweight champion. He holds the record for most consecutive and overall title defenses in UFC history (11).
He currently competes at ONE Championship, where he is the organization’s flyweight champion. Johnson holds wins over Henry Cejudo, John Dodson (x2), Kyoji Horiguchi, and Joseph Benavidez (x2). He currently holds a 31-4-1 record in MMA.
Royce Gracie: Winner of the first two UFC tournaments in 1993 and 1994 and the pioneer of Brazilian jiu-jitsu in MMA as a whole. Gracie retired with a 15-2-3 record in MMA.
Who is Considered the Female MMA GOAT?
When it comes to women’s MMA, there are a few who can lay claim to that unofficial accolade.
Ronda Rousey: Rousey was the UFC’s first-ever women’s bantamweight champion. Skill-wise, compared to today’s fighters, she doesn’t rank as high purely because the competition just got better.
That said, Rousey deserves to be in the conversation simply because of how much of a trailblazer she was. After all, she was one-half of the very first women’s fight in the UFC and was undefeated from 2011 to 2015. Even her only two losses are against Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes, which is nothing to be ashamed of.
With two wins over Miesha Tate, along with wins over the likes of Alexis Davis, Cat Zingano, Julia Budd, and Liz Carmouche, Rousey has a very impressive resume despite her lack of striking skills. She retired with a 12-2 record.
Amanda Nunes: Amanda Nunes is the current UFC women’s bantamweight and featherweight champion and is widely regarded as the greatest women’s fighter of all time.
She is the first two-division champion in the UFC and the only fighter to defend two titles while holding both simultaneously. She holds wins over Ronda Rousey, Cris Cyborg, Valentina Shevchenko (x2), Miesha Tate, and Holly Holm. She currently boasts a 22-5 record.
Cris Cyborg: Cris Cyborg is another female GOAT contender. She is a former UFC women’s featherweight champion and the current Bellator women’s featherweight champion. She is also notably the only Grand Slam champion in MMA, having held titles in four organizations (UFC, Bellator, Strikeforce, and Invicta.)
She holds wins over Holly Holm, Gina Carano, and Julia Budd and currently boasts a record of 26-2 (1NC). Her only defeat in the UFC came against Amanda Nunes.
Overall, the debate on who the heavyweight GOAT is will always remain subjective. For the most part, though, it usually boils down to Fedor Emelianenko or Stipe Miocic. And there’s definitely nothing wrong with going with the former, as he has a very strong case.