Bellator’s 2018 highlight, the Heavyweight Grand Prix, is already steeped in nostalgia after bouts featuring Chael Sonnen vs. Tito Ortiz and established veterans Matt Mitrione and Roy Nelson squaring off in the two opening round bouts to date.
However, the nostalgia factor kicks up to another level this weekend at Bellator 198, when two of the greatest Heavyweight champions of last decade square off in a dream matchup for MMA fans of the 00s. Frank Mir – one of the greatest in the history of the UFC’s Heavyweight division – takes on Pride FC legend and the former undisputed best fighter alive, Fedor Emelianenko in the card’s main event.
On paper, this is a pairing on a Hulk Hogan vs. Ric Flair plane if it happened during the two fighters’ primes: Pride’s greatest champion taking on a top UFC name in Mir. The stuff of MMA message-board posters’ fantasies.
Yet, the decade time span that has passed from when this fight would have been one of the best possible matchups in MMA has dulled the intrigue of Saturday night’s fight.
Mir enters his Bellator debut on the back of two consecutive losses and a PED suspension that signalled an end to his 15-plus year run in the UFC. More concerning for Mir is his 2-6 record in his final eight UFC fights, his last win inside of the Octagon coming against relative unknown Todd Duffee at UFC Fight Night 71 way back in 2015.
Mir also looked out of shape during the promotional tour for this fight, highlighting just how different these two fighters are compared to their physical peak.
— MMAFighting.com (@MMAFighting) April 25, 2018
Emelianenko’s recent record is slightly better than Mir’s in terms of wins and losses as Emelinaneko entered Bellator on a five fight win streak in 2017. Unfortunately for Fedor, his fights leading up to his Bellator signing were against weak opponents set up for Emelianenko to easily handle.
In Fedor’s Bellator debut, he was quickly knocked out by Matt Mitrione in a fight that exposed Emelianenko as a fighter who is far from his heyday and the time where he was once the most intimidating fighter in the world.
Pride’s unstoppable heavyweight was sent to the canvas in a matter of just over a minute by an average former UFC fighter after a bizarre double knockdown.
— Central FOX Brasil (@CentralFoxBR) June 25, 2017
Saturday night against Mir provides an opportunity for Fedor to regain some of the legacy he has lost by extending his career into this decade. In the other corner, Mir has a chance to put his UFC demise behind him and start his farewell tour in Bellator with a win against one of the biggest names in the history of the sport.
The opportunity for either Mir or Fedor to add the respective fighter to their list of victories makes this fight a must watch. Still, it is a disappointment to see two fighters who once headlined some of the biggest cards and best main events to grace the sport finally face each other in a fight that will be broadcasted for free on the little known Paramount Network.
This is the exact type of fight and moment Bellator is banking on building its identity: Legendary names squaring off, albeit legends well past their primes. These are bouts aired for free on a network so bad it had to change its name from Spike to the name of its parent company; and even still can’t garner ratings, these fighters who once drew hundreds-of-thousands of pay-per-views buys scrounge for TV ratings.
Nevertheless, the histories of both Fedor Emelianenko and Frank Mir will draw MMA fans to tune in this weekend out of respect for both fighters. Emelianenko still has his cult of fans who once proclaimed him to be the best to ever do it despite avoiding the UFC octagon like the plague, and Mir has his own following of fans build from spending nearly 18 years at the top of the biggest MMA promotion in the world.
Nobody knows who will win and move on in the Heavyweight Grand Prix this weekend. What is a guarantee is MMA fans will tune in this weekend to see two of the greatest fighters in their weight class finally go toe to toe inside the octagon at long last and wish that this dream bout could have happened in an earlier decade in a different era.