Dancing with the Red Devil: Part 3

By Evgeni Kogan Jun 27, 2008
What's funnier than Fedor Emelianenko's (Pictures) 43-year-old grappling coach, Vladimir Mihailovich Voronov, trying to add photos to his Russian Facebook page and being continuously thwarted by that code thing that you have to decipher?

Not much.

To tell the truth, it's one of the funniest things I've seen in a long, long time. Aside from the view outside my window, which was of a brilliant azure St. Petersburg sky and a cityscape bathed in sunshine -- the fights won't be ruined by crazy Russian weather! -- the following scene greeted me this morning.

Upon entering the M-1 Mixfight office, I found a very, very irate Voronov, all 230 pounds of him, swearing at the computer. The problem was soon apparent. The "capcha," which is that little rectangle of mangled letters you have to enter into a text field (it prevents automated bots from interacting with a Web site), was proving to be a fearsome opponent to the former wrestler. Rather than brute force, which Voronov is used to and can handle, the capcha perpetrated on him not only the English alphabet but also mangled it in a way he found almost impossible to decode.

Before you leap to conclusions that Voronov is in fact a robot, and so is Fedor (proving all the theories right), you'll be happy to know that eventually he managed it. Fearing for its life, the computer finally acquiesced but not without putting up one hell of a fight first.

Russian swearing is much more elaborate and fancy than its English counterpart. The average Russian male possesses a mat (swearing) vocabulary that would rival in its quantity entire languages of lesser-developed cultures. It's possible to have entire conversations with only swear words; you have to hear it to believe that it's possible. And even though, like last year, swearing was almost non-existent during the whole camp, it was still reserved for those moments when nothing else would be quite enough. Even Russia losing 3-0 to the Spaniards in the semis of the Euro 2008 football competition didn't justify swearing. But this, this was one of those moments. All Voronov wanted to do was upload some photos to his Russian Facebook.

But that was this morning. I'm currently sitting on the bus with the Red Devil and Legion Fight teams as we make our way to the scene of the fights, the Flying Dutchman schooner, which is moored on the Neva River in the center of the historic city often referred to as the Venice of the North. As with this morning the weather is incredible, and the city has totally come through. Tourists are strolling through the streets, crowds recline on the grass of the many parks and everyone is relaxing while taking in the best of summer. In other words, it's a perfect evening for a lot of sanctioned violence.

The fighters spent the entire day lounging around in their rooms, mostly sleeping or quietly resting. I mistakenly walked into one of their rooms while looking for a storage space, and I was surprised to find how calm and restful it was. Incense was burning, the curtains were gently blown around by the breeze and everyone was asleep or meditating -- it was hard to tell. The changing rooms at the Flying Dutchman are exactly the same. Huge platters of cut fresh fruit are elaborately assembled but incongruous amongst the tapes, pads, gloves and other paraphernalia of our beloved sport. The fighters quietly sit, thinking of what's to come or possibly of nothing, preparing to do what almost none of those reading this (or the writer for that matter) would ever be capable of.

Sitting in the press section of the fancy restaurant on the Flying Dutchman, I was happy to meet a very nattily dressed Japanese representative of Dream, Shinoda Sotaro. We briefly discussed the state of Russian customer service (pretty dire), club life in Moscow (best in the world) and some other stuff I don't recall before he told me that he worked for Pride until the very end. I loved Pride and told him so. We briefly shared a moment of silence, smiling, staring off into space, as though for a dear mutual friend who has since passed away. All in all, my visit to St. Petersburg is so far proving to be a very existential experience.

I see that I haven't yet spoken specifically of the fighters. I guess that I didn't interact with any in a significant way today. The only interesting news came yesterday when Roman Zentsov (Pictures) withdrew from his superfight due to a shoulder injury, almost leaving opponent Aleksander Timonov without a fight. That was until Aleksey Olennik, on less than 24 hours' notice, decided to take the fight and flew at night from Rostov-on-Don to be on time and weigh in officially in St. Petersburg this morning. He came in at a trim 102.7 kilograms. What is even more surprising than fighters taking fights on no notice at this level is that Olennik has a tournament Sunday in the Ukraine, where he also plans to compete. So there you go, maybe the Russians are robots after all.

I thought I'd go down into the changing rooms one more time, just to see what's happening so close to the moment of truth. Not what you would think. Mikhail Zayats (Pictures) was reading a historical account of how Christianity came to be accepted as the main religion in Russia and was definitely sheepish about enjoying it. Akhmed Sultanov (Pictures) was resting on his side, covered by his training jacket and just staring at space. The rest of the fighters were engaged in a lively game of cards with Voronov, who had gotten over his earlier confrontation with the bot capcha and was once again his relaxed genial self.

Well it's almost time for the fights. The ship is practically bubbling with oligarchs and their model girlfriends, and the martini glasses and champagne flutes are stacked sky-high. This is most definitely a high-society event in St. Petersburg, which is great to see. M-1's self-accepted challenge now is to bring MMA to the masses in Russia. That is still some way off, but nights like tonight bring the goal ever closer.

This is Evgeni Kogan, about half an hour from the start of the M-1 Challenge: Russia vs. Spain and Finland. From me it's over and out. Check out my fight report and pictures a little later today at Sherdog.com.
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