Roughly a month remains before the Ultimate Fighting Championship touches down in Russia for UFC Fight Night 136. A heavyweight battle between 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix winner Mark Hunt and 41-year-old submission savant Alexey Oleynik will headline the historic event in Moscow.
Oleynik has rattled off 14 wins across his past 16 appearances. He last fought at UFC 224 in May, when he submitted Junior Albini with his patented Ezekiel choke in Rio de Janeiro and improved his record inside the Octagon to 5-2.
In this exclusive interview with Sherdog.com, Oleynik shares his emotions ahead of his next assignment, his thoughts on Hunt and his opinion on hyping fights.
Sherdog: What has the process been like leading up to this event?
Oleynik: I didn’t wait long for an answer about my fight and opponent. After my victory in Brazil, I was asked who I wanted to fight. I said I wanted to fight Fabricio Werdum. He’s the most famous grappler in the world and one of the best. It would have been a tough fight, and I think many fans were looking forward to it. We signed to fight Werdum in Moscow, but the bout was canceled because of his anti-doping violation. Hunt was the only other option with a legendary name, and I agreed to the fight immediately.
Sherdog: What does it mean to you to headline this historic show?
Oleynik: I’m very excited to be in the main event. This is MMA history -- it’s the first UFC event in Russia -- and I’ll do my best to win. Of course, it means a lot to me but my focus is on the fight so I can perform as well as possible. My wings are no longer growing as strong in my 40s, and this fight is not the first, fifth or 40th of my career (laughs). I’m quite experienced, and I know what to do. You just don’t push past your limits.
Sherdog: Do you think they can fill the card with big names?
Oleynik: I believe Andrei Arlovski is a pretty big name as a three-time UFC champion; he’s on the card. There’s also [Adam] Yandiev. He may not be widely known abroad, but in the (Commonwealth of Independent States), he’s a very popular guy.
Sherdog: Do you think the UFC’s presence will eclipse Russian promotions or increase attention in their favor?
Oleynik: I don’t think the UFC will overshadow all the Russian promotions. You never know how an event will go or how the fighters will perform. Sometimes average promotions may have entertaining fights; they can use those fights for highlights and broadcast them on the Internet and TV. Plus, there are dozens of different organizations, really competitive MMA companies with high-level fighters and fights that serve as steppingstones for younger fighters.
Sherdog: Khabib Nurmagomedov-Conor McGregor is always hot news. McGregor came to the FIFA World Cup final and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. How do you feel about the hype?
Oleynik: Hype is the correct word, but on the other hand, it’s part of martial arts and any other sport for that matter. You need those types of things to evaluate public interest in a particular event. They try to figure out whether or not they need to give it a go. They make fame and fortune out of it. For example, Conor and [Floyd] Mayweather made a lot of money, so other fighters want to get as close as they can to Conor in order to make a lot of money. [Nate] Diaz fought dozens of times in the UFC, and his purses never exceeded $40,000 to $50,000. After two fights with Conor, he asked for six figures. You can have 20 fights in the UFC and earn $500,000 or you can get a million for just one fight. Of course, that’s what everyone wants, so they try to make money with hype and trash talk. You can name people who are successful at that and those who aren’t successful at it. Let’s see what happens next.