Josh Gross
Sunday July 20th, 2008

As introductions go, Fedor Emelianenko's encounter with Tim Sylvia was terse.

Thirty-six seconds after meeting Sylvia, Emelianenko, the 31-year-old Russian widely regarded as mixed martial arts' best heavyweight, pummeled the 6-foot-8 two-time UFC champion into submission.

Visually, it was Sylvia who struck an imposing figure. Yet Emelianenko has never ceded ground to giants, and giving up eight inches and 33 pounds Saturday night hardly proved to be a disadvantage.

Meeting for the inaugural World Alliance of Mixed Martial Arts heavyweight title belt, a championship billed as the sport's first unified non-organizational title, Emelianenko wasted little time in attacking.

"You never know how short or long it is going to be," Emelianenko said moments after finishing Sylvia via rear-naked choke. "But I just wanted to end it as quickly as possible. I just wanted to show the fans my skills."

If it's possible to showcase the breadth of skills needed to be a great mixed martial artist in under a minute, Emelianenko did just that. Having sat atop the heavyweight division of MMA media rankings since capturing the Pride Fighting Championships' belt in 2003 versus Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, much of Emelianenko's greatness resided in seamlessly weaving techniques together.

Flowing from punches on the feet to position on the floor, Emelianenko took hold of Sylvia from behind and unloaded powerful shots that helped him transition to back-control. The Russian moved beautifully and rolled Sylvia to a position where the only recourse was defending his neck.

It didn't help.

"I was hoping I would end the fight then," said the new champion. "I was prepared to fight standing up, but I knew I had a better chance to end it on the ground."

Emelianenko, now 28-1, locked on the submission and Sylvia was compelled to tap.

"I had so many things going through my mind," said the 32-year-old Sylvia, whose record fell to 26-6. "He got off, landed the big punch, jumped on me and got the submission.

"By far, he's the No. 1 fighter in the world."

Showered as much by the adulation of 13,988 fans packed into the Honda Center as he was by red-and-black confetti that poured into the lower bowl after the WAMMA belt was strapped to his waist, the night could not have gone better for Emelianenko or the team that promoted him: Affliction Entertainment and M-1.

While Sylvia presented more than a worthy test, the bout MMA fans have clamored to see would match the Russian against Randy Couture -- the UFC champion until resigning from his post in October 2007 so he could attempt to fight Emelianenko after he turned down an offer to compete under the UFC banner.

In the ring, each man expressed their desire to fight one another. Legal decisions will determine whether that bout will happen, but just seeing the two heavyweight icons in the ring together was enough for fans in the arena to cheer wildly.

"I just wanted to end it as quickly as possible," Emelianenko added. "I just wanted to show the fans my skills."

In many ways, Saturday night marked Emelianenko's introduction to American fight fans. With potential bouts against real contenders on the horizon, Emelianenko should no longer need to concern himself with criticism about fighting chumps.

Rather, combining the emergence of MMA in the consciousness of American sports fans with the Russian's talent and unmatched ledger, the smiling, quiet man from tiny Stary Oskol, Russia, could be this sport's brightest light.

The buzzing crowd also witnessed several compelling undercard bouts, including knockout victories by former UFC champions Andrei Arlovski and Josh Barnett.

Arlovski and Ben Rothwell brought out the best in one another with a rousing heavyweight war the likes of which is rare in the division. Former UFC champion versus former IFL champ, Arlovski and Rothwell opened with a quality frame.

The early advantage belonged to the Belarusian. Keeping Rothwell off balance with low kicks and the occasional right hand, Arlovski pushed forward and showed more aggression than he had in recent UFC-promoted bouts.

Round two was the bout's best.

Rothwell, who came into the fight with almost 25 pounds on his speedy opponent, pushed forward. Arlovski held up well, though the fight wasn't perfect for Arlovski.

Making a poor attempt at a leglock while he sat in Rothwell's guard, "The Pitbull" surrendered position, allowing the big Wisconsin heavyweight to ground-and-pounded his way through much of the round. With 30 seconds remaining, however, referee Josh Rosenthal chose, perhaps unnecessarily, to stand the fighters.

Arlovski (13-5) took advantage by clubbing Rothwell (29-6) around the ring. The crescendo came with a jumping knee that jolted Rothwell's head into the air.

Still hurt after the onslaught to close Round 2, Rothwell was finished at 1:13 of the third when Arlovski fired a beautiful same-handed straight-uppercut combination with his right.

In February 2001 Pedro Rizzo landed a right hand on Josh Barnett that secured its perpetual place among UFC highlight reels knockouts. Barnett exacted a perfect measure of revenge, this time by way of the left hook, in knocking Rizzo cold at 1:44 of the second round.

As with their initial contest at UFC 30, the first card promoted by Zuffa, Barnett chose to trade with Rizzo, a powerful kickboxer who approached the top of the heavyweight division earlier in his career. In recent years, Rizzo (16-8) slipped while Barnett, who defeated Randy Couture in 2003 to become the UFC's youngest champion, fought against some of the best in Japan.

The disparity was as obvious as a left hook to the jaw.

Barnett (23-5) danced in the opening round, choosing push kicks to Rizzo's midsection as an early to set up for punches. In the second period that paid off when a short right hand to the top of the head hurt Rizzo. Barnett pounced, delivering a fight-ending left hook to Rizzo's jaw that made him go limp even before he hit the canvas.

After a slow opening round, featherweights Mark Hominick and Savant Young showed why the division currently dominated by Urijah Faber has struck a cord with fight fans.

Hitting the canvas for the first time, the 145-pounders looked to finish from several places. Though Young slammed his way out of one armbar, Hominick kept up the attack by nearly sweeping his way to the top. Young countered, but so did Hominick.

Calmly, the Canadian calmly maintained position and alternated between triangle chokes and armbars. At 4:52 of the second, Hominick (16-8) stuck an armbar that forced Young (9-8) to tap.

Light heavyweights Mike Whitehead and Renato Sobral gave a good effort over three competitive rounds. In the end, it was the Brazilian, enjoying significant support of the sell-out crowd, who set the pace.

Whitehead (20-6), a large light heavyweight who's fought as large as 260 pounds, had his moments, but for the majority of the fight he simply reacted to the Brazilian's attacks. Judges at ringside scored it 30-27 across the board for Sobral, who raised his record to 30-7.

It's not fun fighting Matt Lindland -- Brazilian Fabio Negao was the latest middleweight to learn that truth.

Over three tough rounds, Negao endured Lindland's awkward strikes and relentless ground-and-pound. The American, who is running as a republican candidate for an Oregon house seat this November, nearly made his evening a short one as he put down Negao with a punch in the opening minute.

Negao (8-4) showed himself to be a worthwhile adversary and survived several attempts at a guillotine choke, both from bottom and top positions.

In round 2, the middleweights made the crowd rise during an exchange of punches, elbows and knees. Negao, however, couldn't muster enough power behind his shots to hurt Lindland (21-5), prompting the mauling wrestler to move forward no matter what his opponent did.

On the floor, Lindland dominated with a relentless string of short punches and elbows. Judges at ringside each scored the bout for Lindland -- 30-26 and 30-27 twice.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.