A ‘real man’s’ game

[b]Fashionable power sport [/b]Ask any man in the street who Fiodor Yemelyanenko is and you will hear in reply that he is a great fighter. This strong man with the look of a Russian bear is known as the unbeaten MMA champion of the last ten years or so, an unprecedented feat. Today, when ultimate fighting has become the most popular martial art in the world, his fame has overshadowed that of Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali. Formerly just a Russian sambo wrestler, Fiodor Yemelyanenko is today the hero of young boys, justly known as the strongest and most agile man on the planet.
There is nothing new under the sun: this saying is unequivocally proven by a ‘new’ sport that has been gaining in popularity — so-called ultimate fighting, or MMA (mixed martial arts). In reality, however, it is nothing but the good old sport of pankration

Fashionable power sport
Ask any man in the street who Fiodor Yemelyanenko is and you will hear in reply that he is a great fighter. This strong man with the look of a Russian bear is known as the unbeaten MMA champion of the last ten years or so, an unprecedented feat. Today, when ultimate fighting has become the most popular martial art in the world, his fame has overshadowed that of Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali. Formerly just a Russian sambo wrestler, Fiodor Yemelyanenko is today the hero of young boys, justly known as the strongest and most agile man on the planet.
During his career he has displayed exceptional cold-bloodedness and restraint combined with quick reactions and a well-perfected technique. This combination has secured victories for the sportsman, regardless of external factors such as the number of spectators, the significance of the fight or verbal abuse from his opponent. It is interesting that before a fight there is usually quite a relaxed atmosphere in Yemelyanenko’s dressing room. Fiodor chats with his folks, they exchange jokes or play cards. He explains this by saying that over long years of performing in the ring he has learned how to overcome pre-match nerves and he simply does his job in the ring. He has no weak spots.
However, the attraction of pankration is that no one is unbeatable. It proves the statement: never claim to be the strongest, as there will always be somebody stronger than you. In early February, during the Strikeforce Grand Prix, Yemelyanenko lost his fight against Antonio Silva, called ‘Bigfoot,’ owing to a genetic disease of Silva’s that results in enlarged hands, feet, jaws and skull. A real giant, indeed! During the weigh-in, on the eve of the fight, Silva managed to be within the weight limit for a heavy-weight contestant — 120kg — but on the next day, his weight had increased to 129kg. Yemelyanenko on the other hand weighs only 104kg. Nevertheless, the fight was evenly matched and his defeat has not undermined Yemelyanenko’s pre-eminence — he will always be a legend.

Brave Belarusian
In Belarus, the sport of pankration is still in its infancy. Nevertheless, we can already boast some achievements in this arena. The most famous Belarusian fighter, known far beyond the borders of the country, is Andrey ‘Pit-Bull’ Orlovsky. He is not only a MMA sportsman, but also a Hollywood star. The most well-known film he has appeared in is Universal Soldier 3: Regeneration in which he starred with such celebrities as Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. Junior Sambo World Champion and member of the Belarusian team, Orlovsky decided to test himself in ultimate fighting and hasn’t regretted it, thereby boosting the popularity of pankration in Belarus.
Today, mixed martial arts are gaining sweeping popularity in Belarus: new clubs are opening, tournaments are taking place, and a new generation of fighters is growing up. This tough, masculine and noble sport is promoted by the recently founded Federation of Hand-to-Hand Fighting and Mixed Martial Arts which includes many prominent coaches and wrestlers. The Federation Head, Dmitry Rozym, says, “The year 2011 is consi-dered a remarkable one in MMA, during which promoters’ revenues from mix-fight contests equalled revenues from ‘professional boxing’. Correspondingly, the fighters’ royalties also matched those of professional boxers. Today, among all martial arts, it is the indisputable leader in terms of entertainment and profi-tability. This fact speaks for itself. In actual fact, mix-fight has already celebrated its 80th birthday. It is nothing but Army martial arts, which has existed since Soviet times and in which you have to subdue your opponent by any means. Of course, sambo combat was the basis for this. Nobody can be 100 percent sure whether mix-fight in its world-recognised format will take root in Belarus. But already, two years after the official MMA launch in our country, we observe that the only other sport that fills the stadiums to the same extent is hockey, not only in Minsk, but also in Bobruisk, for example, where a tournament was also organised. The M-1 Selection Belarus Final which is practically the national championship competition and took place on the 25th December 2010 in the Palace of Sports is no exception. In general, this sport is capable of raising men’s self-esteem and making potential hooligans think twice about attacking a common passer-by, who may turn out to be quite capable of a robust response.”

We are the greatest!
One such ‘common passer-by’ who would never give the impression of being an ultimate fighting champion is Minsk resident Roman Mironenko. An ordinary law-abiding citizen in everyday life, in the ring he is a fighter who has won all his matches in quick time, using the suffocation technique.
Ultimate fighting is a very brave sport. Even watching it from the side makes you shiver. One would hardly have dreamt of it in childhood.
You are right. Until sixth or seventh grade I didn’t do any sports at all. Later, I wanted to try wrestling, but my mother was against it. It was the ‘hard’ 1990s when every fighter was associated with gangsters or racketeers. So, I tried yacht racing which made me physically very strong. In high school, I realised my old dream and signed up for wrestling. I told my mom about it later and she could do nothing about it. For seven years, I did freestyle wrestling, won certain sports titles and acquired a good technique. Later, I was offered the opportunity to test myself in mixed fighting and I agreed.

What feelings did you experience when you first entered the ring?
You are nervous until you enter the ring. All these emotions… But later, there is only the fight, nothing else, there is only you and your opponent — somebody has to win.

Judging by your words, you have strong nerves. Do you sleep well before fights?
Of course, I have no problems with that.

You have won three times using the suffocation technique. Do you deliberately use that method?
Everybody does what he can do best. So far, my wrestling skills are better developed than others. Regarding suffocation methods, they were never my strong point, it just happened that way on occasion. I simply took the opportunity.

What is your goal in MMA?
To improve myself, of course.

Strong body and soul
Kerberus Club, headquartered in Molodechno, has for many years trained pankration fighters who are known not only in Belarus but also in the rest of the world. The club’s Director, Oleg Petrovich, recently received the title of Best MMA Coach in Belarus.

Your club has a mystical name — Kerberus. What does it mean?
The sport we promote — pankration — has Greek roots. At that time, it was one of the main sports in the Olympic programme. So, the roots are the same. Greek ‘Kerberus’ is Roman ‘Cerberus’.
Another interesting detail: your tough fight club is located in a business college. A very strange combination, I have to admit…
The combination boils down to the fact that we rent the college gym. But of course, students also train in the club. Not many, but quite a few. For instance, the acting mix-fight Belarusian champion Sergey Faley is a college alumni.

Is pankration the main focus of your club?
Right, that’s why we don’t invite children. The minimum age for starting our training is 14-15 years. In addition, not everybody can pass our special tests since we accept only well-prepared boys. Many of my students are holders of the Red Beret (of the Special Forces uniform). I have been coaching for quite a long time and my guys, coming back from army service, say frankly that not every holder of the Red Beret can pass the our club’s tests.

What characteristics are necessary for you to accept a guy into your club?
He should have character, first of all. If there is no character, you can do practically nothing. It is like a knockdown strike: you either have it or not. Physical fitness can be improved even in the worst case. Our sports require the drive which gives the person satisfaction from combat.

What would you do if you found out that one of your students has used his skills for selfish or criminal purposes?
I can’t even imagine it. First of all, our training gives them enough drive and an outlet for their energy; secondly, in the club, we advocate power, honour and courage. These are our three major values. So, I am totally confident in my students and I know that I will never have cause to feel ashamed because of them.

How do you see the future of MMA in Belarus?
I think it has good prospects. In the past two years we have been developing very actively. The Hand-to-Hand and Mixed Fighting Federation was founded, although there are many problems as well. Compared to Russia and Ukraine, MMA in Belarus is just in its infancy. But we are growing, indeed…

What sports are your children in?
They are too young yet. If they want to go in for wrestling or fighting, I wouldn’t oppose it. In general, I believe swimming is the best starting sport for a child — it strengthens and develops the lungs, builds good functional fitness. Later, fighting could be an option. In principle, the choice of sports is not important. What matters is that the child is interested in the sport. Should my kid choose the profession of artist or doctor, I wouldn’t regret that he isn’t a fighter.
I also think that personality is the main thing. Pankration develops not only the strength but also the soul.

By Sergey Kanashits
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