He’s back. Now, what’s next?

Fedor “The Last Emperor” Emelianenko made his glitzy return to mixed martial arts on Saturday night but a somewhat significant swerve to the whole thing is that while Bellator will be part of the process of his comeback, it seems very clear that the Japanese partnership will be pulling the strings.

Either way, be it Bellator or the former Pride contingency, there’s little doubt that Emelianenko will get to handpick his opponent for a scheduled bout on New Year’s Eve in Japan. Who that might be will all depend on how serious a challenge Emelianenko wants in his return. If he’s taking it seriously and truly wants to get back in the game at an elite level, then he’ll take a strong opponent. If he’s back as a one-off and big payday then he’ll want to coast through the fight and stroll off to the NYE party.

If Emelianenko is in it at some level of competitiveness, here’s a look at few options out there to stand across from him, ready to dethrone “The Last Emperor”:

The Russian Factor: There are a pair of countrymen who could make a sturdy foe for Emelianenko. Vitaly Minakov is undefeated (15-0) and arguably stands in the top-15 in the world. He sports nine knockouts and three submission victories but really only a single notable win which came against Cheick Kongo. The other Russian is Sergei Kharitonv (24-6), who has won five straight and boasts 13 knockouts plus nine wins by tap out. If Emelianenko’s goal is to still reign supreme over his homeland then these two rivals are good targets.

Hometown Hero: Since Emelianenko wants to create a super-buzz in the country where he’s performing his comeback and where he’s found his most prominent success, then there’s an opponent right there for him in Satoshi Ishii. Ishii would definitely have to be considered a weak threat to Emelianenko, having split his last four bouts with both losses being knockouts at the hands and feet of Mirko Cro Cop.

Snowball’s Chance: Back in 2011, Emelianenko needed all three rounds to pick up a decision win over Jeff “The Snowman” Monson. A year later, Monson submitted Emelianenko’s brother. There’s probably still some kick left in that rivalry. Better days are long ago obviously, but if Monson gets the call, it would be his 80th career fight, one that features 35 of his 56 wins via submission.

Dominate the Dominator: One of the more logical fights from a Bellator point of view would be pitting Emelianenko against also-ran contender Bobby Lashley. It would make some sense from the Japanese perspective as well since Lashley put in some pro wrestling time there. Arguably, Lashley is a top-50 heavyweight and his on-again, off-again stints in MMA would make logistical sense in the wake of Emelianenko’s time away from the cage as well. Lashley does have a fight slated for November 6th but a showdown with Emelianenko would easily backburner another bout.

A Piece or a Slice?: There’s no doubt that a matchup between Emelianenko and Kimbo Slice would have the greatest impact as far as a North American audience goes. If it’s all about the Benjamins or the rubles, this is hands down the fight that will be made. It’s a win for Bellator and Spike TV plus Kimbo’s marketing presence in Japan would be right up there with the likes of cartoonish Bob Sapp. Kimbo’s lack of overall talent is easily eclipsed by his drawing power both at the gate and in TV ratings as evidenced by his recent “tent-pole event” against Ken Shamrock. Competitively speaking, however, this is a comical matchup. Slice is a mere 5-2 in the cage and would be absolutely no match for Emelianenko’s skills particularly if it went to the ground. But like Antonio Silva proved, Emelianenko is in fact human and if you catch him on the chin, he could crack like Humpty Dumpty. Kimbo would have the proverbial puncher’s chance.

About The Author

Scott Zerr
Staff Writer

Scott joins The MMA Corner having spent the last 14 years in mixed martial arts as Director of Media & Fighter Relations for the Maximum Fighting Championship. He will provide The MMA Corner with insight on breaking news in the sport, plus an insider's perspective on business developments, matchmaking, fighter signings, and much more. In addition to his longtime work in MMA, Scott was a sports reporter before moving into media relations and marketing. After growing up and working in Edmonton, Alberta, Scott has since moved to Bakersfield, California to be with his wife Christina (an avid fight fan, thank goodness) and kids.