Red Devil: A Word with Voronov

Jul 21, 2007 How did you begin to train fighters in MMA?
Voronov: Initially I was an instructor in judo and sambo. I had trained Fedor for the last 10 years. Notably Fedor was in the Russian national judo team that was preparing for the Olympics before moving into MMA. When did you start training fighters in MMA?
Voronov: Around 2000. Why did you want to switch over to train mixed martial arts instead, and did many fighters want to switch over with you?
Voronov: It was the time in Russia. It was very hard to dedicate ourselves to amateur sports. They weren't financed properly, there was no money. That was the main reason for switching to MMA. After Fedor changed over, his brother Alexander followed then eventually we went over to the Red Devil club and started to attract other fighters. How does Fedor fit into the Red Devil training structure?
Voronov: To train him is one of our main aims, and to try to lift all the other fighters training with him to his level. Both those who are young and have recently joined us, but also those that have been with us for a long time. How many fighters are training with Red Devil currently?
Voronov: At the moment there are around 20 fighters training with us here at the Olympic Dreams facility. Usually the circle of fighters with us is much wider. Some fighters reach the standard necessary to train further and compete in fights, others do not and fall away. And all of the fighters who train with the club compete?
Voronov: Naturally, every fighter training with the club fights or is training to fight in MMA. Those aiming to fight in MMA at some point train with us in Sambo and Combat Sambo, Karate and various forms of wrestling, and compete on a Russian or international level. You mentioned pulling other fighters up to Fedor's level. What exactly is involved in this training, and who is responsible for developing Fedor's training that applies to the other fighters, Fedor himself, or you and Alexander Vasilievich?
Voronov: Fedor and the trainers work together on developing techniques, and have done so for a long time. We try this variation, that variation until we hit upon techniques that work. Talking specifically about what goes into the training is long and probably boring, filled with technical terms. Of course a great portion of our time goes into training just with Fedor, when he is resting we work with the other fighters.

Often fighters arrive at Red Devil already accomplished sportsmen, as opposed to Fedor who we have trained with since he was little, with their own established techniques. Then we add our own creative nuances to their skills. Can you discuss the differences between Sambo and Jiu-Jitsu and the fact that you train your fighters in Sambo and that when combined with extensive grappling experience it can compete successfully with Jiu-Jitsu?
Voronov: The techniques of Jiu-Jitsu are rich, but then again the techniques are very similar to those of Judo. If we look at history, most of the techniques emerged from Japan, which had more than one hundred schools teaching various forms of arts, of which Judo was one of the strongest.

Here in Russia we have Sambo. It also didn't emerge in one place, or from one origin. In its development it combined the various fighting arts of Georgia, Moldavia and other former Soviet and foreign nationalities. So there are many techniques that Sambo shares with Jiu Jitsu.

It's laughable today that one is better than the other. In my opinion everything depends on the fighter. Basically I think that it's with the fighter that one technique or the other will come out on top, neither is objectively better. While Fedor is winning people may say that Sambo is stronger. If someone else wins with Jiu-Jitsu in the future, people will say that it is stronger. I find that very amusing. But I do have to say that Sambo is a fantastic sport. Do you think that the success Fedor and the other Red Devil fighters have enjoyed is due to you developing techniques which are further developed than those of other clubs, fighters?
Voronov: No, not really. Obviously our techniques are closer to Sambo, as we are very involved with the Russian Sambo Federation, and Fedor is a Russian Deserving Master of Sport in Sambo and of course we are interested in other forms of fighting sports, other masters of skills who we are always keen to learn from like Cro Cop or Herring or Barnett, if they have something better to offer. There seems to be a difference between the way American fighters train and the way Russian fighters do. The Americans often have state of the art facilities, and training equipment.
Voronov: You know in MMA we don't compete against training equipment and expensive facilities we compete against other fighters. And I don't think it makes any difference whatsoever what kind of equipment or facilities they use. The basic equipment, barbells dumbbells and other weights: we sometimes use those also. But we tend to rely on other types of techniques. Every trainer has a specific way they train with their fighters and the success of a fighter depends on their natural talents and the way they feed those talents with hard work. Can you discuss the bouts coming up on Saturday night [at M1 Russia vs. Europe] and also talk about individual fighters' potential in the matches.
Voronov: There is probably little point in discussing everything in such detail, except to say that in this tournament we have a lot of young fighters fighting, those with little experience or no experience at all.

The youngest fighter from our side, Kirill Sidelnikov a very young fighter, is junior Combat Sambo champion of Russia. We would like to try him out. He wants to fight in professional MMA and we would like to see how he performs tomorrow night. After which point we are thinking of resting him for a year. We don't think that he is yet grown up enough to fight all the time. He needs to be psychologically ready and we don't think that happens at this age. He's a very talented fighter, feels comfortable grappling and on the feet.

There are many other fighters who are also competing in their first or second bouts. Ideally they will all win, but for us it's of great importance that they carry the fight through to judge's decision. We want to test them out, to see how they feel, conduct themselves in the ring and the extent to which they are able to follow instructions.

There are also experienced fighters like Arman [Gambaryan], who is an experienced fighter along with Samoylov [Dmitriy], Sidelnikov [Kirill], Gabdullin [Radmir], Zayats Mikhail who is going to fight next in Bodog in August in Canada, for them it's a start, an opportunity to test their strength. For others, the ones who are more experienced it's upkeep, to keep them at a high enough level for top competition. Are there fights that you are expecting more fireworks from? Match-ups that are particularly interesting or good for your fighters?
Voronov: To be honest I find all my fighter's matches interesting, I am watching with a coach's eye, not the eyes of the public. In Saturday's event I am looking for how the young fighters carry themselves, to what extent they will carry out our orders and strategy. Every fight has its own interest for me, or they all have equal interest. For the casual viewer there are beautiful fights and ones that are not so beautiful, for me there is no such thing, each fight is its own work of art. Are there fights on Saturday that you are more concerned about than other fights, opponents that you think are more threatening than others?
Voronov: I guess I am most concerned for the young sportsmen, the ones with little experience, but I am worried about all the sportsmen. A coach's job is always to worry. Probably more about the younger ones. Do you consider psychological preparation as being very important to the fighter's makeup?
Voronov: Yes, most definitely. It concerns the fighting spirit. There are good fighters, with great physical preparation who sometimes lack the desire to work harder, with those we have to work on changing this, push them to work properly till we are satisfied with their approach. Part of the psychological makeup is also the ability to follow strategy and listen to the trainers in the ring. We work very hard to instil this in our fighters. Can you tell me more about Kirill Sidelnikov and his potential in the sport as you see it? There has been some discussion about him following in Fedor's footsteps.
Voronov: As far as we are concerned the people following in Fedor's footsteps are firstly his brother Aleksander, Roman Zentsov (Pictures), Amar Suolev: sportsmen who are a lot older and have much more experience than Kirill. I think its way to early at this point to discuss Kirill in this light, he is just too young. It may be that he doesn't even end up competing in MMA.

There is a big difference between Kirill's first opponent, who was also conducting his first fight and the fighter he is facing on Saturday who is very experienced. We'd love for the fight to be either won by Kirill or go the distance. If he wins then our strategy has very much paid off, if he loses it's good experience anyway, and experience fighting an older competitor.

Kirill is a fighter who will continue to fight in amateur fights for a long time. Fedor started to fight in MMA at 25 years old. This one is 18. He still has to compete in Judo, Sambo and Combat Sambo for a long time. He still has to work his butt off in these for around another three or so years. He is basically still a child, just a very big and powerful one. He has to mature, turn into a man. We will only fight him in MMA every so often, the rest of the time he will be competing in Combat Sambo [and other martial arts]. Can you tell me about the preparation of Aleksander for Saturday's bout.
Voronov: Aleksander is a very mature sportsman. He is a three time world champion in Combat Sambo. Basically we have prepared him in the same way as everyone else.

He went through the same training camp as the rest of the boys in Red Devil, three training session a day. One morning conditioning session, and two technique sessions per day, each one preceded by runs. Various different striking clinics, wrestling and grappling training. I don't really want to be more detailed.

It is of course unfortunate that we were preparing for one sportsman but are now up against another, one of whom we know nothing about. He will of course have tape on Aleks, but we have absolutely nothing on him. So basically the preparation is generalized. A little of everything and tying it all together very tightly. Are you concerned about Jesse Gibson, or do you think Gilbert Yvel (Pictures) would have been stronger?
Voronov: I don't know if I would call Yvel stronger necessarily, just more experienced. But as I have not seen any tape I just can't say for sure. I know that his background is in Kyokushin Karate, that he has won a European Championship in it previously. Which I wouldn't consider that easy to achieve. But on the night, the technique and preparation of a fighter is what will differentiate them. It's not possible to say who is stronger now, the fight will show us who is stronger. Do you want to discuss the strategy for the fight?
Voronov: Aleksander will look to move forward and press Gibson. Throughout his career he has always been aggressive, Saturday night will be no different. Can you talk in more detail about the way Fedor trains?
Voronov: We [the trainers] work together with Fedor together in preparation of training techniques on this or that project. It depends on the opponent. We prepare a strategy for each opponent separately and then start preparation that supports that strategy. What is Fedor currently doing in terms of training as he is not specifically preparing for an opponent?
Voronov: At the moment it's general training. A lot of conditioning, basically upkeep… Running, swimming, some technique and weight work. If you were to look at Fedor's career from ten years in the future, a career he finished successfully and cemented his reputation as the greatest heavyweight in the world (and arguably the greatest MMA fighter ever), who do you think he still has to fight, out of both the fighters who he has already met, and others who he is yet to meet?
Voronov: I think there is always more to show. Much more work to be done. I think it's important to fight [Josh] Barnett as he has stayed in Pride and has not gone back to the UFC. Also he should meet again with Mirko "Cro Cop" [Filipovic]. As well as the other three or so best fighters in the UFC.

It depends on what happens with the organizations. Will Pride continue, won't it? Pride representatives say that it will, basically the whole matter is currently hanging up in the air.

So Fedor continues to train. I think that he has another two or three years of active training. After that I think it will probably be important to take a rest. For seven years we have worked very hard without taking any rest, all the fights were serious, against very strong opponents. We had not had any significant breaks. Nothing is known, everything depends on the way the organisations organize themselves. Would you like to see Fedor's career last as long as Randy Couture (Pictures)'s?
Voronov: It all depends on how his career goes in the near future. It also very heavily depends on what it is that Fedor actually wants. Also on how his body holds up and whether he achieves his personal goals. Or he may want to move away from fighting: whether he goes on to becomes a trainer, into business or politics. It's hard to say in the meantime. At the moment he is still training very hard, and until he starts to slow down with the training it's impossible to tell. Does it make a difference for you and Fedor's management which organization he competes in?
Voronov: When Fedor was fighting in Pride, it was easily the strongest organization based on the quality of its heavyweights. But now "Cro Cop" and Nogueira have moved to the UFC, while Fedor, Barnett and Hunt have stayed. So it's hard for me to say which organization has the better heavyweight class now. While Fedor is still with Pride, I would say that they still have the stronger heavyweight class, as he has beaten both Nogueira and "Cro Cop."

Basically things with organizations are very confused right now. Will Pride continue, won't it? At the end of the day it is of course desirable to fight in the organization which has the strongest heavyweights. We are looking at UFC, but Pride continues to insist that they will continue. They have promised to send us contracts for examination. Is there a time limit for this?
Voronov: At the end of the year they have to have a title fight. After this at the start of 2008, I think we will be able to look at a much clearer picture. At the moment it's basically very hard to say anything decisive. Please discuss the octagon and the North American Unified Rules, taking into consideration the matches which very strong fighters from Pride have conducted in the UFC to date.
Voronov: I don't think fighting in a cage will make a big deal at all to Fedor. It's just small nuances that we will have to work out. Many Pride fighters have moved over to and fought in the UFC and they were absolutely fine. Many fighters made the move in the other direction and were also fine.

As far as the rules are concerned, the rules in the UFC are not as tough as those in Pride. I'm talking specifically about knees on the ground and some kicking attacks. Fedor fought with Mark Coleman (Pictures) under the unified rules and he was absolutely fine. What do you think of elbows on the ground (taking into consideration the ease with which Fedor has been cut in the past on a couple of occasions)?
Voronov: I don't think that elbows on the ground will prove any more difficult to handle or utilize. In terms of defense, I don't think they require completely different strategies; it's still the same control of arms on the ground. If they can't use their arms effectively for punches, they can't use them any more effectively for elbows. It's also hard to attack with elbows from the bottom. Please discuss the last "Cro Cop" and Nogueira matches in the UFC.
Voronov: In regard to "Cro Cop", I think he is stronger [then Gonzaga] in experience and also in terms of his level. I just don't think he was very well prepared for the last fight. I don't think he was very well prepared mentally.

At Red Devil we have the attitude that any fight you take, no matter who the opponent is should be approached like your last. When Fedor goes out to fight he is thinking about the fight as being his very last, therefore he is equally mentally prepared for every single opponent. I don't think that Mirko was very mentally prepared, this was quite obvious. And Nogueira and Herring?
Voronov: Herring is a very experienced fighter. I think Nogueira won because he was a more active. There was a chance that it easily could have gone the other way. I don't think that it was an overly exciting fight to watch. Please discuss the American fans and their obvious preference for fights which are more often than not on the feet and are generally seen as more exciting. What do you think of the very frequent fighter statements that they are going to show the fans a very exciting fight?
Voronov: I think that every fighter says that. But when they actually step into the ring they are not thinking in the least about how to entertain. They are thinking about how to win the fight. They are not thinking about making a beautiful fight.

Fedor's fights are often seen by the fans as exciting because our strategy is to finish opponents as quickly and decisively as possible. For example with Mark Coleman (Pictures) ideally we're looking for a takedown and then ground and pound, with Mirko it's again some kind of takedown or throw and ground and pound, with Nogueira it's ground and pound looking to finish with a submission.

For me a beautiful fight is one that is finished with a minimum amount of output. I think this is professional. As soon as you have an opportunity you try to finish with a knockout, a submission with an arm or a leg or some type of choke.
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