Josh Gross
Sunday November 8th, 2009

HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. -- Two Russian fighters, heavyweight champions both, rose Saturday morning on different contents intent on defending titles in their respective sports. For boxing's lumbering giant Nikolay Valuev the call was not answered, as he surrendered the WBA belt on points to Brit David Haye. The fate of his mixed martial arts counterpart, the revered Fedor Emelianenko, will be known shortly as he steps into a cage for the first time in his career.

Comparisons to Valuev and Emelianenko should begin and end there.

One was a fighter few cared about, competing in a sport that, sadly, seems to be receiving similar treatment. The other is a cult hero in a fistic endeavor that is exploding in popularity across the globe, and particularly in the U.S., as evident by Emelianenko's national television exposure tonight in prime time on CBS.

Dominating MMA's heavyweight division for seven years, and owning an unbeaten streak that extends to the year 2000, Emelianenko (30-1) is regarded by many, myself included, as the finest fighter in the sport's history. That reputation, his standing, and everything he has worked for is on the line against an upstart out of Minneapolis, Minn., named Brett Rogers, who as recently as April was changing tires at a Sam's Club in the Twin Cities. He also happens to be 10-0 in MMA with nine knockouts to his credit, including a 22-second shellacking of former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski.

Few give Rogers a shot against the Russian in the main event of Strikeforce's first promotional effort on network TV. But a shot is what he has, and Rogers has loudly and repeatedly promised to make the most of it. An upset here would, in my estimation, rival James "Buster" Douglas' upheaval of Mike Tyson, and would send MMA's heavies into the sort of disarray generally reserved for lighter classes.

And for Russian fight fans, it would make this a very, very bad weekend.

• Shots of Fedor in the arena wake up the crowd after Jake Shields' decisive yet fan-unfriendly decision for the vacant Strikeforce middleweight title against Jason "Mayhem" Miller.

• Fans who forgot to add an extra half hour to their DVR recording aren't going to be very pleased. Neither heavyweight will step in the cage before 11 p.m. ET.

• As Rogers bounces around his corner, Emelianenko enders to the cheers of an adoring audience as a somber Russian ballad fills the arena's speakers. His mystique has, over the years, become as potent a weapon as his powerful, accurate punches and fight-ending submission game.

• Rogers has repeatedly said Emelianenko is just another man. The crowd doesn't feel that way. They cheer at every mention of his name. They stand -- and they're all standing -- in awe of his potential. "Fedor! Fedor! Fedor!" echos around the building as the fight begins.

Round 1

• A wild hooking combination misses from Emelianenko. He's keeping distance, jab stepping and stopping. He's a non-stop feint. The first clinch and Fedor throws Rogers. But the underdog stands, refusing to be another victim. Rogers pressers Fedor into the fence -- a potentially big difference for a fighter who has made a career of owning competitors in a ring.

• They break. Rogers steps back tugs on his shorts and takes a monster left hook. Fedor dives in, relenteless, and puts the 6'5 265 pound Rogers on the canvas. Fedor, now, works from the half guard. It's an odd position to strike from so he goes for an arm. Rogers, however defends, lands several massive punches and is required to defend an armbar, which he does.

• Four minutes down and Rogers is giving the best heavyweight in MMA a fight. Someone is cut. Rogers is on his back as Fedor hovers over him. The Russian launches in with a wild right that misses. Rogers said he had a ground game and thus far he has shown that. The round ends, it's Emelianenko's but he's in a fight. He walks back to his corner with a gash on the bridge of his nose.

Round 2

• A lunging left hooks misses from Fedor. He deflects a long jab. Clinch and Rogers gives a good knee. Fedor flurries. Rogers covers. The crowd stands.

• Rogers is doing solid work in the clinch as he forces Emelianenko into the fence. They separate now, back in the center of the cage. A huge right hand floors Rogers! Big! And three more wild shots as the American covers. Literally men are jumping up and hugging each other. Hopping up and down like little kids. Boy, it was a monster of a right hand that ended it.

• I've said it before. I'll say it again. Fedor Emelianenko is the best figher mixed martial arts has produced. The time of the fight is 1:48 of Round 2. And the crowd in the Sears Centre has not stopped standing and cheering and loving this Russian mauler.

• Credit to Rogers for making a fight of it. He is undoubtedly a worthy heavyweight. He should not hang his head. He hurt and hung in there against the best. But Brett Rogers, despite his confidence, despite his ability, was not the man to upend Emelianenko. Who is? I don't know. More than ever MMA fans, from the casuals tuning in to CBS to see Emelianenko, to the hardcore watchers that have relished this quiet champion for years, will demand that Emelianenko -- should he win his next two bouts during a relationship between Strikeforce and the Russian's promotional partner M-1 Global -- fight Brock Lesnar, or whomever is holding the UFC title. And it's not acceptable for UFC promoters to deny co-promotion. That formula produced a great fight tonight. It put the best heavyweight in the world in a position to fight in prime time on national television. And it would ensure we know the name of the world's best fighter -- which, in my book, is the reason we ask these warriors to put their lives on the line in the first place.

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