The Last Emperor is in Error: Why Women’s MMA Matters

He retired a few years ago, but the man I like to call the greatest mixed martial artist of all time was back in the news in recent weeks.

That would, of course, be Fedor Emelianenko, who wowed crowds with an undefeated run from 2001 to 2009 during the heyday of Japanese MMA.

(At least that’s who “The Greatest” is to me, and lots of other guys who got hooked on MMA watching third generation VHS tapes in languages we struggled to understand.)

“The Last Emperor” recently reached an agreement to make promotional appearances with Bellator MMA. Among them was a brief #askfedor Q & A session on the Bellator Twitter account — where he answered questions from the ridiculous to the sublime, in his classic, stoic way:

It was, as they say, all kinds of awesome.

In another interview last week, Fedor was asked about the rising popularity of women’s MMA, especially the success of UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey — who counts Fedor among her heroes in the martial arts.

“MMA is for men,” Fedor calmly replied. “It’s a man’s sport.”

Ugh. Not so awesome.

I love Fedor. Again, to me he’s the greatest of all time (although he doesn’t think so, which is really probably further proof that he’s the best).

But, he’s just wrong here.

Earlier this week, Carla Esparza and Joanna Jedrzejczyk, who will compete for the UFC Women’s Strawweight Championship tomorrow at UFC 185, responded to MMA Fighting:

“I like him so much and he’s a living legend,” Jedrzejczyk said. “But I think we can do a pretty good job, you know? I think it’s not right.  We can bring the audience and we can make the show better. That’s all.”

Esparza agreed, noting the recent success of Ronda Rousey as a UFC headliner.

“We’re legit and we’re here to stay,” she boasted. “Nothing is going to stop this momentum that’s been going with the women.”

Earlier today, Ana Osman earned another victory in her native Malaysia at ONE: Age of Champions.

Osman has become an inspirational figure to many, as the first female from the country to compete in MMA professionally. She was hailed by TIME last year as Next Gen leader.

“Being a mixed martial artist, and being a Muslim as well shouldn’t hinder what I want to do, or with achieving my goals, or my ambition,” Osman said in her video profile. “I work hard at what I do, and I always believe in myself — and to me that’s what matters.”

“I had one supporter who said she was in an abusive relationship and seeing me being strong and learning martial arts kind of inspired her to learn self-defense,” recalls Osman. She says the fan is now out of the relationship, and still training hard.

Fedor made his name by going undefeated for years — but this is one argument he won’t win.

It’s proof you can be the best in history, and still end up on the wrong side of history now and again.