fedor's striking ability was, in my opinion, by far the most effective part of fedor's game. the fluidity, the power, the accuracy and the different positions he could land punches was unreal. and then simultaneously he could submit and out wrestle anyone. such a complete, sharp fighter. something that has to be seen.
i agree that he is a complete fighter, but disagree that his striking is by far his most effective facet... i think that's just the memory of his last three wins which he accomplished with brilliant striking, but before that, he had won almost all of his fights through submissions.
so, this is my theory on fedor's downfall...
(little of this will make much sense unless you've followed fedor or know a bit about him)
-in addition to fedor being such a complete fighter, his greatest strength had always been his mental game, his spiritual centeredness, and his psychology. his nickname, "the last emperor", was given to him for a reason...
-fedor had always lacked aggression, jealousy, feelings of inadequacy, need to show off or prove a point. he never made faces or appeared angry. even when he punched or went for submissions, his facial expression never changed. he never jumped or shouted or beat his chest. he always won with absolute humility and magnanimity.
-fedor contained within him a dialectic of the deepest kind, the kind of dialectic that can be gleaned in only the greatest practitioners of eastern martial arts, men who are not merely great fighters or athletes, but philosophers, psychologists, and masters of their mind and body.
-his disinterestedness (i'm using the religious term here, because it applies) meant that he never panicked and had total awareness of the situation at all times. when fujita caught him, he wobbled but as he was wobbling he automatically went into counterattack and finished off fujita. when randleman suplexed him, he collected himself and seconds later submitted kevin. these were the two biggest adversities he had faced (before his downfall), and the way he handled them speaks volumes of his awareness and collectedness.
-the big change happened around 2009. during the post-fight interview after his fight with arlovsky, he said that his victory was the victory of russian orthodox church and that it was thanks to all the people who prayed for him. an idiotic thing on several levels. (so if he loses, the loss would also be attributed to the russian orthodox church?!?) ...but, whatever, at that point it could be let go as his peculiarity that shouldn't necessarily change anything about him as a fighter. (btw his translator did not translate that part into english, i think he knew he had to present that comment more diplomatically in english)
-the fight with brett rogers is basically a copy of the arlovski fight, with his opponent seeming to have the slight edge throughout the fight before fedor brilliantly finds the split-second opening and accomplishes a one-punch knockout. (in arlovski's case it was a pure mental gaffe to attack fedor with the flying knee so carelessly after being so in-control up to then; in rogers's case, he exposed himself as he was taking a swing at fedor; fighters are most vulnerable as they prepare to attack; fedor saw the opening and amazingly landed the KO punch before brett's hands could even reach him)
-the post-fight interview is the same thing, however. he again attributes his victory to the prayers of the russian orthodox faithful. this was to be his last victory.
-key point: right before his fight with werdum, he was personally blessed by patriarch kirill (the russian orthodox version of the catholic pope). very, very big deal.
-what happens during the fight: fedor comes out swinging and brawling. maybe he really catches wedrum, or maybe werdum fakes it and the fall is a conscious bluff to trap his prey (my guess is both, but ultimately the latter). fedor loses his mind and recklessly jumps into werdum's guard to "finish him off". werdum easily catches him in a double whammy submission hold (very clearly explained in the gracie breakdown
-this is simply an amateur mistake. he had never done something so foolish before - this is a very experienced fighter who is arguably he greatest sambo practitioner ever and a world-class judoka. this is someone who lived and thrived in the guard of one minotauro nogueira (for a total of 34 minutes over 3 fights), the top heavyweight bjj in the world (and werdum is an exact replica of minotauro in every way, just younger). this was obviously a mental gaffe and a psychological lapse of immense proportions. the mistake was believing that victory was his
. that because the patriarch himself personally blessed him in addition to all the usual prayers, it was his fate to win, and that all he had to do was come out and swing his arms until the referee stopped him. he believed in this fate when he saw werdum falling down, and he believed all he had to do was land a few extra punches to finish him off, totally disregarding werdum's world-class ground game (or whether werdum was actually really hurt at all). and that's all she wrote.
-the mma world is in shock. almost everyone (myself included, at the time) chalks it up to pure luck on werdum's part and a extremely rare mental lapse for fedor.
-next comes a very different sort of animal in big foot silva. where he lacks in the skill and cunning of werdum, he makes up with size and his hundred pound jaw. the tactic for vintage fedor would be obvious - dance with him a little, look for the opening, use sambo/judo to take him down and latch on a submission or maybe ground-and-pound.
-right before the fight, fedor takes out a huge wooden cross and kisses it. this is the "patriarch kirill" of this fight... a good-luck amulet that has now come to replace his brilliant inner game and dialectic of a great warrior.
-fedor spends the first round trading punches and basically brawling with this man who outweighs him by almost 60 lbs. it is absolutely idiotic... but fedor's skill advantage is enough to offset silva's reach advantage.
-second round: right as the opening bell rings, silva charges at him like a bull and easily takes him down, without any resistance at all. vintage fedor would have seen that coming from a mile away. this fedor had entrusted his fate to a religious fetish, and was mentally checked out. the rest of the round is spent with a 285 lb man on top of him raining down punches. to fedor's credit, most men would have long lost their will to continue to fight, with a broken orbital bone and nasty enormous hematoma that entirely shut his right eye and a generally busted up face... he actually attempted a leg lock as the seconds were winding down, though it was totally futile. unbelievably, he was actually getting ready to come out for round 3 in such state, before the ringside doctor ordered to stop the fight.
-during the post-fight interview, he says that he felt something was wrong with him from the beginning of the fight. well, no $#!t...
-so, after he lost to a lucky/cunning opponent first, then to a monstrous brute... he had no more external excuses against dan henderson, an all-time great fighter who was nevertheless smaller than him, older than him, and nowhere near as skilled as him.
-fedor's in-game plan was again to mindlessly brawl and hope for the best. needless to say, karma was not on his side, and he got caught by the H-bomb. ~fin~
here's the moral of the story. his skill set is as great as ever and he is as complete a fighter as ever. his striking power and accuracy are probably better than they've ever been. yes, he's had some injury issues, but he both said he felt great, and he actually looked like he was in great shape for the hendo fight. here is what changed - his mental game is gone. his increasing involvement with the russian orthodox church has made him believe he would win fights before they started, and this meant he was mentally checked out before he entered the octagon precisely because he lost that brilliantly harmonious inner dialectic he used to posses during his entire fighting career. by this i mean the patience and the wisdom of knowing when to attack and when to defend, the dialectic synthesis of those two concepts into one (as demonstrated in the fujita fight, for example), the complete awareness of the situation at all time. all these things have been clearly absent in his last three fights.
it is also worth noting that he had dominated the world sambo championship for many years and was undefeated for a long time. his streak ended also in 2008 (to young stud blavoi ivanov, who has since also turned to mma). i won't speculate on the circumstances or the reasons for this loss, but it's interesting that it was his last matchup before the arlovski date, a fight where he took out his russian orthodox prayer guns for the first time, which signaled the beginning of the end for the greatest mma fighter...