Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Supremely Talented, Surprisingly Unknown

This is Fedor Emelianenko, the guy Dana White guaranteed would be in the UFC in the future and arguably the best fighter in the entire world.

Up until Saturday night, a huge portion of the fight fans out there had no idea who this man was. Then they Google'd him.

"The Last Emperor" hasn't lost a fight in eight years and some, myself included, would argue that he hasn't lost a fight ever. The one tick he has in the loss column came from a controversial stoppage way back in 2000 to UFC veteran Tsuyoshi Kohsaka.

Since then, pure dominance ... and shocking anonymity.

Hardcore fans know Fedor Emelianenko.

Guys like me who watch old fights on YouTube and think long and hard about buying the UFC DVDs that are for sale at the video store for $5. But I'm not the average fan.

To the average fan, Fedor Emelianenko is a name they have heard from their crazy, hardcore friends like me or the numerous times Dana White has mentioned him on his video blog. He's outside of the UFC and therefore, he's irrelevant.

I know that isn't the case, as do the large number of people who have probably stopped reading to go and tell me I'm a moron in the comments section before seeing where I'm going with this.

There is no question that Emelianenko is one of the three best fighters on the planet today and easily the best heavyweight. Again, he hasn't lost in eight years.

But while that certainly speaks to his dominance, it also greatly speaks to the inability of Affliction and M-1 Global to make this man a household name.

Take the most dominant athlete in any sport and that is who Fedor is to Mixed Martial Arts, minus the publicity.

Emelianenko's current 26-fight winning streak is the Joe DiMaggio 56-game hit streak of MMA. You read that right: I said it's the 56-Game Hitting Streak of Mixed Martial Arts.

But while even the most casual baseball fan and many that are completely uninterested in sports altogether know of DiMaggio's display, in a time where Mixed Martial Arts is (in your best Dana White voice people), "the fastest growing sport in the world," more people could pick out Kendall Grove from a police lineup than our version of "The Yankee Clipper."

While some of that falls on the fact that a great deal of "MMA fans" are actually "UFC fans," how Tom Atencio and company haven't jammed this man down the public's throats in the last year is beyond me.

If he was in the UFC, he'd be on the cover of every magazine and video game around. He'd be the Bo Jackson from Tecmo Bowl of UFC Undisputed - totally unstoppable.

Yet here we are, three weeks away from Affliction: Trilogy and the only advertising I've seen of the long-awaited fight between Emelianenko and his close friend and only remaining rival Josh Barnett has been on the tops of taxi cabs.

What makes it even better is that the ad campaign asks the question, "Do you know who I am?"

Here's a newsflash for Tom Atencio: the resounding answer outside of the hardcore MMA community is "No" and that doesn't bode well for your business!

You have the Tiger Woods of Mixed Martial Arts at your advertising disposal and the best you can do is this? Were are the interviews and video blogs and public appearances, especially in light of Dana bringing him up on the weekend?

Sure there has been the obligatory, "Fedor isn't going anywhere" comments, but that means little outside of the community that is already acutely aware of the situation.

Those stuck in the UFC vacuum only know that Emelianenko is on Dana White's radar, not that he's fighting in three weeks, has beaten the likes of Cro Cop, Randleman, Coleman and Nogueira and is the yin to Brock Lesnar's disrespectful yang.

In any other sport, whether we're talking football or basketball, hockey or tennis, the best of the best are put on the biggest stages imaginable. Their image is everywhere and their names are known in households from Alaska to Australia.

But not Mixed Martial Arts.

While every person in the world can identify the gentleman standing up in this picture, very few would recognize the guy sitting two rows back in the red shirt.

He's Fedor Emelianenko and he's one of the best the sport has ever seen.

Never heard of him? I hear that a lot.

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