From Russia with Glove: Fedor Ready for U.S. Debut

By Josh Gross Oct 21, 2006
From a yard away, photographer Jeff Sherwood said it sounded like someone belly-flopped onto balled up bubble wrap.

For those of us sitting a good 25 rows above the five-roped ring inside the packed Yokohama Arena, Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures)’s rocket of a right hand seven minutes into the Russian’s bout against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Pictures) echoed more like a shotgun blast.

It was at this point that nearly 40,000 spectators gasped: Fedor had left his calling card.

Three years and a 11 wins later Emelianenko, widely regarded as the finest mixed martial artist on the planet, continues to hold the PRIDE heavyweight belt he took that day.

Beyond an array of skills as varied as any mixed martial artist, it’s Emelianenko’s ability to strike another man so hard at such close range which has enthralled fight fans across the globe.

“When I hit someone, I don’t think about anything except the technique,” Emelianenko told through an interpreter. “It’s the same when you train yourself to hit someone when you stand. I trained for a long time and I came up with a technique for strong punches on the floor.”

The 30-year-old Russian’s answers are as understated as his punches are devastating. Yes, he repeatedly credited years of training for his almost supernatural ability — my words, not his — to deliver an uncanny amount of force, but I wasn’t buying; there had to be more to it than drilling and dedication.

What he did on the ground to the likes of Semmy Schilt (Pictures), Heath Herring (Pictures) and Nogueira was not simply a matter of technique, otherwise fighters from Moscow, Russia to Moscow, Idaho would bomb away like B-52s.

“I came up with my own technique after watching fights,” the heavyweight champion recalled. “I figured out what would be the best move to do on the floor, what would be the best punch.”

“I can teach someone how to practice it but it takes lots of training,” he insisted.

When asked to describe the general philosophy behind his punching style as he works on the floor — Emelianenko’s arms become almost whip-like, creating a tremendous amount of energy that flows from his shoulders and unleashes at his fists — he smiled and politely suggested such information was reserved for only his closest compatriots.

Nope. Still not sold.

Then why doesn’t Fedor’s brother Aleksander or his Red Devil teammate Roman Zentsov (Pictures) plow through opponents like the PRIDE king?

“The structure of my body might help for this particular technique on the floor,” Fedor finally conceded. “But again it’s something you rely on and it’s technique that you have to keep practicing.”

Tonight in Las Vegas, the six-foot 224 pound Russian once again puts years of hard work on the line when he headlines PRIDE’s first effort on American soil against veteran Mark Coleman (Pictures) (15-7-0), who like Emelianenko has dedicated the majority of his life to competition.

Though the Russian has never fought in the U.S., he appears to have captured the hearts of American fans. At each of the his appearances in Las Vegas during the week leading up to Saturday’s live pay-per-view event at the Thomas & Mack Center, fans have favored Emelianenko (23-1-0) over the former UFC star from Ohio.

“I’m looking forward to this fight,” he said. “I always wanted to fight in America. I know there are a lot off fans that admire me. I always wanted to represent myself.”

Though Fedor may have dreamt about fighting in the States, that wasn’t something he could have easily envisioned while growing up in the former Soviet Union.

“There was a notion that Americans were bad and Russians were good,” Fedor said of his youth. “But I was 13 and I didn’t really think about these kinds of things.”

Gorbachev. Reagan. Glasnost. Perestroika.

For a teenage Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures), statesmen and their policies had little importance. Rather, it was the steady call of youth that he remembers.

When girls or school didn’t consume him, Emelianenko focused on training — by now he’d taken up judo and sambo — during a time that became critical in his progression from a physically weak boy to the world’s top heavyweight fighter.

Under the tutelage of several trainers, who also served as mentors, Fedor said he enjoyed the stability of a close camp, something that remains a key to his success even today.

“There are like my family,” Fedor said of Vladimir Voronov (grappling), Alexander Michkov (boxing) and Ruslan Nagnibeda (Muay Thai). “I trust them 100 percent. They started to train me since I was young and it’s very important to stick with them. But it’s different because they’re like family. They know me, I know them. It’s very important to know the people that wait for you in the center of the ring and they know exactly what you need and who you are in the ring.”

Alluding to his stone-cold demeanor during a fight, which has prompted some to wonder whether Emelianenko is capable of showing any emotion at all, the PRIDE champion said: “This is a sport. This is not the place to go and be aggressive. I go out there and do what I trained for.”

“The idea is to prepare your body both physically and mentally like you already fought, so when you go out there your body is already warmed up and your mind is already warmed up,” he continued. “So you’re ready for it. You just do what you’re trained to do. You’re not going there and building from the start. You go out there and you’re already in the middle of the fight. This is my way of thinking.”

It’s been quite a while since the Ukrainian-born star was forced to rely on his seconds, and as a professional he feels the onus is on himself to make adjustments during a bout.

Taking a cue from one of the most professional fighters in the history of the sport, Emelianenko is quite an admirer of former UFC champion Randy Couture (Pictures), who earlier this year retired from active competition.

“When I was in the service in the army I used to watch Randy’s fights,” Fedor said. “I liked everything, especially the way he conducted himself in the ring.

“I definitely learned a lot from Couture.”

Three years removed from the army and having enjoyed success in various judo and sambo tournaments, Fedor sized up the economic conditions in Russia as we moved past Y2K and concluded it was in his best interest to fight professionally.

“I decided I should go and make money from it,” he said matter-of-factly.

“I always wanted to compete, and I’m proud of my life now. I’m proud of what I’ve been doing. I feel good about it. And I did what I wanted to do. I always wanted to represent myself and my city and my country.”

More than anything else, Fedor said pride in his country and the men who have guided his career, as well as a permanent desire to be No. 1 are what motivate him today.

“When you want to become stronger you have to do your work and it doesn’t matter if you like it or not,” he said of the tedious requirements of competitive fighting. “You do it because you have to perform at a certain level.

“I want to stay on top and show the people that Russian fighters are very good. I want to represent myself and to be honored by the Russian people.”
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