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Sunday, November 8, 2009
Russian Roulette, network exposure and more

By Jake Rossen/Sherdog.com

The expectations created by Fedor Emelianenko's media profile make it impossible for him to perform in a way that pleases everyone: If he had crumbled Brett Rogers on Saturday in a manner akin to Tim Sylvia -- women sobbing cageside, medevacs hovering overhead -- fans would sigh and complain that Rogers never belonged in the ring with him.

In taking nearly seven minutes to finish Rogers off, gushing blood all the while, Emelianenko is instead viewed by a portion of the audience as a less-than-prime fighter. The paint, some would argue, is coming off the pedestal.

There is some truth in the idea that we don't yet know how impressive it really was to beat Rogers: Maybe he's a devastating heavyweight who hasn't had much of a chance to show off. (His lone win over a top-10 opponent, Andrei Arlovski, earned him this slot.) Maybe he's a one-dimensional athlete who won't go much further.

So we go on what we do know: Emelianenko overcame nearly a 50-pound size differential against an undefeated opponent, weathering an early storm and the ring age of his 31 fights to spin Rogers 90 degrees with a socking right hand. Fans still scratched their heads. This is what we get for making the guy sit on a literal throne.

The heavyweight division, while not as talent-rich as the others, leaves one of the smallest margins for error. A man who hits as hard as Rogers, sporting those pathetically tiny gloves, does not need much of an opportunity to jar a brain. And Emelianenko has been in serious danger before: Against Kazuyuki Fujita, he looked like he was walking on ice; against Mark Hunt, a highly suspect ground fighter, he was pinned to the mat for minutes.

His ability to escape, to back off the edge of the cliff, is what should impress. Fedor makes concessions, but he does not make fatal errors. He looked like himself. Rogers looked like what he is: tough. And there's your fight.

If Rogers had a more imposing résumé -- if he were a frightening heavyweight who had destroyed huge names -- Emelianenko would be applauded with any footnotes. Rogers may be that guy. He may not be. It's to Emelianenko's credit that he never gives his opponents -- or us -- much of a chance to figure it out.

Next for Emelianenko: Fabricio Werdum narrowly defeated Antonio Silva on Saturday, but there's nothing in his striking or jiu-jitsu that Emelianenko hasn't seen and smothered before. In Strikeforce, only Alistair Overeem is intriguing enough to add something to his résumé.

Next for Rogers: A chance to show everyone how good he really might be: Antonio Silva would be a start.

Next for Jake Shields: Recent acquisition Matt Lindland brings a reputation earned outside of the promotion, but he fights Dec. 19; a bout with Frank Shamrock would elevate Shields' name, which may have gotten dinged in a semi-sleepy bout with Jason Miller. (I happened to like the fight.)

Next for Gegard Mousasi: Strikeforce has a solid but small roster: Bouts with Mike Whitehead or Kevin Randleman are filler material. "Mo" Lawal needs to fast-track it.

Awards

The don't-listen-to-idiot-pundits award: Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou, for putting up a better fight than expected against Gegard Mousasi. (Sports Illustrated's Josh Gross had picked Sokoudjou to win; if he didn't get exhausted in the second round, that seems plausible.)

Einstein's theory of relativity award: Jason Miller, for choking Jake Shields nearly unconscious in the third and thinking the bell rang too soon; and Shields, for getting choked unconscious and not hearing the bell ring soon enough.

The unsuspecting Jimmy Lennon award: Jason Miller, for forcing Lennon to announce his fighting style as "slap boxing," a comedy routine that remains just as unfunny as when Dennis Hallman insisted on "cowboy karate" all those years ago. (Miller is wacky. We get it.)

The we-gotta-figure-out-this-TV-timing-thing award: Strikeforce, for bumping the undercard bout between Mark Miller and Deray Davis entirely. Not having an Excel sheet with an event rhythm laid out cost both men wasted training camps. That's beyond belief.

New questions

Q: Is the heavyweight division outgrowing itself?

A: A burly, barrel-chested Emelianenko still looked comparatively small next to Rogers, who has the physique of a lineman; Antonio Silva, Tim Sylvia, Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin and at least a half-dozen other heavyweights flirt with the division's 265-pound ceiling. While heavyweights are traditionally expected to fight in an open-class environment, big men are acquiring skills comparable to the opponents they dwarf. If Brock Lesnar steps into a cage to defeat Emelianenko one day, did he do it because of a skill set -- or because he's the size of a Kenmore side-by-side?

Q: Is Gegard Mousasi in for a dour 2010?

A: Mousasi looked slow to start against Sokoudjou on Saturday, but recent performances -- including a heavyweight contest -- have shown him to be a viable next-generation fighter. Unfortunately for his development, Strikeforce's 205-pound division is their weakest: Getting rounds in isn't quite the same as getting pushed.

Q: Is CBS in this for the long haul?

A: Television's biggest asset -- consistency -- is also its biggest handicap. While programs like "Seinfeld" can take months or years for viewers to warm to them, executives rarely operate in a patient mood: If you're not delivering, you're not airing. Emelianenko's performance will get buzzed about, but it'll take both Strikeforce and their performers several shows to work up a head of steam.

Q: Is Brett Rogers going to get more dangerous?

A: A knockout loss tends to change how fighters conserve their attacks: Get hit and next time you might flinch. But Rogers has the benefit of knowing he lost to the best, an asset that could actually boost his confidence the next time the bell rings. His follow-up might be more interesting than Emelianenko's.

Etc.

• The CBS broadcast was the top-rated program in adults 18-49 during its 9-11 p.m. ET time slot Saturday, but total viewers (nearly 4 million) slotted it last among the big four networks in overall viewers. Ratings for the Emelianenko-Rogers bout, which began after 11 p.m. ET and was the fight the entire program was built around, have not yet circulated.

• Emelianenko broke his nose and injured his left hand in attempts to separate Rogers from his win purse: The Russian has had issues with his fists throughout his career.

• Jake Shields, who defeated Jason Miller for the middleweight belt, would like to pursue the welterweight title; where this leaves teammate Nick Diaz is a conversation for their gym.

• Cung Le versus Scott Smith is official for Strikeforce's Dec. 19 Showtime event: Le vacated his middleweight title when film roles began conflicting with his training; Smith recently lost to Nick Diaz. If Le only has enough sweat for a couple of more fights, Smith wouldn't be in my top five choices.

• UFC play-by-play announcer Joe Rogan declared Emelianenko "got exposed a bit" in a Tweet; Rogan is not typically a company line-tower, but even if the feeling is genuine, it'll still be seen as sour-grapes propaganda. Fedor was "exposed" no more than St. Pierre was against Serra or Anderson Silva was in a round against Travis Lutter. It's a testament to Emelianenko's reputation that looking human is seen as a disappointment.