Posted: Wednesday June 30, 2010 9:57PM ; Updated: Wednesday June 30, 2010 9:57PM
Josh Gross

Mailbag: Fedor's shocking loss, who's No. 1 and an MMA tragedy

Story Highlights

Fedor lost when he charged Werdum after misjudging how badly his foe was hurt

The Brock Lesnar-Shane Carwin winner this weekend will likely be the new No. 1

The death of Michael Kirkham is a reminder of the need for pre-fight physicals

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Fedor Emelianenko
Fedor Emelianenko boasted an impressive 31-1 record before his stunning 69-second loss to Fabricio Werdum on June 26 in San Jose, Calif.

I really do hope, now that Fedor Emelianenko has lost, the media out there that loved this guy can look at this fighting record with a new level of honesty. I find it funny in your last article that you point out he fought nobodies from 2006-07 but then say "he fought two former UFC champions." Are you then going to tell me, using that same logic, that Dave Herman's win over Don Frye or Cung Le's win over Frank Shamrock are validation that they fought the best? C'mon, you're better than that!

Look, the guy was the greatest heavyweight from 2000 to 2005, that can not be discounted. Why can't the Fedor crazies just admit that that's not saying too much, because the division was really quite weak at the time? You can easily say the same thing when it comes to UFC heavyweights like Tim Sylvia or Andrei Arlovski. I await that article from you. For me, I remember the Fedor vs. Cro Cop fight. That was his best and it is highlighted by the fact that his next match was against Zuluzinho. I enjoy listening to you and reading your work but I have often felt that for some reason you do not have the ability to be unbiased on this one fighter. I hope now that will change.
-- Bryan Payton, San Antonio

I received quite a few e-mails like this one. Let's first clear up this idea that Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia were UFC washouts.

Sylvia was given his release from the UFC, at his request, after coming from ahead to lose to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in 2008. This was after he outpointed Brandon Vera and fell to Randy Couture. Prior to the Couture fight, Sylvia had rattled off five in a row in the UFC against heavyweight opposition that, admittedly, was not the best -- Tra Telligman, Assuerio Silva, Andrei Arlovski twice, and Jeff Monson. Really, though, it was the fight with Nogueira, then ranked No. 2 in the division, that gave Sylvia some legitimacy heading into the bout against Emelianenko.

At the time Arlovski fought Emelianenko, he departed the UFC as a free agent on a three-fight winning streak inside the Octagon (Marcio Cruz, Fabricio Werdum, Jake O'Brien). Remember, the UFC stuck him on an unaired preliminary fight against O'Brien -- undefeated at 10-0 at the time with a decision over Heath Herring -- for the final bout of his contract. Arlovski then smashed Ben Rothwell and knocked out Roy Nelson, two guys featured pretty prominently in the UFC heavyweight division at the moment. He was regarded as a very real threat to Emelianenko before getting knocked out in 3 minutes.

So, yes, I considered Sylvia and Arlovski legitimate opponents for Emelianenko. And in retrospect, I still do -- not because of the "UFC champion" tag alone.

Let's also not forget that Emelianenko was days away from fighting Josh Barnett, and attempted several times to fight Randy Couture, only to have that fight blocked by the UFC. If he fought less than exemplary opposition along the way, there's more than one person, promoter, fighter, manager responsible for that.

Thank you for mentioning in your fight breakdown that Werdum fell to the mat in that fight "even though [Fedor] didn't connect."

Nine out of every 10 writers commenting on this fight have made a huge deal out of Fedor dropping Werdum, or hitting him with a bomb. I told my girlfriend at the time I didn't think Fedor had connected solidly, and on the replay you could clearly see that Werdum was actually off balance and ducked backwards to avoid a right hook from Fedor. It was ducking out of the way of that punch while off balance that caused Werdum to fall, not any shot from Fedor itself. I shouldn't be surprised so many columnists are getting it wrong -- Fedor clearly thought he had dropped Werdum, which could explain why he so eagerly jumped into his guard to "finish him off." But it's disgraceful that even having the opportunity to replay the fight in slow motion as many times as they'd like, they still insist on characterizing the exchange that way. Glad to see one of my favorite writers, at least, called it right.
-- Brett, Minnesota

Watching live, it certainly appeared that Werdum was caught. Like you said, if much of the media was fooled, so was Fedor. And that's where he made his biggest mistake by misjudging how badly Werdum was hurt. That error prompted him to hastily jump into one of only two places he could have lost the fight. To me, the tactical misstep might be the most shocking aspect of his defeat.

Fedor's loss can actually be good for MMA and Fedor. He obviously is overweight and he hasn't recently shown the speed of attack that separated him from the rest in the past. He might come into his next fight in better shape. He also was the best because Fedor would spend some time during a fight in his opponents' skill strength, and still win. He punched it out with Kazuyuki Fujita standup, grounded-and-pounded with Nogueira, wrestled with Mark Coleman and Kevin Randleman, kicked with Cro Cop, etc. He obviously went too far with Werdum, leaving his head down and arms extended in Werdum's guard. Fedor might want to do what Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva do, stay away from your opponent's strengths and dominate on your terms. It's not as challenging, but far less risky.
-- Darryl Ventura, Florence, Mass.

It's unlikely based on the conversations I've had with people in and around his camp, but it seems to me Fedor would be best served mixing things up in the gym. He said he needs to work harder, but that alone isn't the answer. How much is there to gain, really, by beating up Kirill Sidelnikov in the gym? The best fighters in the world have shown that the most improvement comes when you mix it up, both in the way they train and the people they train with. Even Fedor showed this via results he had after taking a couple months to work on his kickboxing in Holland.

To be honest, I'm not really too surprised about the Fedor result Saturday. Do you foresee a Chuck Liddell-type fall for Fedor? I feel like I've seen this movie before.
-- Randy, Alexandria, Va.

Not at all. Their situations aren't anything alike. Fedor has never been stopped with strikes, let alone knocked out cold. Liddell is 40. Emelianenko, 32.

I saw you mention on Twitter that you think the Brock Lesnar vs. Shane Carwin winner on Saturday will be No. 1 at heavyweight. Why isn't Werdum? I remember you putting Matt Serra at No. 1 after he upset Georges St. Pierre, and right now Frankie Edgar is the top lightweight after beating B.J. Penn. It doesn't make sense to me.
-- Antonio, Las Cruces, N.M.

Ah, rankings. It's a fair question. Why not Werdum? Well, every situation is different. I can't put Werdum at No. 1 for a few reasons. First, there is a terrific fight this Saturday at UFC 116 between the No. 2 and No. 3 heavyweights. I said before Fedor went down that a decisive outcome in Lesnar-Carwin might have resulted in a switch at No. 1 regardless of the result in San Jose. That absolutely applies now. Also, Werdum had the stuffing knocked out of him in 2008 by Junior dos Santos, which is something I can't look past in ranking the No. 1 spot.

OK, then why is Edgar atop the lightweight division even though he dropped a decision to Gray Maynard in '08? The permutations of rankings. Second-ranked Shinya Aoki went down to defeat a week after Edgar won a close -- some might say controversial -- decision over Penn, so there wasn't a natural heir. In '07, when St. Pierre was stunned by Serra, again, there wasn't any reasonable choice that could exist above GSP, so he had to be ranked No. 2.

When I release new rankings next week, expect it to look something like this:

1. Brock Lesnar-Shane Carwin winner
2. Fabricio Werdum
3. Fedor Emelianenko
4. Brock Lesnar-Shane Carwin loser
5. Cain Velasquez
6. Junior dos Santos
7. Frank Mir
8. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
9. Alistair Overeem
10. Antonio Silva

As you can see, dos Santos, who's interchangeable with Velasquez at this point, gets the short stick.

What do you make of the UFC 116 card? Are there any other fights on there worth getting excited about, or it all on the main event?
-- Alex Klein, Monroe, La.

Because Wanderlei Silva fell off the bill due to injury, the televised UFC 116 undercard, including two free bouts on Spike TV, is one of the least appealing in a long time. Silva's very late replacement, Chris Leben, takes on talented middleweight Yoshihiro Akiyama. I don't feel like I'm being harsh when I say Chris Lytle vs. Matt Brown and Krzysztof Soszynksi vs. Stephan Bonnar should not be sold on a pay-per-view fight card. If I'm going to point you to one fight to watch outside of the main event, it's a lightweight tilt between George Sotiropoulos and Kurt Pellegrino. It'll be interesting to see if Sotiropoulos maintains the momentum he established by dominating Joe Stevenson in February. Meanwhile, Pellegrino has won four straight, including a submission against Fabricio Camoes.

What's your sense of the tragic death of Michael Kirkham over the weekend in South Carolina? Is this the kind of thing that hurts the growth of MMA, like in my home state?
-- Fred Thompson, Syracuse, N.Y.

Of course, this is terrible news. The 30-year-old Kirkham, a father of five, collapsed after his pro debut on June 26 and never woke up. According to accounts of the fight I've read, Kirkham did not endure anything beyond what would have to be considered normal abuse throughout the fight. He joins Sam Vasquez, who passed in 2007 after a bout in Texas, as the only two fighters to die following regulated competition. There is also the infamous death of Florida's Douglas Dedge in 1998 after an unregulated bout in Kiev, Ukraine, that never strays too far from our memories.

The South Carolina Athletic Commission began regulating MMA in May 2009. Alongside the International Sports Karate Association, they oversaw the Kirkham bout. Kirkham, who stood 6-feet-9 and weighed a slender 155 pounds, had six amateur bouts before making his pro debut on Saturday.

MMA proponents have long argued the sport's safety record in comparison to boxing. It's time to stop doing that. MMA is as rigorous a sport as exists today. It can be brutal and ugly. The men and women who compete know this going in, and yet they continue. Is that something to be admired or reviled? I'll leave that up to you to decide. Personally, I have nothing but respect for athletes who put their lives on the line.

The expectation is that with regulation comes safety. Should it tell us something that two deaths have occurred under the watchful eye of states collecting fees and tax money on the sport?

South Carolina does not require much from fighters before they step in the cage or ring: a pre-fight physical, eye exam, some blood work. Each state is different in this regard, and as more men and women try their hands at the sport it'll be up to the states to keep them safe. One would hope that special attention is paid to the health of the brain, though CT Scans cost more money than some might be willing to pay. The autopsy listed Kirkham's cause of death as subarachnoid hemorrhage of the brain due to blows he received during the fight. An investigation has been launched by the SCAC. Hopefully it includes a thorough look at the state's procedures, and whether they're adequate to keep a growing number of pro fighters safe. The state of New Jersey did its job when Thiago Alves was held out of a bout against Jon Fitch earlier this year because a brain scan showed irregularities. That is how things are supposed to work.

As far as the impact of Kirkham's death on MMA, it surely will be fodder for the sport's opponents. In the end, people can and will say what they want. The most important thing is we recognize that death has been and will be again the steepest price of pushing the competitive envelope. Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili reminded us of that prior to this year's Winter Games in Vancouver, just as Dale Earnhardt did at Daytona. Kirkham's passing was far less public, yet no less tragic.
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