We weren’t kidding when we said everything old is new again in MMA this year.

Andrei Arlovski is in title contention. Mirko Cro-Cop won a headlining bout in the UFC. Frank Mir is undergoing a career resurgence many thought highly unlikely if not impossible. Over in Bellator, Tito Ortiz has a title shot, Josh Koscheck is looking to make his debut in the promotion, Kimbo Slice knocked out Ken Shamrock after almost being choked out, and Cheick Kongo is still considered a marketable star.

And now, years after he left the sport of MMA, where many consider him the greatest of all time, or at least the greatest heavyweight of all time, The Last Emperor has apparently announced his plans for a return to action. Fedor Emelianenko, who for the better part of a decade looked unstoppable, will make another run — the question is, where? And how successful will he be?

The where part will likely be answered sooner rather than later. Emelianenko was spotted at Bellator 138 and has done some promotional work for the company, where he is a “Brand Ambassador.” He has a working history with Bellator’s Scott Coker from his Strikeforce run, which actually saw the mystique around the Russian fighter shattered when he lost three straight in the promotion to Fabricio Werdum, Antonio Silva and Dan Henderson. The fact that Werdum is now the UFC heavyweight champion may have taken some of the sting off of the defeat, mind you, but it was still a rough time. That said, the relationship is there.

If not Bellator, then don’t assume the UFC will be the destination for Emelianenko, even if manager Vadim Finkelchtein claims all options are on the table: the promotion has long been unable to sign the legend, who became something of a white whale for them. And with Brock Lesnar retired and fully committed to the WWE, what fight would realistically appeal to a man who was once the best in the world? Does he really want to dive into the shark infested waters of the UFC after years away from the sport? For all the talk of comebacks, Cro Cop, Arlovski, and Mir never really stopped fighting. Mir retooled while still in the UFC, while Cro Cop and Arlovski seemingly got their groove back after some time elsewhere.

That said, should Emelianenko sign with Bellator (and not with, say, M-1, who could match him up with someone like Sergei Kharitonov), will fans be satisfied with a fighter considered one of the greatest of all time taking bouts against the likes of Kimbo Slice, Kongo, and the nowhere-to-be-found Vitaly Minakov? While Bellator might dream of a marquee match with Randy Couture, that’s likely little more than a pipe dream at this point, even if Couture could break free of any remaining fights on his old UFC contract.

So which side of the fence will this comeback fall on? Wins aren’t everything when you’re talking about an all-time great: then, it becomes about the quality of those wins, which is why Emelianenko’s final three fights, all wins, are so often overlooked. Sure, they came against the best fighters outside of the big leagues, but Jeff Monson, Satoshi Ishii, and Pedro Rizzo, despite being notable names, weren’t Cro Cop, Big Nog, Arlovski, or even Hunt (make that Hunt-o for you Pride fans).

Which is why the UFC makes the most sense, even if Bellator MMA is the more likely destination. The names are there, it’s a question of whether Emelianenko is ready to compete with them. On the flip side, Bellator could use his name alone to draw talent to it like a beacon, and bouts with the likes of Kongo or even James Thompson would probably draw enough ratings to justify the expense. Just don’t expect fans to consider that a success: for many, only Emelianenko against the very best in the world will be considered a success; anything else and the comeback will be on the wrong side of the fence.

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.