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Editorial: A Pronounced Champion

An action-packed weekend in the world of MMA produced a number of memorable moments, chief among them another legend-building victory by the only relevant heavyweight king in all of fighting.

It also ignited a few questions in my mind.

1. What is his name and how did he see that coming?

In the buildup to the event, reporters who covered Affliction 2 delivered factoids about Fedor Emelianenko’s mysterious life and tried to pry insightful tidbits from the reserved Russian champion. As a result, we learned a lot about him that could not be gleaned by watching him declare naptime for Andrei Arlovski in the middle of an ill-advised, first-round leap on Saturday night.

Such as, the Baddest Man on the Planet drives a Toyota. He trains with the basic necessities, sometimes in extreme cold. He eats three meals a day just like we do and forsakes vodka during preparation. He does, actually, get nervous. He’s a fan of Bruce Willis and a friend of Vladimir Putin. He enjoys reading to his two kids. And he’s a mama’s boy.

One elusive detail remains, though, despite the onslaught of publicity:

How in the hell do you pronounce his first name?

If we were to believe Affliction’s numerous talking heads, there are more ways to enunciate “Fedor” than there are ways for him win a fight.

Leading up to Emelianenko’s title bout with Arlovski, I heard the WAMMA champion’s name articulated at least four ways: Fay-door, Fee-ah-door, Fah-door and Fee-door.

To top it off, all of those pronunciations were used at some point either by employees of Affliction or reporters who commented in Affliction-produced video material.

To me, this is dumbfounding. Here we have the man who is touted as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world and arguably the sole reason Affliction remains in the MMA promotion business, yet the company hasn’t even decided how to uniformly pronounce his first name.

I can understand if “Fedor” had one alternate pronunciation, similar to names like David (Day-vid; Dah-veed) or Benjamin (Ben-jah-min; Ben-ha-meen). But four? Honestly, when ineffectual color commentator Tito Ortiz referred to him as “Fee-a-door” (rhymes with “Theodore”) early in the broadcast, it took me a few seconds to figure out who he was talking about.

Affliction should make it a point to pick one pronunciation, i.e. the correct one – whether it’s Russian or English.

And there’s a simple way to decide: Dispatch one of your media-relations lackeys – not Ortiz – to ask Emelianenko. This might seem like a trivial matter, but for a promotion that wishes to rival the almighty UFC, it’s not wise to clutter the presentation of the one true megastar Affliction can build its entire image around. Confusing consumers is never good.

On the other hand, there was no confusion over Emelianenko’s excellence in the ring on Saturday. Arlovski came out with gusto in the opening stanza, stalking and initiating the standup action. He appeared confident, and the early pace may have actually made him a little overconfident.

So, when Arlovski backed Fedor into a corner with a forward kick and seemed ready to pounce, there was a fast-approaching sense of doom.

That intuition proved correct. Doom arrived, but not for Fedor, who anticipated Arlovski’s drastic next move – a flying knee that only got to the flying part.

Emelianenko’s perfectly conceived overhand right connected with Arlovski’s chin to produce a flabbergasting mid-air knockout just 3:14 into the fight.

No matter how many ways you can say his name, Fedor again pronounced himself sublime.

2. Does anyone have a Tito Translator?

I don’t critique the media often because I appreciate the difficulty of the industry, but seriously, Tito Ortiz should be banned from broadcasting.

While watching Saturday’s pay-per view, at least one unofficial count (mine) had the former UFC-champion-turned-Affliction-commentator speaking less than 10 complete sentences and offering exactly zero worthwhile analyses in roughly three hours.

OK. I get it. He polarizes fans and gives Affliction star-power at the broadcast table. But, despite his historic fighting background, Ortiz doesn’t lend credibility to a broadcast when he’s stumbling over his words, making little sense and basically patting winners on their backs.

His post-fight interviews were excruciating. The night really wasn’t complete until he told every victor, for instance, that he was proud of them for showing the kind of champions they are, then poking the mic in their faces as if he had just asked them a question.

Ooh. Compelling.

Affliction should get Ortiz away from the microphone and back in the ring. That’s the only way he’ll help the company.

3.When is it more acceptable to cry in MMA, after a win or a loss?

I can answer this myself: Both.

Jens Pulver and Jamie Varner each shed tears at the conclusion of their WEC bouts on Sunday night. And each episode of waterworks was acceptable.

A jolting body blow led to Pulver losing in stunning fashion to Urijah Faber in a rematch of the biggest featherweight fight of 2008. Faber finished off “Little Evil” in just 1:34 with a front choke that handed the 34-year-old his third straight loss in the promotion.

Asked afterward if he was still relevant in the division (the kind of strong question that Ortiz never could’ve dreamed of posing), Pulver choked up and wondered aloud if he really was. The well-educated crowd got behind him, though, offering a huge ovation to a man who appeared nearly broken by recent events in and out of the cage (one of his close friends and training partners, Justin Eliers, died on Christmas).

Varner, on the other hand, was overcome by frustration when he couldn’t finish his WEC lightweight title fight against Donald Cerrone. Cerrone unintentionally fouled Varner with a knee to the head that grazed Varner’s right eye when he was still down.

Dazed and injured, he was deemed incapable of continuing what had been a fantastic back-and-forth war. That’s when Varner got emotional. He was overheard dropping several F-bombs and apologizing to Cerrone through tears.

The fight went to the judges’ cards and Varner won a split decision to retain his belt.

Not one to let down the fans – who booed him despite his regret – Varner agreed that a rematch should be orchestrated soon.

The Pulver and Varner instances show how invested fighters become in the sport that defines them. It’s not often we see crying among these macho athletes, but it helps illustrate how normal they are after the façade of their harmful intentions and brutal ability is broken down.

They are human, after all.

Well, with the possible exception of Fay-, Fee-ah-, Fah-, Fee- … aw, you know who I mean.