Is this Emelianenko's last stand?

Once considered the best MMA fighter around, Fedor Emelianenko has lost two matches in a row...

Once considered the best MMA fighter around, Fedor Emelianenko has lost two matches in a row heading into Saturday's battle with light-weight champion Dan Henderson. (ESTHER LIN/Strikeforce)

NEIL SPRINGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:50 PM ET

TORONTO - It wasn’t too long ago that Fedor Emelianenko was considered by some to be the top MMA fighter in the world.

Known as a cerebral competitor who was dangerous in all aspects of the sport, the former PRIDE heavyweight champion always found a way to pull off a victory, even under the most dire of circumstances.

However, Emelianenko now finds himself in the toughest situation of his career. He’s coming off back-to-back losses to Fabricio Werdum and Antonio Silva, fuelling some to claim the sport has passed him by.

There’s an old cliché that says you’re only as good as your last performance. When applied to MMA, this tends to have less to do with an athlete’s abilities and more about how fickle fans can be.

Emelianenko is proof that only two losses are enough for trigger-happy critics to label you a has-been. So it goes without saying his super-fight with Strikeforce light-heavyweight champion Dan Henderson on Saturday is a must-win in the eyes of many.

But in typical Emelianenko fashion, he refuses to comment on whether retirement is a possibility if he loses. Any questions regarding him potentially hanging them up can be directed to the big man upstairs.

“If it’s God’s will, I can certainly continue fighting for years to come,” Emelianenko said through interpreter Steve Bash on a recent Strikeforce conference call. “I’d like to continue to fight.

“I don’t know; we’ll see. Everything will be known after the fight. It’s better to talk about that and answer that question after the fight.”

Despite his recent setbacks, Emelianenko still remains one of the most exciting fighters in MMA. He’s aggressive, violent and always looking to put his opponent away in brutal fashion. He’s also only 34 years old.

If there’s anyone who doesn’t think Emelianenko is done, it’s Henderson, who said fighters are always at their most dangerous when pushed into a corner.

“I think anybody who has their back to the wall and is coming off two losses is more dangerous,” Henderson said. “But he’ll still be trying to hit me with the same punches if he would have won his last two fights.

“I don’t think Fedor is just another name on the list. It excites me, the opportunity to be able to fight him. I’m ready to go and just waiting to get in there at this point.”

Though he sang his praises, Henderson did admit Emelianenko appeared out of shape against Silva.

“With Silva, I think he was a little bit out of shape and (Silva’s) size definitely got to him,” Henderson said. “Silva just hung out on top of him and didn’t let him move that whole second round. No matter if he’s in shape or out of shape, he’s still real dangerous.”

The loss to Silva, followed by the initial rumours he was slated to fight Henderson, sparked speculation Emelianenko would drop to light-heavyweight.

Emelianenko said he’s still comfortable fighting opponents who outweigh him by as much as 40 pounds.

“I’ve always fought at heavyweight and didn’t see any reason to fight at a lighter weight,” Emelianenko said. “There haven’t really been any significant offers to fight at light-heavyweight. So I fight at the same weight I’m accustomed to.”

At age 40, Henderson has shown little signs of slowing down and is Strikeforce’s 205-pound king, stopping Rafael Cavalcante earlier this year to add yet another world title to his collection. You’d think he’d be sick of those by now, having won either championships or tournaments in the UFC, PRIDE, RINGS, and now Strikeforce.

Henderson’s light-heavyweight strap will obviously not be on the line. He has also opted not to put on more muscle for the fight, adding only one pound to face Emelianenko at heavyweight.

But if you think this is all part of some elaborate game plan to stay light on his feet, forget it. Henderson simply has trouble bulking up.

“I don’t believe that was a decision at all — it’s tough for me to gain weight,” Henderson said. “I did plenty of weight lifting for this and plenty of eating. I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do.”

The bout marks Henderson’s first fight against a true heavyweight in more than eight years. He put in a tenacious performance against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at PRIDE 24, but ultimately lost via armbar in the third round.

He’s also watched Emelianenko as a cornerman, when teammate Matt Lindland fought the MMA legend in early 2007. But Henderson said there isn’t much he took away from the experience to use against his opponent.

“I guess (I learned) not to get caught on the bottom and then armbarred,” Henderson joked. “Fedor, I’ve seen him fight plenty of times and watched tape on him.

“He’s dangerous whenever he’s in shape, out of shape — it doesn’t matter. He’s still real dangerous. I just need to be careful out there and implement my game plan.”

Though Henderson has a wrestling base and Emelianenko comes from a Sambo background, each fighter has an impressive highlight reel of knockouts. In particular, both are known to pack a killer right hand. But whose is better?

“I don’t know,” Henderson said. “I guess we’ll find out.”


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