Blog Day Two: In the Devils’ Own Backyard

By Evgeni Kogan Jul 20, 2007
Living with Fedor Emelianenko's Red Devil team while they prepare for a tournament. Day two.

Black eye count = 0. Broken limb count = 0. Rear Naked Choke count = 1.

Though it's probably not a technique taught by most Brazilian Jiu Jitsu schools, I've found out that the rear naked choke is very effective when perpetrated against an opponent who is: a) sitting on a low-backed office chair, and b) is not aware that he is, in fact, the opponent, but is rather peacefully minding his own business trying to finish an interview.

Luckily, it turned out that I was inadvertently participating in a match that allowed submissions and had the presence of mind to tap before I went nighty-night.

I actually did bring my gloves and headgear (I've done a little amateur boxing), thinking that it would make for an interesting angle to write about my time here if I trained with some of the guys. After checking out the first training session yesterday however, I quickly abandoned that idea in favour of lengthening my life span.

With the M1 "Russia vs. Europe" event so close (it's just a day away now), the fighters have pared back training to one reasonably brief session per-day that involves a 30 minute run followed by some striking, wrestling and grappling.

Watching the guys train up this close, one gains a new respect for the guts it takes to get into the ring and do what they do. I'm not even talking about the countless hours spent losing literally litres of bodily fluids. Most fighters are used to the routine; however, it's still very much a reality and so is the fear of it, which no one is immune to. Overcoming it -- and ultimately your opponent -- is an ability I have the world of respect for.

They are combining the training with a steady regime of food intake -- notice I didn't say eating -- as the amount of food they put away (and the energy content of said food) is simply put: astonishing. The kitchen here resembles the confiscation closet at a camp for fat kids. And yet mostly everyone looks like they are about to compete in a body building contest.

There are countless bananas, mandarins, sugar cookies, biscuits, yogurt bars, muesli bars, boxes of caramel popcorn, packets of white, brown and black (this is Russia after all) bread. The fridge is bursting with boxes of catered meals, salads, soups, dairy drinks, packets of butter, mayonnaise, sour cream, cheese, salami and sausages. In the hallway there are 42 water cooler bottles; lined up like soldiers, waiting to be called into action.

The only item that's conspicuous by it's absence here is a traditional Russian delicacy called salo or shpig (semi dried, salted and cured pork fat in blocks, that's eaten frozen and sliced in thin slices onto bread). It may well be the only food on the planet that even the Red Devil Team considers to be too rich.

Shortly after breakfast, I was finally able to pin down (speaking very metaphorically) Aleksander Emelianenko (Pictures) for a short interview. His brother Fedor was proving to be my Moby Dick, appearing very briefly and disappearing again before I had a chance to harpoon him for an interview.

He looks great by the way; tanned, relaxed and almost constantly smiling beatifically. When he speaks he is so quiet you have to strain to hear him, even up close. I imagine this is how everyone would act if they felt they had nothing left to prove. I am still very hopeful of that interview however and do not intend to give up until I manage to talk to him sometime this weekend.

I caught up with Aleksander while he was resting prior to the morning training session he was taking part in. He was -- I kid you not -- reading classic Russian literature, and even though he was gruff and to the point during the interview, Aleks seemed like he would be a very interesting guy in any other situation than one day away from a fight in his hometown against a completely unknown opponent.

The interview was very informative. Aleks discussed his preparation strategies and predictions for the fight as well as his plans for the future. We also talked about life in Russia in the late 1990's and both of his brothers; Ivan the youngest, and an older brother that most readers would be well familiar with.

Our chat was overseen with interest by Shrot, a St. Petersburg Sphinx (for those of you that aren't cat fanciers: it looks like Mr.Bigglesworth from Austin Powers), that Aleks gave as a present to Mikhail Malyutin (who is also here, training for Saturday's event).

Foreign press had started arriving in time for the morning training session, and were given tours of the facilities by Vadim Finkelshtein himself. Finkelshtein is the manager of all the Red Devil fighters and also the owner and head of the M1 promotion. My eventual interview with Vadim was interrupted countless times by phone calls about the event, most forgettable, others less so; like ones from sponsors asking permission to give Aleksander $20,000 diamond rings.

Vadim was very forthcoming and candid during the interview. We covered everything from Dana White's contract negotiation tactics to Vladimir Putin's appreciation of MMA, from Bodog's business practices to the pros and cons of staging an event where the ring is located on a floating pontoon in a city that frequently experiences high winds.

Shortly after the facility tours it was time to head to the weigh-ins, which were located in a plush hotel in the historic center of the city. Most of the foreign teams had arrived by this point and all the fighters were milling about, eyeing each other up.

I briefly put down my camera, in the vicinity of Arman Gambaryan, to talk to the editor of the French Fight Sport magazine and the older brother and coach of Karl Amoussou (Pictures), who is fighting Gambuaryan.

On my return, the camera was nowhere to be seen and Arman was doing his best to look as innocent and pure as driven snow. After terse negotiations I was informed that if I walked across the room and slapped one of the other French fighters, even lightly, the camera would be returned to me unharmed. Weighing up the chances of my extinction for the second time in 24 hours, I decided that I would hold out. Arman did after all have to disrobe for his weigh-in. Where was he going to hide it then?

The actual weigh-ins went by without a hiccup, except for the small fact that two of the European fighters were about five to seven kilograms heavier than they should have been at the upper limit of their weight division. But this is Russia -- where men may have actually historically fought bears -- so the show must go on.

All of the Red Devil fighters weighed in below their limits. They also mostly faced off except for Aleksander, whose opponent Jesse Gibson hadn't yet flown into the country. I was beginning to suspect that it was after all too unusual a name for a Dutchman and he didn't really exist, but apparently he has arrived, is being weighed early tomorrow and is raring to go.

Speaking of this being Russia, the only other detail from today worth mentioning before I sign off until tomorrow, is about some ironing. One of the PR managers in the M1 office (which is also based here at ‘Olympic Dreams') were ironing the branded shirts for the referees and judges. As I sat in the same office working on this piece, every single fighter who came in (and most of them did) asked if she could also look after their ironing while she was at it. It was all fun and games until two individuals actually took the opportunity to bring her some of their ironing to do. For real … welcome to Russia.

From me it's goodbye for today. Tomorrow promises final preparations and maybe an interview with Fedor, the actual event and definitely the after party.

From "Olympic Dreams" in St. Petersburg, Russia, it's over and out.
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