Join Date: May 2007
"Finding Fedor" amazing article about his life and future
Yea I know it's from sherdog but it's too good to pass up on. Discusses Fedor's life, training, UFC Contract etc
very very good article if you ask me, enjoy
STARY OSKOL, Russia -- To really understand a man and the choices that he makes, you have to know where he comes from.
Beyond his public image, beyond your own projecting, you have to understand his place in the world. You have to understand how he has been influenced by the physical and psychological manifestations of his country's politics. Most importantly, you have to know his outlook on life.
It's easier said than done. Real understanding is often all but impossible.
In March, Dream Stage Entertainment sold the PRIDE Fighting Championships to Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta. The Zuffa co-owners gained rights to PRIDE's fighter contracts, but the most important contract had expired. Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures), the top heavyweight in mixed martial arts, was a free agent.
A bidding war ensued. There was strong speculation that Fedor would sign a multi-fight deal with Bodog. Vadim Finkelchtein, Fedor's manager, said later that a number of organizations had made offers. He said K-1's bid was good, but he called the UFC's offer "the most financially attractive."
The UFC's negotiations for Fedor were one of the most discussed subjects of the year in MMA. In the end, the fighter passed on the sport's biggest promotion and instead chose to sign a two-year deal with the newly established M-1 Global.
Shock and speculation, criticism and debate followed. Some of the disapproval was aimed at the UFC, and some of it was for Fedor.
In the aftermath of Fedor's signing with M-1 Global, I traveled to Stary Oskol, Russia -- the fighter's hometown -- in an effort to really understand the man who many consider to be the best fighter in the world. I went there to understand his decision.
A Fighter is Born
Stary Oskol is a small mining city in the Belgorod region. It sits on one of the largest iron ore deposits on the planet. Getting here requires an overnight train from Moscow to Belgorod, then a three-hour ride through the frozen landscape in a bus that is sometimes heated, sometimes not.
The city has a bleak, industrial and archetypal Soviet presence in a pristine setting. It is most beautiful here right now, in the dead of winter. The uniform concrete buildings -- built to one of three or so designs like every other Soviet apartment building in the whole country -- are like so many graying, moss-stained teeth paradoxically protruding from the white of the snow.
A forest of birch borders Stary Oskol, stretching almost as far as the eye can see, lost in the frost haze of oblivion. The air here is pure and crisp and fills the lungs like rejuvenation. It makes you feel as if you could run forever.
Fedor is still in awe of the nature in Stary Oskol, still struck by its capacity to give him strength. Seeing him running past the snow-covered trees as the sleeping forest glides on endlessly like an ocean, his breath instant condensation in the frost, you can start to appreciate the man through the landscape. His roots here sip from the land's strength. This is the foundation of his power.
However, he was born in Rubezhnoe, Ukraine, in 1976 to Vladimir and Olga Emelianenko. His father was a steel worker, and his mother had been trained as a teacher. According to Communist propaganda, they were an iconoclastic Soviet family.
Soon after Fedor's birth, his father finished compulsory service in the Red Army and moved to Stary Oskol -- a young, bustling city then -- to work in the production of construction materials. Left in Ukraine with his mother and older sister, Marina, Fedor spent the next two and a half years separated from his father. He was a sickly child with a weak immune system and was frequently ill. Eventually, in 1978, doctors recommended a change of climate that allowed the family to join Fedor's father in Russia.
In Stary Oskol the Emelianenko family lived in a tiny room originally intended for drying clothes. The room was in a communal apartment -- a frequent arrangement during Soviet times that typically housed a number of families in single rooms while the kitchen and bathroom were shared.
During the weekdays, while their parents were working on the other side of the city, 2-year-old Fedor and 5-year-old Marina were locked in the family's tiny room. The little girl looked after her baby brother just as her mother would have: feeding Fedor, cleaning him and playing with him until their parents came home in the early evening.
"My soul was torn apart," remembered Fedor's mother, Olga. "I kept putting in requests to be moved to a different school, even as a cleaner but closer to my home, so that I would have an opportunity to come home during my lunch breaks. I was at the end of my tether when I was taken on as a teacher at School #22, and my children were given spaces in the school's kindergarten."
Fedor attributes much of what he has accomplished to his mother. She is hardworking, smart, resourceful. She's the one who taught his father how to ride a motorcycle. When there wasn't enough money to feed her three growing sons, she grew vegetables in a makeshift garden.
"My mother not only loves me as a son," Fedor has proudly said, "but respects me as a person."
Olga Emelianenko also encouraged her son's sambo and judo training. In fact, she was the one who took Fedor to his first practice.
When Fedor was 11, he began training with the Vladimir Nevsky club on a recommendation from judo instructor Vasilyi Ivanovich Gavrilov. There was a problem, though: The family did not have the money for Fedor's training gear.
Seeing something in the boy's physical attributes and the way he held himself, Gavrilov bought the young Fedor a judo uniform and training shoes. He also gave him his first piece of advice, telling him that wrestling was a serious and manly pursuit. In interviews Fedor often expresses much fondness for his first trainer, who was later killed in an accident.
Fedor was 12 when he started training grappling under Vladimir Mihailovich Voronov, who remains his trainer to this day. For 20 years Voronov has been as much a part of Fedor's life off the mat as on it.
"When training a boy you can't just finish the training session and say that whatever happens outside of the club is your problem," Voronov said. "You have to be interested in everything -- the boy's relationship with his parents, his schoolwork, etc. … The club is sport, but everything outside the club walls is life, with its many daily problems. I aimed to help Fedor, not to burden him but to provide for him the conditions to achieve sporting excellence. In reality, the issue is not in sporting excellence, but in enabling the person to give it his all. But that only happens when nothing gets in the way. Sports help to mature. However, Fedor has from childhood been an independent and responsible person."
One last hurdle had to be cleared before the young athlete could devote himself to training and the path that has made him what he is today. He was gifted musically, but there was not enough time to be a musician and an athlete. His mother gave him a choice: the accordion or judo.
He chose judo.
By the time he was a teenager, Fedor aspired to join the Russian national team. He didn't partake in life's pleasures but instead spent all of his time studying and training. Two factors were constant in his life then: a lack of money and the presence of his family and team.
Frequently there wasn't enough money for food. Fedor and his brother Aleksander were constantly growing and training, and their mouths were not the smallest to feed. The food Olga Emelianenko grew in her makeshift garden was often not enough, and come winter a garden was impossible.
Voronov pitched in, dropping off bags of grain or potatoes. The harder life became, the closer Fedor and his family and his team grew. The more they depended on each other's existence, the less money mattered.
The Russian Psyche
It was a tough upbringing, but Fedor remains, first and foremost, a Russian. His relationship with his country can be summed up by the centuries-old tradition of Russians lovingly calling Russia "Matie Rodina," or Mother Russia.
This may seem contradictory, considering the incredibly hard life Fedor and millions of other Russians have had. But to see contradiction is to misunderstand the Russian psyche. The concept of "nastoyashyi muzhik" or being a "real man" is alive and well here. A man is either a real man or life destroys him -- and destruction happens plenty in Russia, where the average male dies at 58.
The idea of "nastoyashyi muzhik" is taking on the chin whatever life has to throw at you. It's about taking pride in being strong enough to survive and thanking your country, which makes you stronger. In Soviet times the effect was a sort of lifelong Stockholm syndrome with perhaps misplaced loyalty, but now challenges are seen as merely hurdles in the sprint for a bigger, brighter and more global future in which the runners themselves are the architects.
Fedor is the definitive "nastoyashyi muzhik."
This ground, these forests, these buildings, his city, his country -- it all means as much to him as his family, his club and his team does. Not in the sense that his family is here in Stary Oskol, though his mother and sister are, but in the sense that he is just as inseparable from his land as he is from his relatives.
This is not the most Western of concepts. No doubt the idea seems somewhat disingenuous to people who have held exploration and the nomadic spirit in the highest esteem for centuries. But Fedor's paradigm is one that many indigenous peoples of the world share: the inextricable link between land and ancestry, ancestry and land, to the extent that often their languages do not distinguish in meaning between the two.
When it came time to serve his country, Fedor was ready. Unlike most male youth of today -- whose suicide statistics are shocking and who fear the hazing and "dedovshina," or rule of the grandfathers, in the Russian army -- Fedor enjoyed his time of service.
"I, of course, had the desire to go into the army," he said. "I look at our teenagers now and … I had the desire to go, to serve in the army. Let me put it like this: It warms my soul that I went through it. I grew up. I developed my character there, toughened. I went in as a boy and came out a man with a hardened resolve."
Fedor volunteered for a fire-fighting unit. When he wasn't putting out fires, he was lifting weights and exercising. He had no opportunity to train sambo or judo. Later he was transferred into a captain's group of a tank division, which allowed him to continue training while he ran a gym.
"In the army I was never disrespectful, never cocky, though I could always stand up for myself," Fedor said. "And I always tried to help those younger than me. I did have to fight a lot but only at the very start."
Following his return from the army, Fedor once again fell into serious training with the Russian national sambo and judo teams, but there was not enough to eat, no money for uniforms or shoes.
He had married his childhood sweetheart, Oksana, near the mats and in front of Voronov and his team at the Vladimir Nevsky Club -- the gym where he had trained since he was 11. The trainer helped the young couple renovate their small temporary flat while they waited impatiently for the arrival of their daughter, Mashenka, and their first studio apartment that the city would give them.
During this time Fedor was accepted onto both the Russian national sambo and judo teams. Though he was representing his country, he had no income.
In the late 1990s the legacy of Boris Yeltsin's reforms was wrecking havoc on the country's economy. Inflation was rocketing into the stratosphere. Crime and corruption were almost completely unchecked, and there was very little or absolutely nothing for employees of the state, which is what national athletes basically were. The problems with compensation for athletes worsened to the extent that it became common practice for various factions of the Russian mafia to use nationally ranked wrestlers and boxers as hired muscle. The fighters were thankful for any opportunity to work and feed their families.
With no future or prospects of doing what he loved doing, Fedor tentatively turned to MMA as a way out. After much trepidation he floated the idea of fighting in the sport with his trainer.
Voronov was not against it, thinking that Fedor would be able to handle himself in MMA. Leaving the Russian judo and sambo teams for the totally unknown, with no certain future, was an immensely hard decision. But with the blessings of his wife and trainer, Fedor stepped into the ring.
Despite his international fame and success, Fedor still resides in Stary Oskol.
"I have never ceased loving my country," he said. "When flying over Russia, you see how big she is and how beautiful. In the ring I always remember first that I am defending the honor of my country, city and club."
To say that Fedor lives an almost monastic lifestyle would not be an overstatement. He drives a Toyota that the city gave him for his achievements, lives in an ordinary apartment and continues to train throughout most of the year in much the same way he has done since returning from military service in the mid-1990s.
There is an interesting difference in how Russians and Westerners view the wealthy. For a Westerner, the self-made man, the entrepreneur, is often the epitome of achievement. The average Russian, however, considers most affluent, self-made people to be criminals who have cheated the system in some way. They are quick to criticize one of their own whom they no longer respect because money has changed them.
Not surprisingly Fedor is known very well in Stary Oskol. Every taxi driver, shopkeeper and hotel receptionist has a story about him. All praise his humility, with some saying he is the most humble person they know and praising the way he has remained one of them despite his success. A particularly amusing story involves Fedor winning a fight in Japan and then returning home. He landed at the town airport, then had to call a friend to pick him up because he had forgotten to arrange a ride home.
You won't find anyone in Stary Oskol who will question Fedor's honor or legacy. Yet, when he did not sign with the UFC, international fans and media challenged his desire to preserve his status as the best fighter in the sport. Criticism of Fedor only increased after the announcement that he would be fighting 1-0 Hong Man Choi (Pictures) on New Year's Eve.
Why didn't Fedor just sign with the UFC?
To understand him is to recognize that given the circumstances, it was never a choice.
Hearing Fedor discuss the UFC negotiations and understanding his background and motivation, it is obvious that he was as likely to accept the UFC's offer as he was to become a completely different man.
In particular Finkelchtein, Fedor's manager, cited the harshness of the UFC's terms and the organization's inflexibility as two issues preventing an agreement. There were some specifics, such as the widely publicized clause that wouldn't let Fedor compete in combat sambo and the UFC's refusal to sign some of his Red Devil teammates.
"I never met Dana White, never spoke to him on the phone, never exchanged e-mails," Fedor said. "However, I did read a lot on the Internet about what he said in regard to me and Vadim . I also read e-mails that he sent to Vadim; all of his correspondence was very upsetting. The contract that we were presented with by the UFC was simply impossible, couldn't be signed -- I couldn't leave. If I won, I had to fight eight times in two years. If I lost one fight, then the UFC had the right to rip up the contract. At the conclusion of the contract, if I am undefeated, then it automatically extends for an as yet unspecified period of time, though for the same compensation.
"Basically I can't leave undefeated. I can't give interviews, appear in films or advertising. I don't have the right to do anything without the UFC's agreement. I could do nothing without the OK from the UFC. I didn't have the right to compete in combat sambo competition. It's my national sport. It's the Russian sport, which in his time our president competed in, and I no longer have the right to do so. There were many such clauses; the contract was 18 pages in length. It was written in such a way that I had absolutely no rights while the UFC could at any moment, if something didn't suit them, tear up the agreement. We worked with lawyers who told us that it was patently impossible to sign such a document."
Fedor is a man who fought all of his life to be independent of the system, to belong to himself and to forge his own future. He is where he is because of the people around him.
In his view the UFC offer, which was not open for reasonable negotiation, proposed that he exchange everything that makes him who he is -- his team, his freedom and his future -- in return for more money than anyone else at the time was making and the possibility of fighting in the strongest heavyweight division in the sport.
To forfeit the opportunity to fight in the UFC heavyweight class was also, to a certain extent, to give up what Fedor had fought for -- the right to beat all of the top-tier competition, to cement his place, beyond any criticism, as the greatest ever.
The negotiations were not helped by the differences in how both sides did business. The Russians did not understand the UFC's negotiating tactics. The lack of courtesy and personal insults upset them. Coming from a country where the decision makers are rarely in the spotlight and the most powerful men are never the loudest, the Russians did not understand the UFC's professional wrestling-esque business and marketing model. They did not understand why the king is also the court jester and why the dirty laundry of negotiations must be aired in the harsh glare of camera flashes.
In giving up potential UFC matches against the likes of Couture, Gonzaga, Nogueira, Filipovic, Arlovski and others, Fedor dreamed of "an organization where the strongest fighters in the world compete against each other."
M-1 Global's initial steps toward that goal might not be satisfying. The top-ranked heavyweight in the world taking on Hong Man Choi (Pictures) is not a fight many fans want to see. But such a bout -- as is sometimes dictated by money, exposure and fans outside of the United States who have different interests -- must take place in order for more meaningful fights to be made in the future.
And those more meaningful matches -- against Barnett and Couture and others -- must also take place, if Fedor's legacy as the greatest of all time is to remain intact.
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