By Josh Gross
November 08, 2009

They milled about the Sears Centre delirious and excited, amazed and in awe.

A handful of twenty-somethings draped in Russian flags stood on their tiptoes peering across a sea of similarly-minded patrons moving like bewildered ants. "Can you see him?" asked the shortest in the group. "Yes!"

A man walking with a young boy, presumably his son, looked down and smiled. "Did you like that?" he wondered. A glance upwards with wide eyes and a nod provided the answer.

Three grown men wearing slacks and button down shirts and slippery-soled shoes slapped hands, embraced and jumped in the air as if participants in some ritual. Up and down, up and down. Jubilant beyond words.

They lingered, these 11,512 people who travelled to a suburb northwest of Chicago to watch Fedor Emelianenko. They lingered and breathed in another legendary performance from a legendary fighter. It wasn't until the best heavyweight in mixed martial arts history departed the cage, which moments earlier hosted his pasting of Brett Rogers, that an audience chanting his name dispersed.

Their hero, this pudgy, unassuming, quiet assassin, delivered for himself, for his promoter, for his fans. He delivered as he has in every fight since December 2000. Since he usurped the mantel of MMA's best heavyweight from Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in 2003. He delivered in a high-stakes fight, aired nationally on CBS, that most believed would determine the 33-year-old Russian's viability in the U.S. He did this the way he's traditionally gone about his business: behind an unassuming smile and with a stoicism that's hard to explain.

Lumped up around his discolored face and cut on the bridge of his nose, Emelianenko's 31st victory, against just one dismissed loss, did not come without a test -- even if he implied otherwise with the increasingly annoying sensibility of someone who can't take a compliment.

Fedor, did you feel Rogers' punches? Not really. Were you in danger taking a pounding from a 6-foot-5, 265-pound man with cinderblock hands? No, "there were no dangerous situations." Do you ever feel anxious or nervous during a fight? "No, never."


Rogers certainly appeared to threaten Emelianenko, whose head bounced off the fenced-in canvas more than once during their six-plus minute dance. Those moments made the main event of Saturday's co-promotion between Strikeforce and M-1 utterly compelling. Emelianenko had a fight on his hands whether he wants to admit it or not.

"He can say he wasn't in trouble, but he was," said Rogers' trainer Mike Reilly. The lack of oxygen in the Sears Centre during points in the fight would seem to lend credibility to Reilly's comments.

Some will suggest Rogers, a heavy underdog coming into the bout despite a 10-0 record with nine knockouts, further exposed Emelianenko as a fighter who hasn't faced legitimate opposition in years. That's bogus. And it's not fair to champion or challenger. Rogers, the unassuming tire technician from Sam's Club, proved he's talented enough, has resolve enough to make a fight with any heavyweight in the sport.

"I wouldn't have been anymore proud of him had he won tonight," Reilly said. "It would simply not be possible for me to be more proud of him, not just as his coach and trainer and friend, but as a fan of the sport."

Perhaps one day fans will offer calls of "Rogers! Rogers! Rogers!" But not now, not if they can yell "Fedor! Fedor! Fedor!" while watching a special fighter in his prime.

"It as a very good fight," Emelianenko said. "Brett has a good size that a lot of other fighters did not have. I liked to perform with him."

That was about all he said at a post-fight press conference in which he sat, head down, between his promoter and manager. Questions from an interested media drew more sheepish grins and shoulder shrugs than printable quotes. This is how it is with Emelianenko, whose results, not words, have carried his name over a decade of fighting in front of adoring crowds.

Pressure, if the word applies to him, wasn't any more prevalent before this bout -- the one that was intended to introduce him to an American audience and make him a star in an increasingly MMA-loving nation -- than any other, he said leading up to Saturday night.

"He was his usual self, which is very optimistic," said Joost Raimond, the CEO of Emelianenko's promotional company, M-1 Global. "He's quiet, keeps to himself and prepares for the fight."

As he walked off the dais at the end of the evening, a slight grin pursing his vault-like lips, media swarmed him as fans had earlier. They surrounded and tugged at the man who just wins, hoping to play their part in his night. Not surprisingly, they were rebuffed as he was ushered out of the room. Shoving ensued, feelings were hurt. And the bewildered meandering began again.

"What a fighter," one reporter said, though without the jumping.

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