Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Fedor Emelianeko's team goes off the deep end

Fedor Emelianenko was my first MMA crush. The goofy looking Russian seemed . . . well, unbeatable. He was also the first fighter I'd seen who didn't fight standing up and then fight on the ground -- every strike seemed to be a takedown attempt. It was beautiful to watch. But time marches on. The unbeatable Fedor has lost twice in a row, once to Fabricio Werdum and a few days ago to Antonio Silva. Both fighters are great fighters, it's not any sort of shame to lose to either one, but it's clear that the indestructible Fedor is gone. He's getting a bit long in the tooth for sports, his conditioning was never the best, and the sport has changed since his heyday.

When any athlete reaches this place, what most fans really want is for them to exit with grace. This is particularly true of contact sports, where continuing past your prime is a recipe for brain damage. And even if they continue in the sport, their fans want them to accept that they're no longer in their prime.

Often, this is not the case. In MMA, you have people like Frank Shamrock, an early legend of the sport, "the most dangerous man alive", who in their late forties insist on fighting. These fights are taking place in increasingly sketchy venues against opponents who verge on outright incompetent . . . and Frank can still barely eek by, his body a mass of bruised flesh, old scars and the natural enemy of everyone, everywhere: time. You can see the same sort of thing in the later career of Muhammad Ali. Mike Tyson is a bitter case, not only because of his rape conviction, but how he allowed himself to become a sideshow attraction.

Fedor could continue to have a career in MMA, of course. He could teach. He has a lot of experience and skills that could be used to raise the next generation of Russian and Ukranian MMA fighters. For the opportunity to learn from the great Fedor Emelianenko, people would literally travel from the ends of the earth. It's a dignified, respectable career and a lot of the MMA guys from Fedor's time are transitioning very well to their new role as, primarily, trainers -- the Noguiera brothers being standout in this area. Alternately, since he was once the highest paid MMA professional in the world with a reputation for a humble existence, he could also do whatever he wants. Or return to firefighting . . .

Clearly, that's not what's happening if I'm writing this article like that. What's happening, instead, is Fedor's management is going crazy.

Fighters with crazy management teams is nothing new. Fighting sports are rife with criminal activity, if nothing else. I don't imagine this is less true in the kleptocracy of Russia as it is in countries that aren't basically run by the mob. But you rarely get this kind of crazy.

First, Fedor's management team said that the guy who beat him, Antonio Silva, couldn't POSSIBLY be twenty pounds heavier the day of the fight than he was thirty-six hours earlier at the weigh-in without the use of "chemicals". Which is just nonsense. In fighting sports that do their weigh-ins the day before the fight, it's normal for the fighters to dehydrate and starve themselves in order to cut weight. Then, in the thirty-six hours leading up to the fight, they rehydrate and have a couple of huge meals to put the weight back on. Twenty pounds is a lot of weight to cut, yeah, but Bigfoot Silva is a really big guy. Cutting from 285 to 265 is a reasonable cut. Cutting weight is normal for fighters in any professional fighting sport, and it is certainly something Russian fighters do.

Second, steroids don't work that way. You don't take steroids and instantly bulk up. This isn't a comic book. It takes weeks of effort, even with steroids, to gain appreciable weight. There are illegal diuretics that can help cutting weight, but Silva's cut, for a man his size, is simply reasonable. And it isn't like the state of California didn't test all the fighters after the fight -- due diligence will be observed.

More generally, this is something the Fedor camp has been fussing about for years. The idea that someone, somewhere, was taking steroids. They have been very critical of Alistair Overeem because they assert that no one could achieve his physique without the use of steroids. It is, indeed, a rare guy who can naturally get up to 260 pounds of lean muscle, which is what the Reem carries, but he's also legendary for his training discipline. He eats right, he works out all the time and if you look at his family it's clear the Overeems won the genetic lottery in a big way -- they're all big, strong guys. Plus, Overeem has never been caught taking steroids. Not in dozens and dozens of fights. But Fedor's camp has repeatedly insinuated that it's impossible for people to have the kind of physique that Overeem has without steroids.

When Fedor's camp has whined about steroids, it hasn't come off as some principled stand against performance enhancing drugs. It comes off like they're creating a justification as to why their guy might not win. Which is unfortunate.

(And, humorously, they asserted that Russian athletes don't take steroids. We call that "rewriting history". The Russians pioneered the use of steroids as performance enhancing drugs. Additionally, the steroids that most Americans take come from one of two places: Mexico and Russia. For a country where the athletes don't use steroids, it's incredibly easy to get Russian steroids.)

The second bit is even crazier. One of Fedor's coaches, Vladimir Voronov, said, okay, I'm just going to quote it:

"We believe that forbidden psychological technology was used… It seems to us that not everything was right, and that certain technologies were used. Not ones that could be seen by the naked eye but psychological technologies that worked on both fighters at a distance," he said to Russian website

"That is why during the fight Fedor was just not like himself. It seemed very strange behaviour from Fedor. He stepped into the ring and did everything exactly the opposite of what we practiced before the fight. We were all shocked! Fedor had never previously done such a thing.

"Now nearly a week passes, everything settles, and we understand why all this happened."

Voronov also observed with suspicion the fact that Fedor seemed to look "a little depressed" while Silva "literally glowed from the overflowing of his energy". Voronov suspects the use of a person or persons in the audience capable of "blocking energy" and "transferring energy from one person to another".

Uh, Silva's camp used superpowers to transfer some form of life energy away from Fedor?! Am I the only person who thinks this sounds like Scientology? Next he'll be rambling about body thetans!

It makes me sigh. Fedor was, at one time, the best fighter in the world. He had twenty-eight victories in a row, often against the finest competition in the world. He fought better than anyone. But if this keeps up, he'll be a parody of himself. Even if he decides to fight again, I hope he casts off this dead weight and finds himself new representation. The Minotauro Noguiera has offered Fedor a place in the Black House. Which is, in the first place, a measure of the incredible respect Minotauro has for Fedor -- some of Fedor's wins were at Minotauro's expense, after all -- but the Black House is one of the best training camps in the world, handling the likes of Anderson Silva and Junior dos Santos. And even if Fedor were not to fight out of the Black House he could teach free of the poisonous team he's got around him, now.

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