Final Words: In the Devils’ Own Backyard

By Evgeni Kogan Jul 25, 2007
Living with Fedor Emilianenko's Red Devil team while they participate in the M-1 Russia vs. Europe tournament, and the aftermath.

The time had come. The little red lights on the cameras were on; the red velvet tunnel leading up to the pontoon was billowing out smoke; gold painted Roman legionnaires with spears held skyward lined up the fighter walkway; the ice sculptures glittered in the orange sunset and Russian Oligarchs milled about with wives in tow.

Contrary to popular belief, President Putin never made it on his private yacht, though many others did, floating just metres away from the ring.

Members of the Red Devil team, those that weren't fighting, circled the ring, ready to assist if the fighters became entangled in the ropes. They were also on guard in case someone tried to throw their opponent into the water, which theoretically could have happened.

Fighters hailing from France, Switzerland, Holland, Belarus, Spain, the Czech Republic and Poland were in action and it was very interesting to watch the different ways in which the coaches worked their corners.

The Russians who make a point of working on in-fight communication were mostly quiet. The French were loud and explosive, barely able to contain themselves to their corner. They were repeatedly asked to stay down so as not to obstruct the audience's view. One Dutch coach definitely took the prize for being the loudest and most animated. His "oohs" and "ahhs" when Brian Lo-A-Njoe (Pictures) was doing well were enthusiastically mocked by the audience, who were all sitting within 20 metres of the ring. The last notable mention goes to the Polish coaching staff who were almost silent, barking out a few terse commands as Lukasz Jurkowski and Mikhail Zayats put on a grappling clinic.

I was wondering how fighter instructions work in the UFC with the size of the octagon and the volume level in the arenas where they hold the events. If Fedor signs with them, what will the coaches work out for a communications strategy? They've said they depend heavily on successful communication with him during the bouts. Many things remain to be seen.

The rest of the matches went well, with many stoppages, mostly through submission. There was much more grappling and wrestling than stand-up on display, with at least one fighter in each match preferring to take things to the ground.

Kirill Sidelnikov's fight with Antonio Mendes was the most interesting bout because of the mixture of brawling and skilled grappling. Sidelnikov will be a force to reckon with in the future. Many here have already made the comparison between this young fighter and Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures). It may be a while before he is given the chance to prove right those who compare him to the best fighter mixed martial arts has ever seen. He is just 18-years-old and his Red Devil trainers think he should wait a while before pursuing MMA on a full-time basis.

As the organizers, audience, media members, fighters and coaching staffs were milling about after the show, the young Sidelnikov, both eyes nearly swollen shut, was overwhelmed with well-wishers who drowned him with support.

All you heard was Kesha, Kesha...

Kesha is a diminutive of Kirill in Russian, a softer version of most names that Russians like to use when not talking formally. It's commonplace, all the fighters have them, but it is still funny to hear Fedor referred to as Fedya and his brother Aleksander as Sanya.

The fighters were hanging out together after the show. With their differences left in the ring, they were swapping team shirts and trying to communicate in the limited English they could muster.

Finally we left.

Following a night of hijinks, we started packing, cleaning our rooms and sharing out final meals together. Everyone was heading back to their respective cities all across Russia.

The four days with the team were at an end and I was finishing up my last pieces for the Web site before I set off for home. I saw so much during my time with the Red Devil team, my appreciation and respect for the sport and its fighters grew immensely. I had made good friends, conducted some very interesting interviews and had a fantastic time.

I never managed to get that interview with Fedor though, but all was not lost. He will be in training in his home town of Stary Oskol in the next two months and I have been invited to spend some time there. It will be interesting to see how he prepares for an upcoming fight. Look for it on Sherdog in the next couple of months.

In St. Petersburg, Russia, for the last time, it's over and out.
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