For years, there was hardly any debate who the greatest fighter in MMA was, especially in the heavyweight division.
Emelianenko stood tall despite never signing with the UFC, holding the PRIDE heavyweight title from 2003-07. He was also a standout in Combat Sambo, earning titles there while remaining unbeaten from 2000-10.
During that 28-fight run, “The Last Emperor” bested four former UFC champions, one PRIDE champion, two future K-1 champions and two Olympic medalists.
Months after scoring a TKO victory over Brett Rogers, Emelianenko was submitted in the first round by Fabricio Werdum – a future UFC heavyweight champion. Back-to-back TKO losses to Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Dan Henderson followed before he was able to get back on track.
In 2011, Emelianenko topped Jeff Monson and Satoshi Ishii, adding a win in 2012 over Pedro Rizzo before walking away from the sport.
It appeared as if we had seen the last of the heavyweight, as he took on other roles outside of MMA.
But in 2015, Emelianenko returned with Rizin, earning a victory over Singh Jaideep via submission. He earned a majority decision vs. former UFC fighter Fabio Maldonado in 2016 and signed with Bellator shortly there after.
But last June, Emelianenko was knocked back down to Earth by Matt Mitrione when he suffered a first round knockout loss. The idea that he was included in the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix seemed like a way for Bellator to squeeze the final juice out of the orange.
Emelianenko felt differently.
In less than a minute, he knocked out former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir and positioned himself for one of the more intriguing fights in 2018 with Chael Sonnen in the semifinals.
Years after dominating the sport, Emelianenko is two wins from becoming the new Bellator heavyweight champion.
Was his victory over Mir a final stand for greatness? We will find out in a matter of months when Emelianenko steps back inside the cage for the 44th time vs. Sonnen.