(Matthew Polly isn’t just a Fightlinker writer, he’s also the author of American Shaolin and a regular contributor to a bunch of other awesome sites that actually pay him money. His latest article about his adventures in Russia just went up on Slate (we get a shoutout on page 3!). While he was there he also sat down with Fedor a few hours after his shocking Sambo loss … here is that interview!)
I went to St. Petersburg during its brutal winter weather for one reason: to interview Fedor Emelianenko at the World Sambo Championships. The expectation was that he would clear the field as he had done for the last three years. The stunning surprise was that Mr. Sambo lost in his first round to a Bulgarian. The entire stadium went insane. If someone had flown planes into the building the audience wouldn’t have been more shocked.
As the only foreign journalist in attendance I had a rare opportunity to interview Fedor hours after his first legitimate loss in his professional career. There were several things that impressed me about this encounter. First, his natural modesty and Russian stoicism was completely unchanged by the negative outcome. (My translator, a frizzy-headed blond was half-in-love with him before it was over: “I did not think a Sportsman, a Wrestler, could be so well-spoken and polite.”) Third, he threw Randy under the bus when I asked him about the match-up fans had been so ardently been anticipating. Finally, Fedor possesses an almost Obama-like cool and peace about himself.
I have never met anyone like him, nor can I figure him out, but it was a pleasure to have the chance to encounter him in his home country, regardless of the outcome.
For more details about the trip, go to Slate. For the interview, go below.
Matthew Polly: I came from New York for the Washington Post to cover the Sambo World Championships and show why Sambo is important to mixed martial arts (MMA).
Fedor Emelianenko: I represent Russia in this championship.
MP: Why is it important for you to represent Russia. Every time I read an interview about you, you stress very importantly your Russianness.
FE: Because I’m a patriot of my country. And Sambo is my sport. I have been doing it since my childhood. I like it.
MP: What does it mean to be a patriot?
FE: That means to love your country. To love your motherland.
MP: You’ve won three world championships. You’ve won all your MMA fights, except for one, which was a bullshit decision. It’s been a long time since you’ve lost one. How do you feel?
FE: Not too bad. For a sportsman it is a process. I just missed one throw. Made a small mistake. And my rival he used this against me. It is not like it goes in normal fighting, because here there is a limited period of time and in this limited bit of time you should show yourself. Well, the Bulgarian sportsman he managed to do that.
MP: And you fought him before last year, yes?
FE: Yes, that’s right. I won.
MP: And you were just in Thailand. And I know you are meeting with lots of people. You do lots of interviews like mine. Do you worry that it takes too much time from your training?
FE: No, no. Now I’ll be going back to Thailand and then I’ll be seriously preparing for the forthcoming fight.
MP: And you are fighting Andrei Arlovski, yes? [There was some confusion at the time whether he would fight Arlovski or Josh Barnett.]
MP: And what do you think of that fight? [Fedor went on to win by knock-out in the first round.]
FE: Andre is a serious fighter. He’s very tough. So I have to use all my strength as a fighter.
MP: And you know Randy Couture lost last nightâ€”
FE: [interrupts and answers in English before the translation] Yes.
MP: â€”And you lost today. Was it a bad weekend for the good guys?
FE: Ah, I wouldn’t compare my loss with Randy’s, because Randy really got-I don’t think so.
MP: You’ve said before that you wanted to fight Randy Couture. Would you want to fight Brock Lesnar now that he won? Do you have an opinion?
FE: [Snorts, says something in Russian]
MP: [to translator] What did he say?
Translator: Oh, he was going to sneeze.
MP: Oh, you can sneeze. No problem.
FE: There are a lot of sportsmen I would like to meet. But if there is a conflict, then it is difficult. But of course it would be nice to fight with the best.
MP: What aspect of Sambo most helps your mixed martial arts?
Translator: Martial Arts? Is that a person?
MP: Mixed martial arts, that is what he does.
Translator: Mixed? What is mixed?
MP: Never mind. Next question. Why do you punch the way you do? Where did you learn how to punch? And how did you learn how to generate so much power? Because your punching style is not the traditional Western boxing style.
FE: I’ve got my coach in boxing, Mitchkoff [sp?] Alexander, who has trained a lot of champions and is working with me now. I’m very thankful to him for that. The majority of what I can do with my boxing technique, he taught me.
MP: [bad imitation of Fedor’s striking style] True but when you punch, it’s not straight. It’s very powerful but it’s not the way most people punch.
FE: It’s probably just my own uniqueness, because every sportsman is individualâ€”has his own characteristics, his own features.
MP: How did you get the nickname “The Last Emperor”?
FE: The Japanese. Frankly speaking I don’t know where it came from.
MP: How do you compare Japanese, Russian, and American fans? What’s the difference?
FE: Very big difference. Different cultures, different approaches. The Japanese are more humble, modest, scared, shy, and afraid. Americans are simple. I like American fans because they always ask first if it’s possible to take a photo, for example. Russians fans they don’t ask because I’m from here, it’s my home, so they don’t care. They don’t ask if it’s possible to take a photo; they just take them. But I feel how people love me at home.
MP: Have you ever hunted a bear?
FE: No, no.
MP: But your brother has, yes?
FE: I don’t know about my brother, but I’ve never hunted a bear.
MP: So I saw Vladimir Putin’s judo video. What do you think of his skill level?
FE: When he was young he was on the Russian team. And I admire his talent.
MP: How would he do against you?
FE: I am an active sportsman, practicing sportsman. I don’t know whether he is practicing now.
MP: So would you let him win?
FE: I don’t think it would be like competing, just practicing, just enjoying.
MP: [pats Fedor on shoulder] You’re very careful- very careful.
FE: Heh, heh, heh, heh- heh.
MP: Who was the best fighter you ever fought?
FE: There were a lot of great fighters. Antonio Nogueira, I would like to stress and Mirko Cro Cop.
MP: What moment stunned you more: Kevin Randleman’s suplex or Fujita’s punch?
Translator: What’s the second person?
MP: Fujita. [Fedor starts to answer without the translation.] He knows.
FE: Who made more harm, you are asking?
FE: Probably Fujita. His fight was more dangerous.
MP: And the final question. You play cards before your matches. It seems like you are not nervous. Do you get nervous before fights?
FE: Everyone gets nervous. Everyone gets nervous. Maybe some can stop this nervousness more. But when I go for training I’m absolutely not nervous.
MP: And are you nervous that you’ll get hurt or lose?
FE: It’s like competition. It’s not about what’s going to happen in the finals of the competition. But you’ve got to fight with a rival who is up to you.
MP: I wish you all the luck with Affliction and the United States and I hope I get a chance to write about you again.
FE: Thank you very much.
(for more cool shit from Matthew Polly, go to MattPolly.com)