From Surviving the Streets of Russia to MMA: The Story of Aleksander Emelianenko, Part 1

Street Life

By Evgeni Kogan Jul 16, 2008
Sherdog.com: Aside from sport.
Emelianenko: We did everything, you know. Well, you know. If I started for me, it's all normal and not out of the ordinary, you know, about my childhood and when I was a teenager, life and what took place. If I was to start telling today's kids and tried to compare them and their lives to me and my growing up, of course it's going to be completely different.

You know, maybe some things that will be really shocking to a teenager or an adult now, for me, at that time it was in the scope of normality. And nothing out of the ordinary. Just a normal situation.

When we went to fight, I remember, we had in our city this huge conflict. And we fought one inner-city suburb against another. We gathered, something like a thousand of us, and we fought against their thousand. We gathered on one huge, abandoned-building site, picked up sticks, basically anything that came to hand, rocks, and started fighting.

We overturned cars, sometimes police cars. And that's not normal you know. It's youth. Basically, one of our friends was hurt by the kids in the neighboring suburb and then friends of friends and friends of their friends came, and that's how it eventually happened. Many people showed up. The authorities didn't know what to do with us, where to send us.

Sherdog.com: In a fight like that, how do you know who is fighting on whose side?
Emelianenko: Well, all of your foes, they are coming head-on at you. And all of your friends, they're all behind you, supporting you.

Sherdog.com: So with sticks?
Emelianenko: Anything that came to hand basically. Though we tried not to pick up anything that was blatantly a cold weapon, i.e. knives, stabbing weapons etc. … But still, sometimes … .

Sherdog.com: So did you ever get beat up at such things?
Emelianenko: Of course. I'd get it and they'd get it. Everyone would get it at some point. We were young. I was maybe in the 8th or 9th class [13 or 14]. Imagine to yourself, say, 200 kids, 13 or 14, from one side. And a similar group on the other side. Maybe a little older. But really they're children. They get together and start, you know, having watched some movie about something and they pretend. Or they're fired up by some song.

Sometimes some kids didn't even know why they ended up there, or what for. Some are there for their friend etc. … Most fights started over small stuff. Someone took a friend's money, and we went to work things out. Those hooligans called their friends. We called our friends. Everyone called someone, and so god fell on this church [direct translation].

And they had no idea what to do with us. Imagine 500 children. What do you do with them? What did they do? Stood and watched. Called out, tried somehow to separate us and make everyone leave, but it was useless. If today everyone leaves, tomorrow we gather again and it's the same thing.

What do you do? We needed to sort things out. Sometimes it worked. We'd turn up, sort something out and then everyone goes home and things are quiet for a while. Then later again the same thing. And then eventually some of your foes from those fights become really good friends.

Basically like in Russia, a long time ago. Fist fights on holidays and during celebrations. Men would drink, go outside, take their shirts off and then go fight each other in big groups. And straight after all go back to drinking again. Like real men used to do here. Gather, fight and then everything is fine again.

Sherdog.com: What were your parents doing during all this?
Emelianenko: They worked.

Sherdog.com: Are you still friends with anyone from your childhood, from your home city, Stary Oskol?
Emelianenko: When I left the city where I was born, I left everyone I knew there. It's not even that I left them there myself. They decided to stay there themselves, so to speak. All my friends. People of a limited, um, it's not that they had limited perspectives.

They just had limited ways of thinking. People who, farther than the territory, that the place where they live, they can't see beyond that. That's why pulling them after oneself, firstly, it's a great burden, and secondly, I don't see the point. With limited perspective, they choose their mode of life.

No matter how often you put a peasant on a throne, he will remain a peasant. And so it is with my old comrades. There were friends, but then at a given moment, they were suddenly too different, and walked away from me on their own accord. And so I was like a yacht that gathers speed and the others -- some keep up, others lag behind.

And then eventually I was left far out, by myself. Some didn't want to, others were scared. Others had more beneficial friends. They bent, went to be friends with those people because they thought they could get from them more than they could get from me. It's life. It happens to everyone. That's why I don't try to pull friends with me. They either keep up on their own or fade behind.

Sherdog.com: When did you leave?
Emelianenko: Five years ago I came here. In five years my circle of acquaintance has completely changed. And the people with whom I communicated prior to that, I can't communicate with them anymore. They have become of no interest to me. And they understand that it's difficult for them to communicate with me. That they couldn't. Because I've changed. My way of thinking has changed, as opposed to those who have stayed behind. They basically stayed, stayed to live there. And I left. Left to move to St. Petersburg.

Sherdog.com: What did you do at the training school? How old were you?
Emelianenko: I was 16. At the training school. I basically had a good time. This was the time when everything got interesting. Hanging out, girls, something else. Something else … .

In reality it was a very difficult time that every teenager has to overcome. During the summer, I was training boxing and my mother forbade it. And I didn't tell her that I was going to boxing. I would come home and hide all my gear in the entrance to my building. In a mailbox.

There were these big mailboxes, and I had a whole bag in one of them. There were boxing gloves, training boots, uniform, towels, helmet -- I had everything and I hid it there. So I'd say, "Mum, I'm going out for a walk," and she'd say, "OK, son, of course, go," and I would go to the letterbox, get my bag and go to training. I'd train, then go back home and once again hide my stuff and arrive at home and say, "Mum, I've come back from my walk."

And that was at the same time as my peers would be drinking beer and relaxing with girls, and that's how they spent their time. And I would be training and working to achieve certain results. There were many problems, but I overcame them all.

Many of my peers, some became drug addicts. Some were killed, some overdosed. Basically wherever fate would throw them. I can say that of all who I knew, I can't say that any of them have achieved something in this life. They all have disappeared somewhere, have dissolved into nothing.

Sherdog.com: What was the training school? What were you training to be?
Emelianenko: I finished my education as an electric welder. In reality I studied. I gained entry to become an electrician. Then for bad behavior, they transferred me to the lathe operators. Then for bad behavior again, they transferred me to the crane operators. Then for the same reason, they transferred me to the cooks, and then finally they transferred me to the electrical welders. Well, I came to the electric welders.

I'll tell you. The training school, the electrical welder class, when I entered the electric welder class it had just received as a gift from the school this big cake. The cake was for being the best class that half year out of their whole year group. And they were so proper. They almost wore Communist badges, they were so good.

And I came, had a look at everything. And I can't take all the credit [laughs] for making the class do everything that it did from then on. But for some reason, during the next half yearly period, that class became the worst class in the whole school.

And it's not because I blatantly turned the boys bad. I just showed them a few things, ways to see some things. I said that one doesn't need to live by some rules, made by no one knows whom. … One needs to look at things more simply. Doesn't need to reinvent the wheel. One needs to live and live simply. To live and just be happy with life.

Sherdog.com: Why [were you transferred] to the welders after bad behavior?
Emelianenko: They just didn't know what to do with me. Tried to work it out and didn't have anywhere to put me. So they put me in with the welders who were the best class, hoping that that class would change me. But it happened that I changed the whole class instead … 30 people. And they never got that cake again.

Sherdog.com: What were you doing in your personal life at this time?
Emelianenko: Everything was fine. There wasn't anything really out of the ordinary. Well again, it was all just normal. Because I went through everything, and in my own turn I was, so to speak, cooked in this same porridge. Of course now my life is completely different to that which I lived at that time. But it was nothing so out of the ordinary, you know. It's not like there were aliens from another planet, and I spent time with them. Nothing like that.

I can't tell you about anything like that. It was all much simpler. We spent a lot of time on the streets. There was nothing to eat at home. We ate just cooked spaghetti with my brother. Or just potato. In the best scenario, my mother would make a cabbage soup on some kind of bone for bullion. She'd make a nine-liter pot for the whole week. And we'd eat it until we'd finished it. And that's how we ate.

So we had to run around in circles, amuse ourselves and come home to eat because it was the only place we could. It was very hard to train seriously. So we did what we had to. Whatever we had to, to survive. I didn't refuse anything. Didn't turn away from anything. But we didn't do anything that made us less than people.

Sherdog.com: What else were you doing during the madness of the late 1990s in Russia?
Emelianenko: I, at that time, I wanted to say I was learning. In 1999 I won the European championships in sambo. Sport sambo [as opposed to combat]. In the region where I lived, I was the first to show such a result in this sport. And at the same time I became a Russian Master of Sports in judo.

And aside from that, I did what I had to. Well, I didn't screw nuts and bolts in a factory. I didn't unload railway cars. I concerned myself with slightly different things. I don't even know how to describe it to you. Did whatever I had to. I stayed in touch with friends, helped them out. We helped each other out. So. One had one thing. Someone else had something else. And that's how it kind of went, on its own accord. And it didn't seem like anything, you know. You kind of earn and you do it with friends.

It begins with, you know, a friend asking for help. And at that time, what did I need? In 1999 at 17 years old. To eat something, to have clothes, shoes and I didn't have a headache about anything else at that time. Parents didn't earn money at that time. My mother was a teacher in school. My father was a normal worker.

And when I was 14 or 15 and they separated, my father started thinking of his own stomach and his own life. He stopped helping us, stopped helping my mother. If she spent her teacher's salary just on herself, then my father spent his salary just on himself. Didn't help us at all.

Sherdog.com: So did the lack of a father from that point have an influence on your life?
Emelianenko: Well, no. Like I said, they never had time. Not for me. My mother was constantly suffering at work. I never saw my father. The streets brought us up. All these memories, everything that I am remembering of, I want to tell you about something happy, that I remember some happy moments, but there aren't any. They were times of change, hungry times, cold and I grew up on the streets.

Sherdog.com: Are you now in communication with your father?
Emelianenko: No, I haven't spoken to him in a long time. A long time ago we had a conflict, when I was 16 years old, when he told me everything he thought of me. And now that all this time has gone by, the time when I needed him, when I didn't have him there. And now that I have become successful, have become a known person, when people all over the world know me, of course he wants to communicate with me.

But why?

I know everything about this person. What he is really like. I don't know. Of course I could put on a mask. Make friends and sit there with a smile, saying, "Father, I am so happy to see you." But really I think it's better not to communicate with such people. Better than to communicate with them, but through forcing you to do it. Earlier, a few years ago, he used to call. To ask about my life, my health and such. And now he doesn't even call anymore.

Tomorrow, in Part 2, Emelianenko discusses Kimbo Slice, Muhammad Ali and how having a daughter has changed his life.
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