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Fedor Emelianenko, Matt Hamill and the Writing on the Wall

Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: .

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks in the world of mixed martial arts; particularly in Strikeforce. Aside from the brothers Overeem and Marloes Coenen being released, word came on August 4 that so too had “The Last Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko.

On the heels of a first round TKO loss to Dan Henderson, Fedor’s third in a row, his cut comes as no surprise, especially considering his well documented issues with Strikeforce’s parent company Zuffa. Yet equally intriguing is the news that followed a crushing defeat at the hands of the surging youngster Alexander Gustafsson, as UFC veteran Matt Hamill announced in a message on his personal website that he would be stepping away from the sport, “I can’t continue to fight without having the hunger and desire to do so.” While being quite different fighters from separate promotions hailing opposite sides of the planet, there is a unique similarity between Fedor and Hamill, and further: the present state of their respective fighting careers.

Born a week apart in the fall of 1976, Hamill and Fedor both took to competing at young ages (Fedor in judo and sambo, Hamill in wrestling), each boasting life stories fit for film; in fact, the wrestler’s will see release this fall when the deaf fighter’s inspirational tale is released as Hamill. However remarkable his life might be, Matt Hamill’s respectable MMA career fails to compare to that of the highly decorated career of Fedor Emelianenko. Aside from his decade plus of elite competition as a Sambo world champion, he is a former PRIDE, WAMMA and RINGS Heavyweight Champion who amassed a legendary decade-long 28 fight streak without accruing a single loss (going 27-0 with 1 no contest). Yet both fighters, where they stand presently, find themselves at nearly the same crossroads.

For all intents and purposes, the writing is on the wall for each fighter to call it a career. Hamill, himself, explained that he wanted to retire following his UFC 130 loss to “Rampage” Jackson, a match which he showcased an uncharacteristically unsuccessful wrestling display, leading to a one-sided decision loss. The Gustafsson beating he took this past weekend was academic: his heart simply isn’t in it anymore. And after his string of three firm defeats, the same appears evident of Fedor as well. Yet key difference here isn’t determination, nor will to compete, but financial. Rather than hang up his gloves, something fans have been crying out for since his beating from Antonio Silva this past February, M-1 Global president Vadim Finkelstein announced in a press release that not only will Fedor continue to fight, but that he will be tentatively taking on bouts in both Russia and Japan this year before returning to the U.S. again in 2012. The difference here is clear: Fedor raked in a tidy $1.5 million for his match with Henderson while Hamill took home a comparatively meager $32,000 for his efforts this past weekend.

Though neither fighter may have that fire that once drove them to their respective peaks, both are still elite-level practitioners and could likely utilize their fame by Ken Shamrock-ing their way through another decade of meaningless sideshow bouts. But at this point in time the only thing separating the two is a paycheck: Fedor, and more importantly Fedor’s small army of management and other hangers-on, can still draw a rather hefty sum while Hamill can’t. Without it, the Russian legend would likely be making the same decision as Hamill: that being the right decision.