Contrasting with the smug, entitled attitude of many residents of Los Angeles is the quiet strength exuded by Russian heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko. Celebrities here are loud, obnoxious and arrogant — but no amount of money or attention can change Fedor; there just isn’t any chronic insecurity within him that can seed such behaviors.
And that’s what makes him the consensus No. 1 heavyweight in mixed martial arts.
In the lobby of a posh Santa Monica hotel, Fedor — who was in town last week to publicize his fight Saturday with Fabricio Werdum — and his team relax on some couches before hopping on a shuttle to an M-1 USA affiliate gym in Chatsworth. The strain of media appearances weighs strongly on Emelianenko, who simply wants to get the workout for the cameras out of the way before resuming the tapered off training and critical mental focus that precedes every fight. Through an interpreter, Fedor and his team provide full access to explain the fighter’s history and his keys to success.
Alexander Michkov, Fedor’s striking coach who has known him for 10 years, explains how Fedor has made advances during the past few years.
“He’s getting more perfect, he’s getting better and he’s getting wiser.”
A desire for excellence may have been inspired in Emelianenko’s youth by Soviet Olympic champion weightlifter Yuri Vlasov, who was also an accomplished author.
“I read his book — I read a lot of books about him, I also saw his performance,” Fedor tells me, “He’s a great and very worthy Russian champion.”
Nationalism runs strong within Fedor’s veins, besides admiration for Vlasov, as he proudly recalls the other Yuri who was renown through the Soviet Union.
“Everybody knew the name Yuri Gagarin,” he recalls, of the first human to travel to space. “Every little boy wanted to become a cosmonaut.”
Although he played musical instruments and had other activities as a youth, the pivotal development that ensured Emelianenko a path to mixed martial arts came through sambo, a Russian form of grappling similar to judo.
“I started training in sambo when I was 11 years old,” explains Fedor, “The only success that I had (in sambo) came after I was done my military service.”
Although his sambo background is a tremendous asset, it is not the only tool required to be a great fighter. An extreme amount of hard work, mental aptitude and genetic gifts can all aid in development.
Explains Michkov, “The main factor for success, is to be industrious, and all the rest depends on psychological and physical abilities.”
It is the mental calmness of Emelianenko that befuddles opponents. Although he has been in trouble several times in his fights — he was rocked by Kazuyuki Fujita, thrown on his head by Kevin Randleman, in side-control of Mark Hunt, outboxed by Andrei Arlovski and the recipient of ground-and-pound courtesy of Brett Rogers, he quickly turned the tide to finish all of the aforementioned opponents.
“Fedor has always been cool. He’s always managed to keep control of himself,” says Michkov.
Of his prefight mental state, Fedor reveals, “I don’t try to put anything in the focus before the fight — I try to stay myself, the way I am.”
Vladimir Voronov, himself a master of sport in sambo who has been Fedor’s coach since Emelianenko was 11, attributes his pupil’s success to one detail, “He had remarkable ears.”
Although there was laughter at this answer, Voronov meant that Fedor always listened to his instructions. Perhaps this small detail accounts for Fedor’s success in MMA more than any other attribute — it’s not in supplements, branded clothing or any other external item that makes Emelianenko a great champion. It’s something inside of him that has driven him forward, even after he has proven himself time and time again against the best opponents available.
What the public wants is to see Fedor square off with the UFC champions. The truth is, there will always be another fighter waiting in the wings who could potentially beat Emelianenko. The hope that someone can match Fedor favorably can never be pushed away no matter how many opponents he trounces.
In the end, the most revealing truth that Fedor tells about himself has nothing to do with his fighting career, record of opponents or what he does in combat. Asked about the legacy he wants to leave behind, he explained his true motivation in life.
“I want people to remember me — if they remember me — to remember me as a kind person, and I want my name to only cause good emotions.”
There it was — a sliver of truth that will go unnoticed by the vast majority of self-important denizens in Los Angeles, loud-talking into cell phones, with no regard for the world at large. The irony here is not to be lost — Fedor Emelianenko is a self-made man who will headline a major card in San Jose (10 p.m. ET on Showtime) — but the attention he is getting neither gives him self-definition, nor does he seek opportunities for self-promotion.
Still many people in L.A. may not know who Fedor is — and he probably prefers it that way.