Sunday, June 27, 2010 | 1:23 a.m.
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Over the last 10 years, Fedor Emelianenko has ruled the sport of mixed martial arts.
He amassed its largest and most passionate following and during a stretch that lasted 28 professional fights, he didn’t suffer a single loss.
But when the MMA legend fell into a deep triangle choke Saturday against an opponent with a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, he did what any other man would do.
He tapped — and reminded even his most passionate fans that, yes, he is human after all.
“It happened so that I was maybe kind of an idol,” said Emelianenko, after suffering a first-round submission loss to Fabricio Werdum. “Everybody loses. That happens.
“I’m a normal human being, as all of us.”
The HP Pavilion fell into a state of shock Saturday, as 12,698 fans witnessed Emelianenko’s (31-2) first loss since Oct. 23, 2005.
Even as Werdum (14-4-1) released the hold and jumped to his triumphant seat at the top of the cage, it seemed as if the majority in attendance still weren’t processing what had just happened.
Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker, who guesses he’s promoted more than 200 fights between MMA and kickboxing, said Saturday is a moment that will stay with him for a long time.
“I’ve seen a lot of fights, and this is something that will be stuck in my mind,” Coker said. “I couldn’t believe it when Fedor went to tap. I said, ‘Holy crap, he’s going to tap! Is this real?’”
The official submission came just 69 seconds into the fight. With an open right hand, Emelianenko tapped the thigh of Werdum, freeing himself from possibly much more than simply the pressure on his neck.
Following arguably the greatest run of any fighter in MMA history, Emelianenko actually apologized for letting those who believed in him down — a pretty good indication that expectations on the fighter had become unrealistically high.
“It’s not just the media and fans, it’s also myself,” admitted Coker. “This guy has been elevated to a platform where he has to deliver. Let’s say he even won the fight but looked bad doing it, people would say he’s a bum.
“He’s the greatest MMA fighter of all time. So he’s got a lot of pressure.”
As inhuman as Emelianenko had been made out to be, it may have turned out that Werdum’s greatest strength was simply treating him like one.
After surrounding himself with an enormous group of family and friends that genuinely believed in him, Werdum treated his fight with Emelianenko like any other.
He trained hard but also played a lot of Xbox.
“I never fear for a fight, because I like to fight. It is my life,” Werdum said. “I looked at Fedor and I was calm and confident. I like joking; it’s my strength. I don’t like staying in my room alone. Being with my friends and playing Xbox is good for me.”
The suddenly mortal Emelianenko’s future in MMA remains up in the air at this point.
It’s clear that his representatives at M-1 Global, as well as Strikeforce officials, intend for him to complete the last fight on his three-fight contract — although the two sides have had anything but a happy union since Emelianenko signed last year.
It’s not unlikely that M-1 Global would demand that Strikeforce grant an immediate rematch with Werdum, who is also potentially in line for a heavyweight title shot against Alistair Overeem.
When asked if Coker would grant such a request, the CEO replied, "Probably."
“That’s probably one of the biggest fights and a megafight we should promote,” Coker said. “But I also think that Fabricio vs. Alistair is something Alistair is going to want. I have to sit down and see what M-1 wants to do.”
Coker also added that an Emelianenko vs. Werdum rematch might justify the first pay-per-view in Strikeforce company history. It could also serve as a headlining fight for another CBS card.
“I think that should be a pay-per-view fight,” Coker said. “This is a fight fans will want to see. (Fedor) is still the king. The great thing about CBS is that you can do five pay-per-views and it can be one CBS broadcast as far as viewership numbers. I think that fight could garner 5 to 6 million viewers on CBS.”
Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or firstname.lastname@example.org.