MMA Fighter of the Decade

In looking back at the decade, I can’t think of another sport that grew so big quicker than MMA. In the United States, the UFC became a household name by the end of the decade. In Japan, MMA has dominated sports culture and shattered ratings records over the last ten years. While thousands have competed in MMA, only a handful have single handedly made an impact. Today I look back at the MMA Fighter of the Decade.

I can’t ever imagine another decade where MMA will experience the kind of growth that it experienced in the last ten years. The UFC came to pay-per-view here in the United States simply as a vehicle to promote Royce Gracie and Gracie BJJ. As we finish the decade, the “barbaric” events that created the UFC have morphed into a sport featuring Olympic and championship athletes from all over the world.

How do you come up with one MMA Fighter of the Decade? I based my decision on a variety of factors. The first factor would be success. It would be ridiculous to give this award to someone with a subpar record, no matter how big of a star he may be. Two, I look at the quality of opponents. There are some guys that step up and face the best, while there are others who do the best they can to avoid the competition. Third, I look at longevity. As impressive as Brock Lesnar is, he has had four fights in the UFC, and has only fought once in 2009. Four, I look at the impact of the fighter and how well they drew as an entertainer and box office attraction. Finally, I look at reputation and how the fighter is perceived in the world of MMA.

MMA Fighter of the Decade – Fedor Emelianenko

In doing the research for this blog, I put all of the obvious names on paper. The obvious names are Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, BJ Penn, Royce Gracie, and of course Fedor. The more research I did, the more Fedor just kept blowing these guys away in all of the criteria. By the time I was finished with my research, Fedor ran away with this award. Let’s break down all of the factors and see why Fedor Emelianenko is the MMA Fighter of the Decade.

1 – Success. Fedor has only lost one match in the entire decade. As a matter of a fact, the only loss Fedor suffered came at the end of the year 2000. He hasn’t lost a match in nine years. His overall record is 31-1-1. He fights an average of just under three fights a year, which is a lot in an era where most of the UFC champions fight 1-2 times a year. He has 24 fights that ended by either submission or knockout. There is no other fighter that even comes close to Fedor’s MMA record over the last decade.

2 – Quality of Opponents. Fedor is not a guy that won 31 fights over tomato cans. When Fedor finally made the jump from Rings to Pride, he fought top-level competition right off the bat. He has wins over four former UFC heavyweight champions. He has three wins over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (when he was considered arguably the best fighter in the world), as well as wins over Semmy Schilt, Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, Ricardo Arona, Mirko Cro Cop (when he was considered unbeatable), Tim Sylvia, Andrei Arlovski, Matt Lindland, and Mark Hunt just to name a few. He fought most of those guys in their primes. There is no other UFC or MMA fighter that has the same number of quality wins overt he course of ten years that Fedor has. Not even close.

3 – Longevity. Fedor has been fighting for the entire decade. There were some years where he fought five times in one year. UFC president Dana White has criticized Fedor for not fighting frequently over the last few years. However, he has fought the same or more times than almost all of the top UFC fighters have over the last few years. In Pride, he fought 3-5 times a year. Just think for a second about how impressive it is to fight five times in one year! Randy Couture only fought more than twice a year once in 2000 and he is regareded as an MMA legend. Chuck Liddell never fought more than three times in one year. Fedor was a machine for most of the decade.

4 – MMA Impact. This is the only category where Fedor loses to anyone and that would be Chuck Liddell. Fedor was a ratings machine during most of the decade in Japan and some international markets. In the United States, Fedor has been a huge disappointment on pay-per-view and television. He had modest success with Strikeforce depending upon how you judge his CBS ratings. The chances are pretty good that Fedor could walk into a local gas station and nobody would know who he is, whereas Chuck Liddell is a mainstream celebrity. If the criteria were even all of the way for Fedor and Chuck, than Chuck would win based on the impact he had in MMA. Unfortunately, Chuck’s record and his slide over the last few years preclude that from happening. At the same time, Fedor was a megastar in Japan but those days are behind him.

As you can tell, this was really an race between Fedor and Chuck Liddell. While other fighters like Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz have had huge impacts on MMA over the decade, their records completely discount them from consideration. Couture was 23-8 and only beat one high-quality opponent in Chuck Liddell. I think Randy’s stature in the MMA world is more hype than fact. Tito hasn’t beaten anyone in years, unless you count an inexperienced Forrest Griffin three years ago as a huge win. There is no denying that Fedor has eclipsed all of the MMA heavy hitters in terms of big opponents and big matches.

I also think it wouldn’t be fair to write an article about the best MMA fighter of the decade without mentioning BJ Penn. Penn won championships in two different weight classes in the UFC. Penn has been one of the most dominant fighters in his division over the decade. It is arguable that if not for Penn himself, he may have run the table and went undefeated over the decade. Penn’s implosions kept him from reaching his potential until the end of the decade. Unfortunately those implosions came during the two biggest fights in Penn’s career. My suspicion is that if Penn could have pulled off those wins over GSP and Matt Hughes, we may be talking about BJ Penn as the Fighter of the Decade.

I don’t think there will be another fighter to dominate a decade like Fedor did. BJ Penn has a shot over the next ten years, but he has to win a  few Super Fights to be considered. Sure, there will be guys like Brock Lesnar that may fight once or twice a year but I don’t know if he will ever have the consistent level of competition that Fedor had in Pride FC. I can’t ever envision  a fighter that fights and beats high-quality opponents five times a year the way Fedor did a few times over the last decade. Dana White can make fun of Fedor all day, but nobody in the UFC has ever accomplished what Fedor has been able to do in MMA over an entire decade.

Fedor Emelianenko is truly the MMA Fighter of the Decade.

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Eric G.

Eric is the owner and editor-in-chief of the Camel Clutch Blog. Eric has worked in the pro wrestling industry since 1995 as a ring announcer in ECW and a commentator/host on television, PPV, and home video. Eric also hosted Pro Wrestling Radio on terrestrial radio from 1998-2009. Check out some of Eric's work on his IMDB bio and Wikipedia. Eric has an MBA from Temple University's Fox School of Business.

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