The ‘Russian Bear’ Returns

By Tim Leidecker Nov 21, 2007
Long before Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures) became the best fighter on the planet, another Russian sambo practitioner was causing a sensation in international MMA: Oleg Taktarov.

On Nov. 30, "The Russian Bear" returns to the ring in Moscow for Bodog Fight -- nine years, eight months and nine days since he last competed in MMA.

Taktarov tasted blood in June when he squared off against fellow actor Dolph Lundgren, who played Ivan Drago in "Rocky IV," during an episode of the Russian version of "Celebrity Boxing." After a surprisingly competitive five-round fight, the real Russian -- Lundgren is in fact Swedish -- won a unanimous decision.

Feeling the adrenaline and the joy of victory made Taktarov want to pursue an MMA comeback.

"The contract Bodog offered me was also extremely attractive," Taktarov said on his Web site. "This is another reason why I return to the ring."

Even though he has been away from the game for close to 10 years, the submission specialist is confident that he will be in shape to fight. "After the first training session, I was really tired," he said. "But already the second time it was much easier to move, to breathe. As there have not been any revolutionary new techniques in the past couple of years, all I have to do is to remember the skills I have."

The former member of the Russian army's Special Forces unit "Speznas" arrived in the United States in 1994, without a green card and without English, to pursue his dream of becoming an actor.

Also a former KGB martial arts instructor, Taktarov returned to his fighting roots and entered some of the first UFC tournaments. He fought in UFC V as a 27-year-old ground fighting specialist and made it to the semifinals, where he lost to eventual winner Dan Severn (Pictures) on a cut.

Only three months later he celebrated the greatest success of his career. At UFC VI, Taktarov defeated wrestler Dave Beneteau, who outweighed him by more than 40 pounds, Muay Thai expert Anthony Macias and legendary brawler David "Tank" Abbott to take the tournament victory.

A draw in the UFC VII super-fight against friend and training partner Ken Shamrock (Pictures) as well as another trip to the final of the Ultimate Ultimate tournament, which featured some of the best fighters in the world at the time, capped off his fantastic first year in the UFC.

In the period that followed, the man from Gorky, a village near Moscow, fought all across the world: Japan (Pancrase, MARS), Brazil (World Vale Tudo Championship), the United States (World Fighting Federation) and even Kazakhstan (National Freesparring).

He reached the height of his career outside the UFC in the first PRIDE show in October 1997. Taktarov had a tough night, losing via knockout to Gary Goodridge (Pictures).

After finishing his active martial arts career in 1998, Taktarov, who had in the meantime relocated to Los Angeles, was able to devote himself to his passion for acting. His role as a crazy serial killer in "15 Minutes" next to Robert De Niro was his breakthrough in Hollywood.

Since then he has landed roles in "Rollerball" (2002), "Bad Boys II" (2003), "National Treasure" (2004), "Miami Vice" (2006) and most recently "We Own the Night" (2007).

Obviously Taktarov felt that he still has something to prove inside the squared circle. In returning, he follows in the footsteps of many UFC legends such as Marco Ruas (Pictures), Mark Kerr (Pictures), Maurice Smith (Pictures), Frank Shamrock (Pictures) and Bas Rutten (Pictures).

Taktarov's opponent will be John Marsh (Pictures). The 37-year-old Californian is also a UFC and PRIDE veteran. He last fought in the IFL in February, when Rage in the Cage heavyweight champion Chad Griggs (Pictures) knocked him out.

Unlike Taktarov, Marsh, 7-6, has competed 13 times in the past 10 years. His most notable win came against Hawaiian slugger Wesley "Cabbage" Correira in May 2004.

The heavyweight battle will be the main event of Bodog Fight's second "Russia vs. USA" show, which takes place at the Khodynka Arena in Moscow. A victory for Taktarov would not only mean a successful comeback but also a return after a much longer departure than any of his mid-90s companions.
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