Fedor Emelianenko’s storied career is coming to a close, and perhaps it is for the best. Watching the 230lbs Russian trade wild swings with Bigfoot Silva was a sad affair. Fedor has declined, and noticeably so, and is not utilizing the full skill set he owns anymore. It is safe to assume that on any given day, Fedor Emelianenko could knock any man in the world unconscious – such is the nature of his ungodly punching power. Unfortunately, this is not what made Fedor great. Fedor’s career was never about the chance of a knockout and it was never about his punch – he garnered only a handful of KO victories up until his meeting with Sylvia (the start of his decline into a one dimensional brawler). Fedor’s strength lay in having the best rounded game at heavyweight, and being close to the best in all disciplines, not in any one attribute.
Emelianenko came to dominance under the banner of the greatest fighting spectacle on earth – the PRIDE Fighting Championships. Having posted a phenomenal record against mixed competition in the lesser Japanese promotion RINGS, Fedor was brought in to act as a ‘gimme’ to then number 2 heavyweight Heath Herring. In his destruction of Herring, followed by his humiliation of Nogueira from the latter’s vaunted guard, Fedor showed a viciousness and science in ground and pound that has not been seen since. Following a streak of victories over legitimate threats, Fedor was finally matched against the other member of PRIDE’s heavyweight trinity – Mirko “Cro Cop” Filopovic. Fedor really turned heads by beating the Croation kickboxing monster senseless on the feet.
Fedor’s arsenal of techniques was enormous, and this may be the last chance we have to discuss them while he is in the news. So to make it easier on the brain this series will be divided into three parts – Stand up, Ground and Pound, and Grappling. In Ground and Pound we will look at the techniques that made Fedor so dangerous in even the best guards developed to date, while in Grappling we will discuss Fedor’s takedowns, trips, and submissions. In this article however, we will discuss my forte, stand up technique.
We will look in some depth at Emelianenko’s utilization of:
- Russian Hooks
- Hand Traps
- Off Balancing
- Body Work
One of the main techniques which has drawn criticism Fedor’s use of the so called “Russian Hook” which I examined here. Once you circumvent all the nonsense and origin stories, and the seemingly endless debates over etymology, this technique makes a ton of sense. By turning the fist all the way over when one throws a hook, so that the thumb is down as if one is checking the time, one can assure the punching shoulder rises to protect the chin, and lengthen the hook to an almost straight arm while still connecting with the hard, dense, knuckles rather than the brittle thumb and door knocking knuckles.
This kind of thumb down hook is an excellent offensive weapon because it has all the reach of a straight but comes in from the side on an arc. Inexperienced strikers look at these hooks and claim there are large holes to be countered through, but really the holes are very small and exist only as the fist is approaching the centreline – the fastest part of the motion – and not once it has past it. This is due to the punching shoulder being raised to the chin by the over-rotation of the fist. Notice in the punch that Fedor misses at the end of his flurry that he takes it past his centreline, and his right shoulder is elevated. If Goodridge had tried to capitalize on the missed punch he would have only been able to strike Fedor’s right shoulder or the top of his skull.
Any punch thrown from the outside of the punching arm will collide with the shoulder, and attempting to counter the Russian Hook from inside will normally result in getting clubbed with the brunt of it’s force. Of course there were occasions where Fedor got wild and his chin came up, but for the most part his technique was a great deal safer than most.
Igor Vovchanchyn made great use of these types of hooks but his speed was surpassed by Fedor, who utilized them with a fluidity and haste that is as yet unrivaled. His salvos against Cro Cop, Gary Goodridge and Ogawa while against the ropes are frighteningly swift for a heavyweight. More recently, Junior Dos Santos has been utilizing single Russian Hooks a great deal and can be seen to use them regularly in his mittwork but not in the whirling dervishes that Fedor did.
Fedor, along with Lyoto Machida and Anderson Silva, has had arguably the most success using hand traps of any fighter in MMA (including Shawn “The Arms Bearer of Wing Chun” Obasi). Having a fluid boxing game and good head movement puts Fedor leagues ahead of most of the traditional martial artists who attempt hand traps in MMA. I discussed Hand Traps in great depth here.
The two main hand traps that Fedor uses are an inside hand trap and an outside hand trap, and he has used them dozens of times against top competition to land free power punches. Fedor was one of the best at landing power punches off the bat and he approached it in the following way.
- If an opponent came out with his hands too tight; such as Goodridge or Fujita, Fedor would hit them with a right hand lead straight off of the bat.
- If they held their lead hand out, in preparation to parry the famed right hand lead, Fedor would work one of his traps.
The inside hand trap consisted of bringing his lead hand across and slapping the opponent’s left, lead hand down and outward to Fedor’s right, then dipping his head to the left and throwing an enormous arcing straight through the gap. He did this numerous times to Antonio Rodrigo Nogeuira in their third meeting and it was beautiful to watch. This is a more dangerous hand trap because it is removing the defensive hand – the one which would block Fedor’s right hand – while Fedor’s head is moving toward the unchecked right hand.
The outside hand trap or Zulu is more famous because Fedor has used it to take two wins in under a minute compound time. Tim Sylvia and Zuluzinho (for whom it is named) both lacked footwork and both suffered when Fedor realised this. Throwing his right hand as if to loop an overhand but in fact using the inside of his wrist to slap the opponent’s lead glove down, Fedor then follows up with a beautiful left hook. Having removed the opponent’s jabbing hand it is impossible for them to fire a counter fast enough to hurt Fedor as he leaps in. By ensuring that his head is on where the opponent’s lead hand was, Fedor takes his head away from the opponent’s free, right hand. This makes the outside hand trap a much safer entry.
These kind of leaping hooks are often criticized by inexperienced strikers as “wild” or leaving the fighter “wide open”, but if due diligence is taken to eliminate the lead hand, there is no reason not to leap in. Notice here, against Sylvia, how Fedor moves seamlessly into his backward stepping punches (which I discussed here).
A final note on hand traps is that Fedor used them as a preventative measure as well as to to land free power punches. Take a look at the gif of the Goodridge fight and notice how often Fedor places his palms on Goodridge’s elevated forearms. It is particularly noticeable during the body shots, when he stands to Goodridge’s right side while pressing Goodridge’s elevated left forearm into his head so that he cannot fire back the left hook from his squared up stance. Fedor spent a great deal of time controlling ugly exchanges through covering of the hands and pushing of the opponent’s chest and head. This brings us on to our next topic; Muscling.
Off Balancing / Muscling
This is one of the most interesting techniques that Fedor used and one that is hard to pinpoint unless one is looking for it. In fact, this is another element of Fedor’s style which appears ugly. Fedor was famed for his right hand lead but it very rarely landed cleanly, except against particularly slow opponents such as Nogueira and Fujita. When it was defended, however, Fedor would collide with his opponent’s raised forearms, then pressing their guard, pushed the opponent backward.
This act of off balancing mid-combination proved an excellent technique for landing heavy strikes on a defensive opponent. Against Goodridge, Fedor led with a right hand lead to left hook, collided with Goodridge’s guard, then shoved Goodridge backward, causing Gary to concede a step back and to allow his hands to move from his chin as he naturally attempted to maintain his balance. This is how Fedor landed the second left hook which did the real damage in this fight. Take a look in the slow-mo replay at 3:50.
Against Fujita, Emelianenko – still stunned from Fujita’s Hail Mary punch – forced Fujita to cover against the ropes, before shoving him back on to them. Fedor’s pushing of Fujita forced the latter to forget where his guard should be, leave an opening for the enormous kick that followed. Fedor immediately pushes Fujita again before landing his left hook. These small, constant pushes force openings in even the tightest of defensive shells as the human body is forced to use it’s arms to correct violent changes in balance. Stephen Quadros said it best when he remarked “we didn’t even know Fedor could kick”. This gif is kind of unclear, but in the live footage it is very clear that Fedor was muscling Fujita around in landing these strikes.