Charles Oliveira doesn’t speak English, and some people hold that against him. Yushin Okami didn’t speak English when he was around, yet his fighting style was boring enough that people didn’t want him to. During the height of his career, Anderson Silva spoke very limited English, though exactly how much he spoke is up for debate. He got by for the most part without any real command.  

Fedor Emelianenko doesn’t speak English, and nobody has ever given a damn. 

In fact, when Fedor is asked a question, time stops as he lets the translation work its way through his mind and straight through the heart of your insecurities. The blank expression is alive with monastic reprimand. The blue eyes are skimming the Black Sea, and — as he ponders — your sins become apparent. The soft nature of his Russian tongue, when he finally speaks, is satisfying to hear. It’s satisfying because Fedor is content with whatever it is he finally says. It could be a bromide, but it hits as heavy as his punches. He could simply say “fine” to whatever you asked, and it comes off biblical.

See, I forget shit like this when Fedor gets ready to fight these days. The cold slivers of Mother Russia. The sense of late-19th century laurels. There was a time, back when he was fighting in Hoffman Estates, Illinois against circuit clubbers like Brett Rogers, that the sleepy suburbs got deep. Fedor would roll in to the Courtyard Marriott with a couple of priests in tow, a couple of sunken-jawed Tolstoys, and there was this urge to bow. You just kind of wanted to bow or curtsy or whatever, because his presence had a gravity to it. He juxtaposed American life so severely that it just kind of made you reverent and regretful.

I can remember Gegard Mousasi and his brother were in the lobby of that Chicago area fight hotel the night before the fights, gathering a little party to go to eat at the Claim Jumper across the parking lot. All very American, though Mousasi himself is a farmer from the Netherlands. At that moment Fedor and his priests walked by and immediately it felt like everyone was living a life of decadence. Gegard didn’t notice, I don’t think — but I did. 

I fucking did.

It was fun watching him fight in Russia on Saturday. I wasn’t there, but I felt like I was because I’ve been to so many of Fedor’s fights and I know a Fedor Atmosphere. I know the simple majesty of what he brings. He simplifies everything. No thought races through his mind; the thoughts wear pope hats and move purposefully by candlelight. Everything is so well considered. And when he punches with that deceptive speed, and knocks guys like Tim Johnson out, like he did Saturday in Bellator, it just feels like the easiest fucking thing imaginable. 

It feels like faith itself delivered the blow. Like belief or something.

I forget sometimes, mainly because there are so many fights and fighters and events these days that the capacity to keep profound details up front becomes difficult. He’s 45 years old and (allegedly) past his prime, which doesn’t help. When Fabio Maldonado slugged him with a thousand whiffly punches, I thought it was over. Same when Bigfoot Silva drove those lunch pails of his through Fedor’s temple, or when Dan Henderson — who came up to heavyweight and drank a gallon of water before weigh-ins to make the 206-pound minimum — knocked him out.  

It all comes back, though, when he makes the walk. When you witness again the cathedral calm of his demeanor. When you see him stand in there and trade in what essentially amounts to fistic roulette in an exchange, yet he prevails and smiles. He doesn’t fucking jump into the crowd or breakdance or hop up on the fence or insult people. He just kind of wins as if he’s the eye of the storm, while the frenzy goes on around him. When he loses, he doesn’t fuss. He thinks it over.

Fedor’s not discussed with the same awe that he once was, back when he was fighting in PRIDE and came over to compete with Affliction. Those shows are the lore to the current Fedor, who realistically hasn’t changed all that much (or at all). I can remember seeing him knockout both Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia in Orange County back in the day, surrounded by Megadeth and guys from the Inland Empire with tattoos and energy drinks. Fedor had alighted in a circle of hell, but he still brought the house down. 

These memories came back for me this weekend. It was cool to revisit such things, rather than push on to the next event (which is exactly what I did anyway, watching Marvin Vettori and Paulo Costa shortly thereafter). It never mattered that Fedor didn’t speak English or that he rarely showed human emotion. One time I asked him when the last time he cried was, and he paused, skimmed the Black Sea, all that stuff, and then shrugged his shoulders with a little smile.  

He doesn’t show too much emotion, but has a way of generating it. 

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