Bellator 198 Preview: Mir and Fedor Finally Set to Collide

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Fedor Emelianenko, set to headline Bellator 198
Fedor Emelianenko Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

The fight between Frank Mir and Fedor Emelianenko has been years in the making, and the Heavyweight Grand Prix could be their last great chance to regain glory in MMA.

In 2009, Frank Mir said in an interview “I don’t want to leave this life without ever having been in there with Fedor.”  At the time, Mir was preparing for a rematch with Brock Lesnar at the biggest event in MMA history at UFC 100.  Emelianenko was the marquee attraction at future President Donald Trump’s Affliction MMA after a legendary run in PRIDE.  The two appeared destined to remain on parallel paths in the sport, that is until 2017 where both men finally found themselves under the same banner.  On Saturday, Mir and Fedor will collide in a match nearly a decade in the making.

Frank Mir accomplished virtually everything one could in the UFC during his sixteen year run.  He became heavyweight champion at the young age of 25 and would go on to win the title, albeit interim in 2008.  He faced the best the organization could offer for over a decade, notching victories over the likes of Brock Lesnar, Antonio Nogueira (twice,) and others.  Mir has also become an accomplished analyst, serving as commentator for the now defunct WEC and Absolute Championship Berkut.

But as in all sports, a long tenure means eventually facing the next generation of up-and-comers eager to write their own legend.  For Mir, his  0-4 skid in 2012 led many to believe that the game of MMA had simply caught up to him.  He would have a brief career resurgence, recording back-to-back first round stoppages before dropping another two more in 2015.  In his latest bout, Mir tested positive for turinabol and is currently finishing his two year suspension from USADA.  Mir was granted his release from the UFC, but one of the stipulations was that he could not fight until he finished his suspension.  Now at 38 years old, he faces several questions as he enters the Octagon.  Can he still compete against top flight competition, whether it be Fedor or others?  With more than a year away since his last fight, will he be as sharp as he needs to be to take out a still dangerous rival?

The book has already been written on what Fedor Emelianenko has meant to mixed martial arts.  His 31-1-1 record to begin his career set the benchmark for heavyweight excellence.  His performances against Nogueira, Mirko Cro Cop, Mark Coleman, and Kevin Randleman all solidified him as the most accomplished fighter in the PRIDE organization.  His status led to a now well-documented negotiation with the UFC, with Dana White admitting that he made several unsuccessful attempts at bringing “The Last Emperor” to the Octagon.

His debut in America did not go as planned.  He signed with Strikeforce in 2009 where he went a disappointing 1-3.  The skid was stunning at every turn, each loss taking more off the legendary status he had spent more than a decade building.  He would eventually return to Europe, recording back-to-back wins before retiring in 2012.  He returned in 2015, going 3-0 against fellow veterans Pedro Rizzo, Singh Jaideep, and Fabio Maldonado before returning to America to sign with Bellator where he lost his debut to fellow tournament competitor Matt Mitrione.  He now enters the Heavyweight Grand Prix as one of the biggest names in the bracket.  It was asked often before his return, why make a comeback?  He had accomplished so much and had nothing to prove by squaring off with the next generation. He claimed that it was simply his passion for the sport and that he wanted to get back in the cage before the opportunity was closed forever.  That said, it is no secret that for Emelianenko, the tournament is as quite possibly the encore after a career that many felt had already had it’s finale.

Stylistically, the bout will come down to the movement of Emelianenko against the more comprehensive game of Mir.  “The Last Emperor” has shown unapologetic confidence in his power and he should look to get in behind the jab to set-up his right hand.  He is the much smaller of the two and should take advantage of it by getting in and out and attacking with high volume.  Mir has shown himself to be the more fluid striker and if Emelianenko is stationary for too long it will favor the UFC veteran.

Mir’s size figures to help him should he get the fight to the ground, especially in the clinch where he can tie-up Emelianenko against the fence.  The Russian has not shown the level of grappling from the guard that suggests he can submit someone at the level of Mir so Emelianenko should look to do everything he can to stall action and force a stand-up.  If Emelianenko does look for the takedown, he should focus on a steady stream of ground-and-pound, not allowing Mir the space to set up a defensive attack from the guard.

The winner of the bout will move on to the next round against Chael Sonnen where they figure to have a distinct size advantage.  They will also be the favorite to make the Finals against either Matt Mitrione, Ryan Bader or Muhammad Lawal.  What can’t be understated is the morale boost it will provide the winner.  Both men have struggled in recent years and to get to the semifinals of the tournament will provide a huge boost in confidence that could provide the difference as they approach the final stage of the Grand Prix.

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