Blog Day 3: In the Devils’ Own Backyard

By Evgeni Kogan Jul 21, 2007
Living with Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures)'s Red Devil team while they prepare for a tournament. Day three.

No one does VIP like Russia in the 21st century. We're on the Flying Dutchman, a replica of the seventeenth century schooner Amsterdam which is permanently moored on the river Neva in the historic heart of St. Petersburg.

The ring for tonight's M1 Russia vs. Europe event has been erected on a huge floating pontoon which is moored to the ship. There were no tickets sold, the event is privately bankrolled and is a mostly VIP guest and network television project. Vadim Finkelstein, the manager of Red Devil and owner of the M1 organization says that even though it would have been easier to hold the event in an indoor stadium, he wanted to show his city off to the world.

As I write this, I'm sitting in the very plush restaurant situated on the bow with floor to ceiling windows looking out onto the city. The Winter Palace which Vladimir Lenin and his followers stormed in 1918 at the start of the Communist revolution is directly opposite us and across the river.

The weather was a little dicey early in the day but the whole ship seemed to breathe a sigh of relief as the clouds overhead parted. It was a beautiful sight as the Palace was bathed in bright summer sun.

There are countless television cameras, on booms which telescope out over the water in slow meandering ellipses; in a helicopter that buzzes incessantly overhead; and along the upper deck of the ship overlooking the entire scene.

As predicted by the M1 public relations staff, the multimillion dollar yachts are slowly descending upon the makeshift arena while fleets of expensive German and Italian cars are lining up outside.

We're not in Kansas anymore Toto.

As a quick aside, one has to take off one's hat off to Lukasz Jurkowski who is fighting Mikhail Zayats in a couple of hours. He is still lounging around in the restaurant, picking at breads and dips and joking around with seconds. I think fighters really are from another planet.

This gorgeous setting is a far cry from the Olympic Dreams facility I woke in just a few hours ago. I was looking forward to seeing how the Red Devil team I was bunking with would spend the day getting mentally prepared for the evening's bouts.

I wasn't shocked to see some of the fighter's pre-fight routines.

Right after breakfast, a walk in the fresh air was suggested. Mikhail Malyutin, Erik Oganov (Pictures) and Arman Gambaryan set out and I thought I'd tag along in hopes of talking to the guys away from their team mates and coaches.

The fresh air didn't last long as we ducked into a mall. These men had an agenda, one I was not yet privy to.

To make a long story short, Mikhail was looking to buy a live rat for his newly acquired cat, Shrot (a dead ringer for Mr. Bigglesworth given to him by Aleksander Emelianenko (Pictures)), to play with.

I thought there had to be some kind of metaphor for tonight's fights at work here, but wasn't sure.

I seriously doubted the cat's fighting abilities. I was right, Shrot didn't seem to posses the killer instinct. A single glance at the horrible visage of the domesticated rat scared the cat. He wanted nothing to do with his supposed treat.

That metaphor again?

I don't know what I was thinking.

Following the unfortunate cat baiting episode, I was surprised to see the boys lounging around, arms around each other, watching television. They seemed to take solace in the physical contact - something I hadn't seen up tol this point.

It made them seem very human. They seemed to be going even further out of their way to be nicer today than they had the rest of the time I'd spent with them. It was not at all what I imagined.

The philosophy at Red Devil is that the fighter has to relax completely before the fights, which involves not thinking about the fight at all. They push the fighters to clear their minds and do things that they enjoy instead.

Like cat baiting and lounging around watching mindless television.

This theme also continued into the Red Devil dressing room aboard the schooner. It was filled with light background music drowned by the peaceful hum of the air conditioner and stocked with trays of fresh fruit.

Aleksander Emelianenko (Pictures) was lying down on the floor, seemingly asleep. The only sign that he was conscious was his rhythmic gyration to the music. The other fighters were also in their own little worlds, sleeping, massaging each other, playing cards or eating fruit.

Roman Zentsov (Pictures) came specifically to lend his support to his Red Devil mates. He helped wrap the hands of the your fighters and offered them words of encouragement. Fedor was again proving very elusive. He was there, but I couldn't seem to get anywhere near him, and he seemed to be continuously distracted by official duties. My chances of getting an interview were growing slimmer by the minute.

That brings us to the end of my third day with the Red Devil team. There' will be a complete fight report up on the site shortly.

The fourth instalment will delve into the post-fight happenings and who knows, maybe that interview with Fedor.

From Evgeni Kogan, with the Red Devil squad in St. Petersburg, Russia, it's over and out.
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