Touching Base with Sergei Kharitonov, Part I

By Dmytro Synyak May 23, 2020

Editor’s note: The is the first installment of a two-part interview with Pride Fighting Championships veteran and current Bellator MMA heavyweight Sergei “The Paratrooper” Kharitonov.

Sergei Kharitonov owns victories over Fabricio Werdum, Alistair Overeem, Roy Nelson, Andrei Arlovski, and a host of others. Before the coronavirus quarantine shut down much of the globe, he captured the World Total Kombat Federation heavyweight title with a second-round knockout of Fernando Rodrigues Jr. in the WTKF 5 main event on Feb. 23 in Minsk, Belarus.

Kharitonov then planned to dive into preparation for a Bellator MMA rematch with Linton Vassel—the man who interrupted his eight-fight unbeaten streak at Bellator 234 in November. The Kharitonov-Vassel sequel was scheduled for May, but the COVID-19 pandemic blew up those plans and many others across the sport.

Nevertheless, Kharitonov continues to stay in shape in anticipation of a 2020 return through general training, time in the weight room and even work on the crossbar and uneven bars. In Part I of this exclusive interview, the 39-year-old Pride Fighting Championships veteran discusses his first encounter with Vassel, the decision to close his school and the Wild West characteristics of MMA in his homeland.

On his TKO defeat to Vassel on Nov. 15 …

Kharitonov claims he tore a knee ligament in the first round of his encounter with Vassel, and though he considered bowing out to injury, he elected to continue fighting.

“I needed this victory at all costs, and I decided to take a chance,” he said. “I never stopped fights after receiving injuries. The only exception was the duel with Matt Mitrione. He hit me at such a point between the leg and the cup that I saw stars. The pain was just unbearable. In my sporting life, I often received groin kicks, but it was always enough to get a few minutes to recover. I came to my senses, jumped a little and went to clash then, but that blow was too strong. That’s why I did not want to stop the fight with Vassel and decided to go to the end. Linton’s shots in the second round did not hurt me a lot, but I could not oppose them with anything. My leg was bad. The referee asked me, ‘How are you? Is everything OK?’ And having received no answer, he stopped the bout.”

On the potential of a post-Bellator future …

What happens when Kharitonov fulfills his current contract with Bellator, his fighting home since 2016? “I like this company,” he said, “but I am open to any proposals.” Kharitonov admits that one of the perks associated with his current employer is the ability to take fights with other promotions, so long as they are no less than a month and a half out from a Bellator assignment.

“I don’t like to be a guest at any events; I like to take part in them,” he said. “While there’s still some juice left and while I still get that emotional high from fights, I want to fight.”

Win or lose his rematch with Vassel, Kharitonov does not intend to hang up the gloves anytime soon.

“A defeat to Vassel is not a [death] sentence, so I won’t retire,” he said. “In addition, I do not want to miss the opportunity to earn money in sports, although I have not been dependent on the fees received from my performances for a long time. I do business, and I have many different directions in it. For example, I own a network of hardware stores and do real estate.”

Kharitonov loves to communicate with young people, conduct seminars and teach classes, but he was forced to close his MMA school in Moscow several years ago. Why? Sky-high prices for rental property that cost him some $25,000 a month.

On dealing with bat-wielding bandits …

Discussion of fight purses and the behind-the-scenes organizing of events is generally frowned upon in Russian MMA since a majority of the shows are funded through money that often goes untaxed. Wealthy promoters can finance an event by themselves while concealing the business side of the operation. Unlike many Russian fighters, Kharitonov has shown a willingness to bring this reality to light.

“After one event in St. Petersburg in 2011, a group of bandits with baseball bats was waiting for me in the office of the promoter to beat me and pick up the fee that I was smart enough to demand before the fight,” he said. “I quickly understood everything, did not succumb to provocations, passed on the $2,000 in road expenses that the promoter had not paid me yet and left. Yes, it’s possible in Russia. We have a lot of idiots. After that incident, I demanded half of the pay after the promoter and I agree to a deal and the second half directly before the bout. I won’t go into the cage without it.”

In an interview with Russian YouTube channel “Let Me Interrupt You,” Kharitonov revealed that strongman Alexander Muromsky, the former head of the Oryol region sports department, borrowed 3,000 rubles from him—the equivalent of $5,000—and appeared to have no intention of paying him back. Kharitonov’s decision to air dirty laundry in such a prominent setting resonated with the public.

“After I made noise in the press, Muromsky gave me my money back,” he said. “He was applying for some kind of public office, and he didn’t need any scandals. It turned out he borrowed money from others, and I was the only one he paid back. The Russian MMA community disapproved of my actions. My fans would probably support me if I punched him and just forgot about the $5,000, but I couldn’t let him make a fool out of me. As for punching him, if I had done so, I would have immediately been labeled a criminal in the minds of many. They would say that a fighter like me shouldn’t stoop to that level over a few thousand dollars. Therefore, I didn’t stoop to that level.”

On the scandal involving Kamil Hadzhiev …

Another money-related brouhaha erupted between Kharitonov and Kamil Hadzhiev, the head of Fight Nights Global. Hadzhiev in 2019 allegedly offered the Golden Glory rep and Aleksander Emelianenko $135,000 to fight one another. Kharitonov claimed no such offer was made, and in an interview with Sports-Express, he called Hadzhiev a chatterbox and simultaneously accused him of failing to pay fighters on time.

“Is it a secret that Kamil delays paying fighters?” Kharitonov asked. “It’s a commonly known thing in Russia. However, when it comes to fighters at my level, promoters do not take into account how much these stories can ruin their reputation; and they are still trying to deceive us, hoping that we will be silent so as not to get into scandals. I will definitely not be silent.”

Hadzhiev, in what was viewed as an attempt to annoy Kharitonov, claimed that he demanded $500,000 to fight Vitaly Minakov—an exorbitant sum by Russian standards. Kharitonov admits that “such a sum was discussed” and does not see the request as “sky high for a fight between two of the world’s best heavyweights.”

“Two years ago, this figure was relevant, but now it may be different,” Kharitonov said. “It all depends on specific agreements. If this bout could be made, I’m ready to fight.”

Finish Reading » Touching Base with Sergei Kharitonov, Part 2
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