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Emelianenko planning his return

"I think definitely by New Year's Eve I'll be ready to go," the 31-year-old Russian told Sunday.

Emelianenko said the sharp pain and swelling that followed his 36-second destruction of Tim Sylvia on July 19 have begun to subside, but it will be several more weeks before he feels comfortable enough to get back into the gym. In the meantime, Emelianenko (28-1, 1 NC) has returned to Southern California -- the scene of his violent stoppage over two-time UFC heavyweight champion Sylvia.

Meetings with representatives for Affliction, which promoted the first of its three fights with Emelianenko in July, and media obligations will occupy much of the heavyweight's time before he shoots a segment for the Sports Emmy-winning series Sports Science. (Because he's unable to punch, the show, which focuses on biomechanics of top athletes, will examine Emelianenko's application of chokes.)

Affliction had intended to promote a fight between Emelianenko and Andrei Arlovski on Oct. 11. Instead, Emelianenko will watch as Arlovski and fellow top-five heavyweight Josh Barnett clash in a World Alliance of Mixed Martial Arts title eliminator.

"My desire at this point is to meet with the winner of the fight," said Emelianenko, the only current WAMMA champ. "But I still have a desire to fight with whomever loses as well.

"The meaning of the belt really depends on how it's developed and how it evolves," he added. "The relevance and the status of the belt is good, but it's not as important as the people fighting for the belt. The caliber of the fighters is what makes the sport, not the belts."

Despite giving Barnett an edge over Arlovski, Emelianenko hedged slightly, saying each man brought "a lot of plusses, a lot of strengths. They're both very interesting fighters. They're both world-class fighters. Both very serious fighters."

The Russian's return won't come against the winner, however. As has been his tradition every New Year's Eve since 2003, Emelianenko plans on fighting in Japan, where he dominated the Pride heavyweight division for four years before the promotional company ceased operations in 2007.

Early speculation centered on a rematch of Emelianenko's tremendous points win in 2005 over Mirko Filipovic. However, a representative for the No. 1-ranked heavyweight said it's doubtful the fight would take place at this time. In a bout intended for Japanese fight fans, Emelianenko will likely meet a "judo legend or sumo wrestler."

Either way, a December contest could offer another test for Emelianenko's oft-injured right hand -- the only apparent crack in his impressive armor.

Asked about the impact of compounding hand injuries on his career -- a reddish, slightly uneven scar from an earlier surgery acts as a pointer to the current bone chip -- Emelianenko took a pragmatic approach: "It just seems the hand doesn't really sustain the strength of the strike. So from time to time I'm going to have certain injuries in the hand as a result of that.

"It might be because of the style of punching," he conceded. "I started training in boxing at a later age, so maybe based on the way I strike, the style, it might be a situation where I'm more prone to injury."