When mixed-martial-arts fans debate who they think is the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world, the four most common names to pop up are Georges St-Pierre, BJ Penn, Anderson Silva and Fedor Emelianenko.
While each competitor possesses his own strengths and weaknesses, only one has gone undefeated in MMA for eight years -- (The Last Emperor) Fedor Emelianenko.
On the same night Silva got caught by a Ryo Chonan flying heelhook, Emelianenko successfully defended his PRIDE heavyweight title against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Soon after BJ Penn fell victim to Matt Hughes' ground-and-pound, 'The Last Emperor' submitted UFC Hall of Fame inductee Mark Coleman. And one week after St-Pierre ate Matt Serra's fists for dinner at UFC 69, Emelianenko slapped an armbar on Matt Lindland.
Despite all the criticism he receives from certain fans, as well as UFC President Dana White, Emelianenko will remain the best pound-for-pound fighter until he loses or retires. Simply put, no MMA fighter today can match his legacy.
Tonight, Emelianenko gets the opportunity to build on his reputation as the most feared competitor in the sport when he defends his WAMMA heavyweight title against Andrei Arlvoski at 'Affliction: Day of Reckoning.'
"Andrei is one of the best fighters in the world today," Emelianenko said through his translator. "He's a very dangerous opponent. What makes training for him so difficult is he's one of the most well-rounded fighters in MMA."
A former UFC heavyweight champion, Arlovski offers Emelianenko his toughest challenge in years. The hard-hitting Belarusian is considered one of the best heavyweight strikers in the world, but his ground game is doesn't receive the same kind of love from critics. Despite this, Emelianenko doesn't have a particular game plan going into the fight.
"To be honest with you, I donít have a specific strategy for Arlovski," he said. "It really depends on what we have to offer one another in the ring.
"With respect to his weaknesses, we have to wait and see what happens in the ring and take advantage of any weaknesses that exist."
Though Emelianenko carries the near-spotless MMA record of 28-1-0 -- his only loss came in 2000 as the result of a cut from an illegal elbow courtesy of Tsuyoshi Kohsaka -- he is often the subject of criticism.
UFC President Dana White's referred to Emelianenko as overrated and has seemingly made it a personal mission to discredit almost all of his accomplishments -- though one suspects he'd be singing a different tune had 'The Last Emperor' signed a UFC contract after the acquisition of Pride Fighting Championships, where Emelianenko was champion for four years.
Many MMA fans have echoed White's statements on various MMA message boards, and recently Arlovski's boxing coach, Freddie Roach, criticized Emelianenko's stand-up game.
"He's a boxing trainer and he's entitled to his opinion," Emelianenko said. "I don't have a perfect boxing style, but I know my flaws and I work on them."
Emelianenko's coach, Vladimir Voronov, was a little less polite about Roach's comments.
"I like people that talk less and perform more," Voronov began. "Women are the ones that talk a lot and men are the ones who get in the ring and perform."
It's no surprise that Emelianenko doesn't seem too fazed by any harsh words that are sent his way. Known for his stone-cold stare in the ring, even Arlovski himself compared the intimidation factor to Mike Tyson when he was in his prime.
"When I'm in the ring, I'm calm both inside and outside," Emelianenko said. "It's just like with any other athlete -- it comes over time and it's a part of my training. One of the things I've always worked on is controlling my emotions. When I was younger I worried a lot and got more nervous. There wasn't any particular fight or moment where I gained control over it, it was a step-by-step process."
This year looks a busy one for the WAMMA heavyweight champion, who hopes to compete as many as four times in 2009. With Arlovski on his plate tonight and an eventual showdown with Josh Barnett on the horizon, any claims that Emelianenko is avoiding top fighters is ridiculous.