Throughout a legendary career that has spanned 21 years and 46 pro fights, Fedor Emelianenko can proudly say he's still doing what he loves.
The Russian slugger, widely considered the greatest heavyweight in MMA history, will make his penultimate walk to the cage on Saturday in front of his adoring countrymen when Emelianenko (39-6, 1 NC) headlines Bellator 269 inside VTB Arena in Moscow (Showtime, 3 p.m. ET).
The heavyweight tilt against bruising American Timothy Johnson (15-7) represents the final time Emelianenko will fight on Russian soil and the first since his disputed 2016 win over Fabio Maldonado. But win or lose, "The Last Emperor" promises he will be back for one more fight -- preferably in Chicago -- to close out his incredible career.
"MMA is the most joyful job that I could have," the soft-spoken Emelianenko said, through an interpreter, during Tuesday's media teleconference. "I'm never tired of the press events, and actually consider them to be a necessity to the business of combat sports, so I have gotten used to them over the years.
"As far as fighting alongside my friends and family, I think this can be difficult. When my friends and family are fighting with me on the same card, it's important that I concentrate on my own fight and not get caught up in the rest. Because I am a professional and have been performing in this sport for a while now, I believe that I am good at simplifying everything when it comes to all of these factors."
Along with navigating the twilight of his fighting career, Emelianenko has kept busy in recent years as a trainer and mentor, helping to guide MMA's future stars as the leader of Team Fedor. Recent results have been strong as Emelianenko has helped guide the likes of light heavyweight Vadim Nemkov and heavyweight Valentin Moldavsky to Bellator titles.
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In fact, it was the work Emelianenko did in the corner of Moldavsky in June when he captured Bellator's interim heavyweight title in a hard-fought decision over Johnson that likely sparked visions of who Emelianenko's next opponent would be.
Johnson, a 36-year-old native of Minnesota, entered the Moldavsky bout on a three-fight win streak in, undoubtedly, the best stretch of his 11-year pro career. He also fought well in defeat by pushing the pace throughout.
Emelianenko claimed this week he turned down a shot at returning in Moscow against free agent and former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos in favor of choosing Johnson, largely because of the American's recent winning streak. The result was not only a surprise to the MMA world at large, it was a surprise to Johnson -- albeit a very pleasant one -- as he considers Saturday to be the biggest opportunity of his career.
"Tim Johnson is pretty low on the name power list," Johnson said. "People know me, but I don't think the big-time fans look at me as a name power guy."
Regardless of Johnson's name value, his recent resume does speak for itself. He will enter with advantages of three inches in height and two inches in reach, which have helped make the gritty wrestler a slight betting favorite despite traveling to his opponent's backyard.
"I embrace fighting in Fedor's home country," Johnson said. "How many people get to experience something like that? I can't go out there and think, 'Hey, I'm fighting Fedor.' This is just an opponent, and he is [standing] in front of my goals.
"Fedor is a power puncher. He's got good explosions. I'm preparing this fight to be in all three positions. Fedor fights in front of you, looking to land that big right hand or that big uppercut. He is a well-rounded fighter. You can't get lazy with him."
Some of Russia's best fighters will be back in action on Saturday night for the promotion's first trip to the capital city of Moscow. Former Bellator heavyweight champion Vitaly Minakov returns to take on Said Sowma in the co-main event. Minakov comes in off a TKO of Johnson in his most recent outing. Plus, Usman Nurmagomedov, cousin of former UFC lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov, returns in another showcase bout against Patrik Pietila at 160 pounds. And middleweight Anatoly Tokov opens the main card with a showdown against Sharaf Davlatmurodov.
Let's take a closer look at the main card and odds before making a prediction on the main event. Odds provided by Caesars Sportsbook.
Fight card, odds
- Tim Johnson (15-7) -170 vs. Fedor Emelianenko (39-6) +145, heavyweights
- Vitaly Minakov (22-1) -380 vs. Said Sowma (7-2) +300, heavyweights
- Usman Nurmagomedov (13-0) -2500 vs. Patrik Pietila (11-8) +1200, 160-pound catchweights
- Anatoly Tokov (29-2) -700 vs. Sharaf Davlatmurodov (18-3-1) +500, middleweights
The crazy thing about the twilight of Emelianenko's great career is that it has gone on now for a full decade. Dating back to his one-sided TKO loss to Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva under the Strikeforce banner, Emelianenko is 8-4 overall with multiple pockets of reinvention.
The main reason why Emelianenko has been able to linger has been his deceptive hand speed and the notorious power he wields in his big right paw. Emelianenko has gone the distance just twice in the last decade with the majority of his fights being brief shootouts in which he got to his opponent's chin first (Frank Mir, Chael Sonnen) or they beat him to the punch (Matt Mitrione, Ryan Bader).
Emelianenko has anything but a great gas tank at this point, which ultimately means that Johnson, who went five hard rounds with Moldavsky, should have his way with Emelianenko if the fight goes past the first round.
Johnson, in fact, is a very competent wrestler and a physical specimen, to boot, which means he has more than a few ways to win the fight should different opportunities arise. But just like everyone else who dares enter a duel with Emelianenko, he will have to survive the opening 90 seconds when Fedor is at his most dangerous with that one-punch finishing ability.
Pick: Johnson via TKO2