From Russia with Glove: Part II

By Evgeni Kogan May 29, 2009
So it’s the following morning and did I mention I was sharing a room with Fedor Emelianenko’s youngest brother Ivan? Well I am. Being a journalist does have its perks!

Today I’ll talk with both of Fedor’s coaches about his bout with Andrei Arlovski, and the one coming up against Josh Barnett. I’ll talk to Fedor himself, while he’s at the airport waiting for a plane to go home to Stary Oskol to continue his training for the August fight.

Finally I will have a very insightful interview with M-1’s originator and Fedor’s co-manager Vadim Finkelstein about the state of MMA in Russia, filming movies in Thailand and plans to set up “Selection” tournaments all over the globe -- including places such as India and China.

Did I just write India and China? I guess MMA is more popular around the world than most Western fans thought.

Forget about Machida and Karate. In no time, you’re going to get Shaolin Kung Fu with chi balls and pressure point attacks! Or even indubitable Yoga stylists in the cage!

Back to reality. The last item on the agenda today is the actual M1 Selection event. A hulking fifteen fight card, bringing together fighters from all over Russia, competing in six teams of five fighters each. It’s at a level that’s surprising to everyone present -- save for a smaller production and venue level than the M1 Challenge events -- the difference in quality of fights is pretty much non-existent.

One of the night’s fights actually ended up being one of the best matches I’ve seen all year, in any country or organization.

But before I get to the evening’s proceedings, I also managed to have a long conversation with the CSAC-suspended Kirill Sidelnikov, who fought Friday and is still only 20-years-old. We muse on having parents who are florists, fighting former French Foreign Legion soldiers, how combat sambo is essentially amateur MMA and the nuisance of doctor stoppage TKOs.

It’s actually kind of strange talking to Kirill, who is years younger than I am. I cannot imagine having his conviction to do what he does at my age, not to even mention when I was as young as he is. He talks almost with awe of the moment he went up on stage at the Affliction press conference and met in person fighters whom he’d watched and admired while growing up. It’s actually Ernesto Hoost, a K-1 fighter, whom he most admires and was happy to meet and talk to.

Given the nature of the tournament and the living arrangements, life in the training facility -- the Olympic Dreams Academy -- is actually pretty quiet and mutually respectful. Out of the six teams who are competing against each other, five are here at the same time. Everyone knows whom the athletes are fighting and they take turns at training in the same facilities.

Unsurprisingly -- stoicism is a common trait in fighters here -- I’ve seen no aggression or extra-event violence. The only victim leading up to the fights has been the fridge, which is as I mentioned yesterday, completely and entirely devoid of food.

Following a quiet bus trip with all six teams, we arrive at the venue which is a new movie-studio complex, and has been the base for the “Selection” events held so far this year. There isn’t stadium capacity seating, though the venue is well suited for television and internet broadcast. Eager fans arrive and begin to fill the soundstage to capacity. The fighters are secluded in changing rooms stocked with fresh fruit, water and juices and are quietly reading, playing cards and warming up.

I’m sitting next to one of the trauma specialists. It’s the first time he’s attended an event of this size -- though his partner is well seasoned -- and he’s very excited about the upcoming action. We discuss various injuries possible during submissions and he assures me that the damage human beings of equal skill can inflict on each other is not particularly concerning, in a medical sense. I shudder to think that he’s probably comparing MMA to car crashes or something similar.

The fights begin and it’s a night of solid MMA. There is, as usual, a predominance of wrestling and grappling, as that’s the background of the majority of the fighters in Russia.

One fight that stood out however, and one that should be seen was between Anton Bestaev of the Moscow team against Ratmir Teuvazhukov of Anapa. It was a grappling clinic put on by both fighters, and underlined it’s status as perhaps one of the best M-1 fights so far this year. Teuvazhukov managed to not tap or go to sleep for about five seconds before the end of the second round, despite being in a very tight rear-naked choke with a body triangle applied.

It was in the end decided by the judges, and was one fight that I think everyone wanted to go on for as long as possible. Respect that, Jordan Breen.

With the 4.5-hour marathon completed, followed by half the night out partying and enjoying the onset of the white nights in the city, everyone’s back in the training center, getting ready to leave in the morning or train again.

As always it’s been great, and I look forward to coming again in a month for the next round.

Until then, from St Petersburg Russia, it’s been real.
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