Bellator 269: The Legendary Fedor Seeks Grand Homecoming Against Johnson

Fedor Emelianenko and Tim Johnson, Bellator 269
Fedor Emelianenko and Tim Johnson, Bellator 269 Credit: Lucas Noonan/Cageside Press

The legendary Fedor Emelianenko is expected to receive a grand homecoming when he meets recent interim title challenger Tim Johnson in Moscow at Bellator 269.

One thing has to be said for Fedor Emelianenko, he is still in this for the love of the game.  “The Last Emperor” had it all scripted in December of 2019: A rousing first round knockout in the main event of his first fight back at the Saitama Super Arena, the site of many of the performances that made him a star in PRIDE.  Had he chosen to say that was the night, and that at 43-years old he was hanging up the gloves for good this time, it would have been as fitting a finale as most fighters could ask for short of retiring with a title belt around their waist.

While he made it clear back then that he was not done, the world shaking coronavirus months later raised questions about how soon he would be able to travel compete again and if the forced layoff would lead him to possibly change his mind.  Instead, Emelianenko announced that he would be returning to fulfill the last two fights on his Bellator contract and that he would start with a homecoming in Moscow.  A frequent name in the GOAT discussion, the legend enters with a noticeably different reputation.  Always known for being more reserved in the media, Emelianenko has emerged as the mentor to surging Bellator champions Vadim Nemkov and Valentin Moldavsky in the past year.  As the next generation is in the midst of writing their own legacy under his tutelage, Emelianenko is afforded the opportunity to provide a healthy dose of nostalgia in his final outings.

While he was not the character that most fans expected to be in this position, Tim Johnson is still expected to walk away with the spoils of victory in enemy territory.  When it was announced that Bellator was looking for the right opponent for Fedor’s return to Moscow, several high profile free agents from outside of the promotion’s banner immediately stood out as exciting options.  When the news came that the fight stayed in-house with Johnson, it was met with several raised eye brows.  But while he doesn’t carry the name value, he does have an intriguing angle in regards to Saturday’s contest.

A professional since 2010, Johnson has had his share of experience with a stint in the UFC and a great run in Bellator that culminated in an interim title shot earlier this year.  As it would turn out, it was against Emelianenko’s surging protege Valentin Moldavsky whose grappling proved to be the difference in the bout.  While a win over one would not avenge the other, the opportunity to pick up a victory over Moldavsky’s celebrated mentor would be as good of a way as any to bounce back.  Furthermore, it would add to his impressive resume that has seen him best veterans Cheick Kongo, Matt Mitrione, and then undefeated prospect Tyrell Fortune.

Emelianenko will walk into the bout with the familiar disadvantages in height, reach, size, and youth.  Shot selection and movement will be paramount to a victory as me must keep Johnson at a distance and find moments to counter and possibly put his opponent on the ground.  For Johnson, the key is to use his physicality to carefully wear down Emelianenko.  Getting the fight to the mat is his best route to victory as well as getting “The Last Emperor” onto his back neutralizes most of his foe’s offense.

A victory for Johnson would open up a host of bouts, with a rematch against the likes of Vitaly Minakov or a bout with Said Sowma standing out as the obvious options.  Emelianenko is expected to go on to a celebrated finale with any number of unsigned free agents or fighters on the roster likely to clamor for the chance to send the legend onto his final farewell inside the cage.