Fedor Emelianenko will soon return to his hometown of Stary Oskol, Russia, where he'll take "one or two" weeks to decide whether recent hints of retirement were a momentarily lapse in reason or a moment of clarity.
Shortly after Antonio Silva (16-2) pummeled him Saturday in the quarterfinals of Strikeforce's Heavyweight Grand Prix and cageside doctors ruled him unable to continue, Emelianenko (31-3) said it might be time to hang up his four-ounce gloves.
"Something went wrong from the very beginning, and I didn't readjust myself," Emelianenko said through an interpreter. "Maybe it's time leave."
Pressed for a definitive answer, he appeared to resolve himself to the idea. This was not, after all, an outcome that could be attributed to a lapse in judgment, as with his 69-second submission loss to Fabricio Werdum last June. This was a loss, pure and simple, to a skilled fighter who had physical advantages across the board -- especially in weight, where Emelianenko gave up 50-plus pounds.
After 10 years of dominating opponents and pulling rabbits out of his hat on the ropes, the 34-year-old Emelianenko felt in high-definition the weight of combat mortality.
"Maybe it's high time," he said, right eye swollen shut and forehead filled with contusions and scrapes, like someone had scrubbed it with steel wool. "I thank God for everything. I spent a great, beautiful, long sporting life."
Cries of distress arose from more than a few of the 11,287 fans at Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J. A few hours later, more than a few requiems rolled out, and revisionist historians did battle with diehard fans online. All told, it was another shocking night in MMA.
Emelianenko was taken to an area hospital following the event as a precautionary measure and did not attend the post-event news conference. In his place, Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker and M-1 Global executive Vadim Finkelchtein were quick to tamp down retirement talk. Coker said the heavyweight could return later in the year as an alternate in the tournament, even though three fighters earned the opportunity earlier in the night in alternate bouts. Finkelchtein said Emelianenko might have just been "upset" and deferred to the fighter's final decision.
"But I think I know him well, and I think he's so full of strength," Finkelchtein said. "I think he will continue."
For the moment, the former PRIDE champion is trying to put the experience behind him. An M-1 Global source told SI.com that after no serious injuries were found at the hospital, Emelianenko went out on the town and was in good spirits. Another source said there is talk from within the promotion about a retirement fight held in the U.S., Japan or Russia. The decision will be made in Stary Oskol alongside his wife and two children.
It's going to be a long plane ride.
There's one fighter who can appreciate Emelianenko's current situation: Randy Couture, who in 2007 resigned from the UFC in part to seek a fight with the revered heavyweight. But that was 19 months after he retired inside the octagon following a second loss to then-light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell.
"I was there once, for sure," Couture told SI.com. "I felt like I had a lot of other things weighing me down. I wasn't enjoying the training. I wasn't competing the way I felt I was capable of competing. That's what led me to retire."
The 47-year-old UFC Hall of Famer also knows about getting back on the horse. He returned to active competition 13 months after the Liddell loss to capture the UFC heavyweight title from Tim Sylvia; he went on to defend it once before losing to now-former champion Brock Lesnar.
Couture returned to the light heavyweight class in late 2009 and continues to buck Father Time with a three-fight winning streak. Along the way, he's frequently flirted with the idea of permanent retirement as he's found success in film acting. After setting blogs afire by announcing -- as it turns out, prematurely -- his retirement via Twitter, he is set to face former champ Lyoto Machida in April at UFC 129.
He's often said that he's doing pretty well if a loss is the worst thing he encounters. But after watching the man he'd so long pined to fight take a beatdown, Couture said he was left "speechless."
"I didn't think, style-wise, it was a great matchup for him," Couture said. "Even as good as his right hand is, Silva is a huge guy. It's going to be hard to knock him out. He's certainly a skilled and wily ground competitor, as well. But I think we've gotten so used to Fedor pulling off these amazing performances that when it doesn't go that way, it's kind of shocking."
Although he can't say for sure whether Emelianenko is serious about retirement, Couture's experience with the subject leads him to believe the heavyweight could find the will to continue.
"You know, I came back around," he said. "The sun started shining again. I started having a lot more fun training again, and I felt I had a lot more to give. I can absolutely relate to where he's at right now. He's not an old guy by any stretch of the imagination, so it's certainly possible that the dust will settle, and he'll decide he's got more competition in him.
"But it certainly sounded like he was discouraged and seriously considering hanging it up."
Now, a quick look at some winners and losers from "Strikeforce: Silva vs. Fedor."
Antonio Silva (16-2): Unfortunately, Silva's win won't have quite the luster of Werdum's submission win because he was second in line to dispatch Emelianenko. But consider the fact that he dominated the Russian to the point of a 10-8 score in the second round, and you could make an argument that the first round was a tie. Emelianenko didn't get caught, slip up or get cocky this time around. He got handled, and the way that Silva stood his ground against the early storm and controlled the fight later made the performance just as impressive as Werdum's. My guess is that Silva will meet Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem in the tournament semifinals, and if he does to Overeem what he did to Fedor, it's on to the finals.
Sergei Kharitonov (18-4): The former Russian paratrooper earned his title of dark horse when he floored a backpedaling Andrei Arlovski and sealed a first-round knockout with punches overhead. Kharitonov took plenty of shots coming in, but by the first few exchanges, he had already decided that Arlovski couldn't hurt him. So he waded in and found the right moment. A serviceable strategy for this matchup, but it could backfire depending on the winner of an upcoming quarterfinal bout between Brett Rogers and Josh Barnett. Rogers will stand and bang for a spell before he looks for the takedown. Barnett, as he's shown before with dangerous strikers, won't even wait for a touch of gloves before he shoots and goes arm hunting on the canvas. Then, Kharitonov is in trouble.
Chad Griggs (10-1): Like Kharitonov, Griggs was just a little too comfortable trading bombs to be considered a cunning tactician. But in the end, his toughness won the day against Gianpiero Villante, who was probably shocked to find Griggs charging at him after a slap upside the head with a kick. Again, that gunslinging attitude will come back to haunt him if an injury opens a slot in the tournament. But it sure is exciting to watch.
Strikeforce, if Fedor retires: Coker doesn't want to close the door on a name that could be key in bringing the promotion back to network airwaves. Emelianenko is one of two Strikeforce fighters who move the needle in television ratings, and after last year's now-infamous brawl at "Strikeforce: Nashville," CBS will be hesitant to take another gamble on the promotion without a card packed with star power. When it comes to buzz, there's Fedor and Gina Carano, and wouldn't you know it, Carano was trotted out during Saturday's broadcast to announce she would be returning "sometime" in 2011. Who's going to fill that gap if the Russian retires?
Andrei Arlovski (15-9): He sustained his fourth consecutive loss, against Kharitonov. Three of his last four losses have been by knockout. And not just knockouts. We're talking lights out, goodnight Irene knockouts. It's time for him to call it quits and move into the training side of the game. He's given us a lot of great fights, and he's a very skilled guy. But it would be foolhardy -- and in this business, sadly inevitable -- if he continues.
Ray Sefo (2-1): At 39, the decorated kickboxer's experiment in MMA is in imminent peril. When Valentijn Overeem caught him in a neck crank in the first televised bout of the evening, it looked like the hold may have aggravated an old injury. Maybe Overeem's neck crank is really that deadly. Either way, Sefo should have been able to escape the position. If he can't at this point, he should train until he can in a live fight. Otherwise, he should focus on the training side, too.