There are moments in sports that you see that you remember for life. Usually, for me, these involve games I have no stock in (Giants/Pats Superbowl, for example). The detached nature of the situation for me allows me to appreciate the beauty of that epic play, frozen in time. Then there are those moments like Adam Deadmarsh’s shot from the blue line in triple overtime that brought the Stanley Cup home to my beloved Avalanche. That, along with some scattered highlights from  Michael Jordan’s career, comprise almost the entirety of “epic sports moments” where my team was on the winning side.  

I remember the night Mike Tyson lost to Buster Douglas. The fight wasn’t broadcast stateside at all, it was intended asa tuneup bout in Japan, but my brother and I spent the next few days scouring TV footage like forensic experts, trying to figure out if Tyson had been secretly drugged, or shot, because there was no way in hell Tyson would lose – could lose –  ever. It’s a hollow feeling, especially in boxing, where one loss, even after an impressive stack of wins, can put you on the road to retirement and obscurity.

Last night, another fighting legend fell, just as inexplicably, and of course, I was watching. Fedor Emilianenko was facing Fabricio Werdum in what was supposed to be a stepping stone for a title fight between Fedor and current Strikeforce champ Alistair Overeem. All of the pre-fight hype was Werdum touting his ground game, verifying that he knew he couldn’t last on his feet with Fedor, but if he could bring it to grappling, he could win. Fedor also talked about this, saying he needed to stay out of Werdum’s guard, to be wary of his grappling.

So, thirty seconds into the fight when Fedor floored Werdum with a punch, I wasn’t elated, I was worried. Werdum fell straight back, and Fedor followed him in, hoping to finish the fight. But instead of approaching his side, or even trying to coax him back up into a slugfest, Fedor jumped into Werdum’s guard. Hubris, perhaps? Could nearly ten years unbeaten have given Fedor some kind of false confidence that he could handle Werdum’s game? I couldn’t figure out why he did it, but I knew as soon as his first grounded punch missed and his arm was exposed, there would be trouble. Fedor’s worked his way out of tight spots before, the pummeling he took in the  Arlovski fight, the early broken nose from Brett Rogers. But this was different. His arm was locked, and in his escape attempt, he allowed Werdum to lock in a triangle choke simultaneous to the armbar.

Two submission holds early in the fight. In later rounds, with both men sweating, this might not have been as deadly. But early on, Werdum didn’t have to worry about Fedor slipping away. 

It was agonizing, watching Fedor scramble as best he could, A single tap, once on the leg, and the Last Emperor was legitimately dethroned.

Werdum’s already calling for an instant rematch, and spent more of his post-fight interview praising Fedor than celebrating his victory. But it leaves me shaken, just a bit, to see yet another legend fall. 

He has one more fight under his current Strikeforce agreement, which will hopefully be his rematch. And then, perhaps, finally, he will journey to the UFC, to try one final run to cement his legacy.

“A man who does not fall does not stand up,” Fedor said in defeat. I have a feeling Fedor will rise again, but his ride into the sunset will be anything but peaceful.

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