Fedor Emelianenko mauled in 1st-round TKO loss in final fight

For the retirement fight of Fedor Emelianenko, one of the greatest ever to compete in mixed martial arts and the icon of an era gone by, there was a who’s who of MMA legends gathered at Bellator 290 in Inglewood, California, on Saturday night to give one of their own a proper sendoff.

They ended up being reminded that this is not a sport that ushers its greats out of the game gently.

The 46-year-old Emelianenko, challenging Ryan Bader for the Bellator heavyweight championship in the main event at Kia Forum, was stopped via TKO in the first round of a bout in which he was dominated. In some ways, the fight played out even uglier than their first meeting in 2019, when Bader knocked out Emelianenko in 35 seconds.

This time the fight lasted 2 minutes, 30 seconds, but it was apparent from the start that this was a mismatch, as Emelianenko was winging wild punches and missing badly. Less than a minute in, Bader dropped him with an overhand right, and that began a bludgeoning that left Emelianenko face down on the canvas, bloody and helpless, until referee Herb Dean jumped in to wave it off.

It was a gruesome finish. And yet the night somehow managed to end gracefully.

There was a celebratory vibe that was kicked off by Bader (31-7, 1 NC), who when interviewed inside the cage called his victory “bittersweet,” drawing applause when he paid tribute to Emelianenko.

“I idolized him, like every other MMA fan and fighter coming up,” Bader said, before addressing the crowd directly: