LOS ANGELES — Fedor Emelianenko will find himself in a familiar spot on Saturday night: Headlining a major event in a big city.
“The Last Emperor” has undergone an improbable career resurgence over the past year, having scored first-round finishes of Frank Mir and Chael Sonnen to reach the finals of the Bellator heavyweight grand prix tournament.
The tourney concludes on Saturday night with Emelianenko’s main event bout against light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader, which will crown a Bellator heavyweight champion.
But the fact remains, the former longtime PRIDE heavyweight titleholder is 42 years old, and has already retired once before. So he’s not afraid to admit that even with a title victory over Bader, a return to MMA retirement is a possibility.
“To tell the truth, at the age I’m at right now, more and more I am thinking about retiring,” Emelianenko told reporters Wednesday through an interpreter at the Bellator 214 open workouts at Viacom headquarters in Hollywood.
That said, he didn’t give in to several attempts to commit one way or another, deflecting each time by saying he’ll think about it after the bout.
“I cannot answer this question at this moment,” Emelianenko said. “But I am willing to take some rest and then decide.”
The former longtime PRIDE champion first retired in 2012. After leaving Strikeforce with three straight losses, he won three more in his homeland of Russia and Japan before calling it quits.
Since his 2015 return, Emelianenko has won four of five fights, with his only loss coming after his half of a double knockdown against Matt Mitrione landed a split second too late.
That lends credence to Emelianenko’s words when he says that if he does step away, it will simply because of advancing age, and not because he’s lost the love of competition.
“It is not because I don’t want to fight,” Emelianenko said. “Definitely it is because of the age, you know, and injuries that I have.”
In the meantime, Emelianenko finds himself relevant and in big fights well north of age 40. He says nothing has changed in his mental approach.
“To tell the truth there are no secrets,” Emelianenko said. “You have to put the goal together and work toward it.”