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Like Mike Tyson, Fedor Emelianenko hits with fists of iron

The Russian mixed martial arts star brings the same assassin's mentality to his work as Tyson in his prime.

January 25, 2009|KURT STREETER

Ghost of Mike Tyson's past, make room for Fedor.

Many have said that the cold-blooded Tyson we knew in his days of real damage had nothing on today's mixed martial arts dynamo, Fedor Emelianenko. Saturday night at the Honda Center, the burly Russian with the assassin's gaze underscored this view with a coldcock right hand for the ages, a punch that knocked out Andrei Arlovski, dropping the challenger like a bag of stones tossed from a bridge.

The blow came toward the end of a tense first round. For much of that round, the two men measured each other and grappled while standing on the ropes. Then, for a few moments, Arlovski pressed the action.

With Emelianenko, who goes by Fedor, backed into his own corner, Arlovski went airborne with a flying kick. Seeing an opening, Fedor let loose with a right hand that caught Arlovski's bearded face flush. Knockout.

From the amped crowd came a percussive roar. Meantime, with the Belorussian challenger flat on his back, Fedor was expressionless. Just as Tyson would have in the late '80s, he seemed completely unfazed as he surveyed the damage, even as he was mobbed in the ring by his supporters and a beaming Donald Trump.

"I knew Arlovski was prone to making mistakes," Fedor said through an interpreter, speaking in his typical simple, matter-of-fact way. Arlovski presented an opening, and "at that moment, I caught him.

"You really don't expect that [a knockout] is going to happen, but it did happen."

For his part, Arlovski, in his thickly accented English, explained the knockout as brought on by a momentary slip. "I tried to do something flashy and I am really upset with myself. . . . I don't know why I changed my tactic and did flying knee."

By winning this fight, Fedor defended his World Alliance of Mixed Martial Arts heavyweight title and put a chokehold on his reputation as the best, most feared man in the still-growing sport. He came to Anaheim following a thorough demolition of Tim Sylvia, one of the MMA's most dominant fighters. Arlovski was expected to provide a tough test. He had little chance.

"I didn't really think I was in any danger," said Fedor, who lives in Ukraine. "Now," he said, "I just want to go home."

Simple, pure, foreboding.

Fedor versus Arlovski was not the only fight on the card. There were 11 others, and it was like watching 11 car crashes. But through it all, the stands buzzed with more energy than you'll find in 11 1-0 Dodgers wins. This was sort of like a Lakers game, but with more anger, fewer silicon injections, an even younger vibe and far more muscled-up dudes in the stands who looked like they would drop you in a flash if you laid an eye on their girlfriend.

Full disclosure: This was the first time I've watched MMA live. All night, watching blood fly, I felt accosted by two opposing sides of my psyche.

There was the peaceful part of me that thinks we should not give too much glory to this kind of brutality. And there was the side that burns with anger and won't compromise and likes blood -- face it, all of us have it. Saturday night, the angry side won.

All evening, a rush of adrenaline pushed through my veins. What a show. The stands rocked and heavy metal, hip-hop and flashing strobes filled the air. It was gaudy, the way all sports that are not played in country clubs are these days. But there was also a nice minimalism, too. Hardly anything in the way of equipment: no shoes, no socks, only shorts and tiny, four-ounce gloves that don't cover the fingers. And from the fighters, a mental minimalism: What is either complete "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" nuttiness or utter bravery. No in-between. No extra fluff. Nice.

How do I feel about this sport now? I'm still skeptical, maybe not all the way there yet.

But after watching the guts, the coldly delivered moves and barely controlled chaos, and watching a stunningly powerful fighter like Fedor -- tough and simple as Tyson as he left a post-fight news conference with a quiet, assassin's smile and a simple "I want to go home" -- you can now count me as an MMA fan.


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