EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The debate as to who is the best heavyweight in mixed martial arts was not resolved Saturday night at Izod Center. What did get resolved: Fedor Emelianenko is no longer in the debate after being beaten handily by Antonio Silva, a man whom almost no one gave a chance to win.
Silva, for his part, never doubted he could win this fight and demonstrated why in the very first round. Silva stood toe-to-toe with Emelianenko from the opening bell and never backed down. With almost everyone inside the arena chanting his opponent's name, Silva put on the best performance of his professional MMA career in forcing a stoppage in between the second and third rounds.
Silva was fighting for more than a spot in Strikeforce's World Grand Prix Heavyweight Tournament or to be considered among the sport's best big men -- Silva was fighting for redemption. Having been labeled a cheat by many fighters and fans for a positive drug test in July 2008, Silva has since been battling to regain his good name.
"Coming into this fight, all the people said was 'Fedor!' 'Fedor!' 'Fedor!'" Silva said after improving to 16-2-0. "But I trained very hard for this fight. I showed everybody. I'm very happy. Fedor is a great fighter. I trained too hard for this fight. I showed the world one more time that I don't come to play, but to fight hard."
His performance was as clean as could possibly be imagined.
He ate right and left hands but was never hurt. Then he went on the offense and connected repeatedly with stiff right jabs that bruised Emelianenko's face.
Two of the official judges gave the first round to Emelianenko; the other scored it for Silva. Regardless, heading into the second round it was clear that Silva was not going to go away easily.
"I knew I was a big underdog," Silva said. "I took some big shots from Fedor, but knew he wasn't going to knock me out."
Silva punished Emelianenko from the moment the bell rang to begin Round 2, getting him on his back and pounding him mercilessly. When the round ended, Emelianenko's right eye was completely shut, forcing referee Dan Mirgliotta to call the fight off.
The loss was Emelianenko's second in a row and third of his professional MMA career. What's different this time is that he's now officially out of the "world's best heavyweight" conversation.
Emelianenko was given a pass by most mixed martial arts fans after his submission loss on June 26, 2010, to Fabricio Werdum. That loss proved that Emelianenko was not invincible, but did not remove him from best heavyweight talk.
The way in which he was dominated by Silva on Saturday not only ended any talk of him being the No. 1 heavyweight but raised questions about his future. Emelianenko himself said this fight could be his last.
"Maybe I didn't readjust myself. Something went wrong from the very beginning," said Emelianeneko, who fell to 31-3-0 with one no contest. "Maybe it's time for me to leave. … Maybe it's high time. Thank God for everything. I've had a long sport life. Maybe it's God's will."
Emelianenko, a devout Orthodox Christian, told ESPN.com prior to his fight with Silva that no matter the outcome his faith would not waver. It's that deep faith and willingness to succeed that has Emelianenko's manager Vadim Finkelstein believing his fighter will return to the cage again.
"I think Fedor was very upset because of the way he fought," Finkelstein said. "He is really upset because he was ready for this fight. I know him well and think he is still full of strength. I think he will continue, but the decision is his."
Maybe Emelianenko will return to action; maybe not. That's a matter for a later time.
What needs to be addressed at the present time is "Bigfoot" Silva's place among the best heavyweights in mixed martial arts.
After the performance Silva delivered on Saturday night against Emelianenko, he is sure to get a few top-10 votes.
Franklin McNeil covers MMA and boxing for ESPN.com. He also appears regularly on "MMA Live," which airs on ESPN2. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Franklin_McNeil.