Well, I must first admit, I am one of the many who think Fedor Emelianenko is the best heavyweight fighter on the planet. But I believe no one is unbeatable. In my opinion it is going to take a mistake-free performance from Tim Sylvia to expose and exploit his weaknesses. And contrary to popular opinion, he has weaknesses. The biggest obstacle for Big Tim is that he has more weaknesses than Fedor and they are easier to take advantage of if you’re an athletic heavyweight. But Tim Sylvia is one of the best in the world at imposing his fighting style and game plan on an unsuspecting opponent. Fedor has almost as many things against him in this fight as going for him.
Lets take a look at Fedor’s strengths, and there are a few cubic tons of them. He is a “Master of Sports” in Sambo, the highest honor you can achieve, as well as multiple world championships in Combat Sambo. He is also a black belt in Judo. He was an avid strength trainer in the Russian army and shows the all purpose strength to prove it. His upper body takedowns are some of the best in the division and he has thrown men 50+ pounds heavier than him to the canvas with ease.
He can shift his hips for a submission like a world class lightweight. He is maybe the best arm bar practitioner in all of Mixed Martial Arts, being able to throw the submission from virtually anywhere in the ring with astounding speed.
He is a very under-rated striker with excellent boxing skills and very good leg and body kicks. He has knockout power in both hands and although he throws unorthodox punches he is uncannily accurate with them. He has redefined striking from the guard, his ability to power through an active closed guard is staggering.
As good as Fedor is at every position in the ring, his two greatest attributes as a fighter are gifts that not many in the world possess. He is incredibly instinctive during scramble situations in MMA, I personally have never seen anything quite like it. He almost never loses position during a transition situation. But his greatest talent is his total lack of fear. He has almost no sense of self-preservation and his will to win is truly remarkable. A more complete fighter in this burgeoning sport there is not.
All that said, he is vulnerable in a few areas. I watched quite a bit of tape on Fedor looking for holes in his style for Tim Sylvia to exploit, with special attention paid to his fight with Semmy Schilt and his last fight against a top ten caliber opponent, Mark Hunt. I pinpointed some weak spots in Fedor’s armor of invincibility, but unfortunately for Big Tim, they are in areas that he does not necessarily excel.
Fedor has fought lengthy fighters like Tim before, and has not shown concern about Tim’s 80” reach in recent interviews. In his fights with Semmy Schilt and Hong Man Choi, both 7+ feet tall, he enacted the predictable strategy and took the fight to the ground to even the playing field. Although he couldn’t submit a seasoned veteran like Semmy, he controlled the action and the fight on the ground for all three rounds. Semmy just did not have an answer for Fedor’s smothering base. Against a relative newcomer in Hong Man Choi, he was able to lure him into several arm bar situations, the last one ending the fight.
But neither Schilt nor Choi have Sylvia’s takedown defense nor come from a strong wrestling camp like Miletich. Taking Sylvia down will be a far cry from Choi, as he will first have to navigate through Tim’s reach and excellent jab as well as deal with Tim’s sprawl.
Where Fedor has looked most vulnerable in recent times was unquestionably his fight against Mark Hunt. Hunt is a devastating K-1 striker, who made the jump over to MMA with no grappling acumen and only his size and athleticism to guide him. He got the title shot against Fedor on New Year’s Eve 2006 on the Pride Shockwave card and made the most of it. Hunt’s size gave Fedor fits, as several of Fedor’s takedowns were reversed and as a result put on his back. Once there, Fedor had no answer for Hunt’s girth on top of him. At a possible 275lbs + at the time of the fight, Tim could give Fedor similar issues on the ground.
Fedor was very affected by Hunt’s jab in that fight, often taking poor shots as a result of Hunt’s jab getting through Fedor’s defense. Tim has an excellent jab, and uses it to open up the rest of his striking game. His reach combined with his jab should be able to cause Fedor fits in the beginning of the fight. And the ring favors Tim’s takedown defense, as he can back his posterior through the ropes of the ring to counter Fedor’s takedown attempts. This will be a chess match to watch unfold.
Tim is no grappling wiz by any means, but can hold his own on the ground and is a more agile grappler than his size would lead you to believe. Fedor has shown against Hunt and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira that he does not have the greatest guard and quite frankly can give up position on bottom fairly easily at times. Not sure if it’s his confidence in his submission defense that causes this or his lack of a traditional Brazilian Jiu Jitsu guard training. Regardless, if he gives up side control or mount to Sylvia, he is more than capable of taking advantage.
As sad as it is to admit, Timmy’s biggest chance to win in this fight is by cut. Everyone in MMA knows how easily Fedor can be cut, especially by accurate strikers like Sylvia. If Tim can survive the first 5 minutes with Fedor, this has to be a huge concern for the Red Devil coaches. Tim has a chance of keeping him at bay for 8-10 minutes until his face is enough of a mess that the American ringside doctors will possibly call this fight. Doctors in Japan are far more lenient than we are here in the states. You hate to see a fight end that way, and I am sure this is echoed by the fighters as well. But you have to face the reality of this possibility. And it’s a very good one.
The odds makers would have you believe that Tim Sylvia has absolutely no chance in this fight. But if the last 18 months in MMA has proven anything to me, it’s that there are no more clear favorites in MMA. The cross-training is too good anymore. Fighters are too well rounded. And everyone has a Punchers chance. I think Tim has more than that, but is it enough against the myth that is Fedor?