Editor’s note: The is the second installment of a two-part interview with Pride Fighting Championships veteran and current Bellator MMA heavyweight Sergei “The Paratrooper” Kharitonov.
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Sergei Kharitonov has made friends and enemies during his two decades as a professional mixed martial artist, sometimes blurring the lines between the two. A semifinalist in two high-profile tournaments—the 2004 Pride Fighting Championships heavyweight grand prix and the 2011-12 Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix—he remains in search of an elusive major mixed martial arts championship as he approaches the age of 40.
Still part of Bellator MMA’s plans for 2020 and beyond, Kharitonov was slated to rematch Linton Vassel—the only fighter to defeat him in the last three years—when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the sport. In Part II of this exclusive interview, Kharitonov discusses his longstanding rivalry with Aleksander Emelianenko, his military experience, his childhood affinity for a box-shaped musical instrument and a variety of other topics.
On the lesser-known Emelianenko’s controversies …
Kharitonov has a long history with the aforementioned Emelianenko, a man to whom he lost by first-round technical knockout at Pride Final Conflict Absolute in 2006. It was though that a rematch would interest the public, but Kharitonov pulled back the curtain at a press conference in February and offered some unabashed thoughts on his countryman. He called Emelianenko “a disgrace of Russian sport” while pointing to the controversies that seems to shadow his movement. Emelianenko in 2015 was found guilty of raping a housekeeper and sentenced to 4.5 years in prison.
“That statement was not an attempt to challenge Emelianenko,” Kharitonov said. “They asked me what I think about Aleksander Emelianenko. I answered, that’s all. I don’t know. Maybe Aleksander plays a role of a bad guy. It’s none of my business, but there are things a high-class athletes should not do, because young people look up to us. You can’t spit people’s faces, arrange drunken fights, come to master classes drunk; and you can’t rape somebody. Other athletes should talk about it openly.
“Do you know how I became acquainted with Aleksander? When the Emelianenko brothers invited me to Stary Oskol, he met me at the station,” he continued. “Then we took a taxi, and when we reached the destination, Aleksander did not pay the taxi driver and would not allow me to do it. What could a taxi driver have done to him? Even then, it was necessary to say that such behavior is unacceptable for an athlete, but I said nothing. I won’t [stay quiet] again.”
As for the possibility of a rematch with Emelianenko, Kharitonov indicated that “from a competitive point of view” he only had interest in the idea back in 2006, when he wanted to prove to everyone that the loss in their first encounter was a fluke. Still, he concedes that money talks.
“Three months after that defeat, I came to a combat sambo tournament, where I had to fight with Aleksander,” Kharitonov said, “but for some reason, he did not go up there. Then we fought in various promotions together, and a fight between us was still impossible. Now, I’m not interested in fighting him. Aleksander is already far from me. Plus, his scandals and drinking eliminated any opportunities for direct communication. However, if someone offers me to fight against Aleksander for good money, I will not refuse.”
On his time as a paratrooper …
For as long as he can remember, Kharitonov gravitated to sports. He was inspired primarily by his father, who worked as a boxing trainer. Kharitonov moved from boxing to karate, kickboxing, army hand-to-hand fighting and freestyle wrestling—every discipline that was available to him in his home town. His idols? Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson and, later, the Gracies.
Once he completed his secondary education, Kharitonov entered the Ryazan Higher Airborne Command School and for five years fronted the Airborne Troops hand-to-hand combat national team. He carries the rank of captain and resigned from the military only a few years ago.
“After graduating from Command School, I served in some military units for a long time,” Kharitonov said. “Of course, while serving in the army, I mainly went in for sports, but that was not the only reason. The airborne troops are the elite of the Russian army. At Airborne Command School, we spent a lot of time on fire training, tactics and strategy. We had marching and skydiving. I recorded 117 parachute jumps. In addition, cadets cleaned the parade grounds, made repairs, were engaged in construction and worked as drivers. Our military teachers tried to make universal people out of us, and subsequently, it helped me a lot in my life.”
On his turn as a musician …
Few people know that Kharitonov graduated from a 6-year-old music school, where he learned to play the accordion. Only five applicants were selected. Kharitonov admits he has not had an accordion in his hands in “20 years” and concedes that his “fingers are not like they were” when he was young. However, he believes could play “something not very difficult” on the accordion if asked to do so. Now, he has other priorities.
“I spend a lot of time in Thailand, which is a good training ground for the best fighters of the planet,” Kharitonov said. “I really like to train in America, too, but my main place is still Moscow. It’s a conscious choice I made. It is very important for me to live in Russia. This is my motherland, my people and my home gym Vityaz, where I came from the Golden Glory seven years ago. Famous boxers like Alexander Povetkin, Eduard Troyanovsky and Denis Lebedev are now training in Vityaz. They are my close friends, often helping me prepare for fights. In addition, Vityaz supports me financially and organizes my bouts in Russia.”
On the thought of facing a certain UFC champion …
In preparation for his fights in Bellator, Kharitonov often spars with former Dream, Strikeforce and K-1 World Grand Prix champion Alistair Overeem—a man to whom he lost in 2006 and then defeated in 2007. They worked together prior to Kharitonov’s pairing with Vassell in the Bellator 234 main event on Nov. 15. The Russian sambo practitioner also trains with a host of other notable fighters, including Volkan Oezdemir, Petr Romankevich, Denis Goncharenok and Zabit Samedov. Though the likelihood of a future matchup appears remote at best, Kharitonov allows himself to consider what it might be like to share the cage with current Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight titleholder Stipe Miocic.
“In the world of MMA, there are always interesting guys whose fights I watch closely,” he said, “and when I defeat them later, I feel a great satisfaction. I can’t say that I’m dreaming of a duel with one or another fighter, but I’ll note that we could have a very interesting fight with Stipe. Of course, I understand that everything depends not on my wishes but on negotiations between promoters. Nonetheless, it would be very interesting to fight with Stipe.”
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