Having repeatedly declared in the months leading up to his clash against
"He's definitely a different fighter," said Rogers of the heavyweight champion, who will put his legacy and nine-year unbeaten streak on the line Saturday on CBS (9 p.m. ET/PT). "I look into his eyes and I see nothing. I don't see if he's serious. I don't see if he's trying to be funny. I can't sense anything from him. A lot of people say, 'Don't pay attention to his demeanor because it will psyche you out.' It's true. I feel that."
This kind of acknowledgement is significant for a man who, less than a year ago, made ends meet by changing tires at a Sam's Club. He's accepted that few people are giving the 6-foot-5, 265-pound slugger more than a puncher's chance. He's recognized the cold, hard task in front of him. Embracing these truths suggests Rogers' brimming pre-fight confidence isn't a con. It's one thing to say you're going to win; it's another to actually believe it. And, it seems, that's an important distinction between Rogers (10-0) and the litany of challengers Emelianenko has brushed aside throughout his storied career.
Expectations in the champion's corner are very different, which is evident by the presumption of yet another Emelianenko victory. Despite constant reminders of his dominance, the stoic heavyweight said that while he always desires to "finish the fight as fast as possible," he can't focus on making an emphatic statement during his American network television debut. Rather than be concerned by how impressive he looks, Emelianenko enters fights to show "techniques and skills."
Throughout this decade, that attitude boded well for him and bad for the opposition.
Of the Russian's 30 wins, 23 have come inside the distance. Stopping nine of his 10 opponents by knockout, Rogers, too, has been efficient, though against a lesser class of competition. For CBS and Strikeforce, which is staging the event in conjunction with Emelianenko's promoter, M-1 Global, an explosive end to the main event would likely cap a successful return of MMA to the network 13 months after
Beyond an exciting night of fights, CBS will gauge success two ways: The first hurdle -- selling out the show to advertisers -- was cleared last week. The second -- improving the network's average rating among young men -- seems to be a lock considering the sport's track record.
"That's really what it's going to take to keep moving forward," said
For Emelianenko's handlers, the opportunity for their man fight in front of a significant American audience is matched by news that this bout will be carried live for the first time in Russia on Channel One, the country's largest network. In August, Emelianenko's anticipated fight with
When the network was hesitant to revisit Emelianenko and MMA, a few words from one of the fighter's longtime supporters, Russian Prime Minister
Channel One's broadcast is an example of M-1 Global's contribution to the international side of the co-promotion, said the company's CEO
"The formula to put this together was very unique," echoed Strikeforce CEO
Emelianenko, who is guaranteed two bouts in the U.S. next year under the Strikeforce/M-1 partnership, will likely endure a hit to his reputation if he struggles with Rogers. Moreover, a loss against a considerable underdog in front of several million viewers would certainly derail any recent stateside momentum, if not cause some to question his career accomplishments.
Considering the stakes, members of Emelianenko's camp say he avoided the distractions that prompted his longtime trainer,
As the fight grew near, 28-year-old Rogers decided he wasn't interested anymore in trying to gauge a reaction or emotion from Emelianenko's eyes -- though he gets two more chances: Friday's weigh-in and Saturday evening inside what is expected to be a sold out Sears Centre.
"I understand why people think I will lose," Rogers said with a prescient smile. "He's been on a winning streak and because of his record. But, at the same time, will people be upset when they see me knock him out in the first round?"