On being European sport sambo
Emelianenko: I was finishing Polytechnic and had to go to the
European Championships. I was just finishing up the third and final
year, and I had to do my exams externally because I had to leave to
compete. I would go speak to my tutors, study without the group and
also get ready and go to the European Championships.
Then I finished OK, passed everything. I have to be thankful to the
tutors, who met me halfway, helped me out. They could have, you
know. In most cases, you have a person and they hold some position,
and they think that because of their position they can do whatever
they want. They can make life for those depending on them very
hard. But my tutors helped me. They understood that I am a
sportsman, that I was never really going to be a welder or
I learn to learn, for the experience of learning. But not to be a
welder. I know how to weld, but I am not a professional. It’s not
“mine.” “Mine” is sports, and I need to go to Europe to defend the
honor of Russia. And they understood that. It’s not like I turned
up, and they just gave me grades. I studied. I studied hard. Well,
I was ahead of my classmates often.
I am continuing to study. At the Belorussian National University. I
wanted to, very much, here in St Petersburg to go to a university,
but my time … I don’t have enough time, and it’s not working
These days I am also learning the English language. I train in the
morning, then I go to an English lesson and then I go and sleep.
And later in the afternoon go to my second training.
On university studies:
Emelianenko: Economics. The title of my course is “The Economics
and Management of a Concern.” There was an offer for me to join the
sports faculty without entrance exams. When I went to enter into
the university, I was going with documents to become a sports
trainer in the sporting faculty. And then I thought, “Why should I
be a trainer? I can already be a trainer without any further
education. What can tutors, who themselves learn from books, teach
me, an active sportsman?”
And so I decided that I had better join the business faculty. But
there I had to pass exams. I had to pass mathematics, Russian,
literature. I remembered most and managed to successfully sit all.
Many I would go and discuss the subject with the lecturer, and they
would give me an A. For Russian literature the question was to
discuss and outline the biography of a favorite author or poet. And
discuss their works.
They had to be from the classical Russian literature canon. I
really like to read. Especially Russian literature. So I walked in
and asked about whom would you like me to tell you. It doesn’t
matter. For example, I said, “I am currently reading Alexei
Tolstoy.” I listed the works I was reading, a lot of what he has
done. I also discussed them with her. She eventually said, “That’s
fine. Please, you’re free to enter. I’m giving you an A.”
I’m a smart person. I am friends with literature. She saw that it
was pointless to spend a lot of time going from topic to topic
because I knew my stuff.
On his favorite author/movie/music:
Emelianenko: I really like Henryk Sienkiewicz. I don’t know if
you’ve read him. Ahhh, it’s called “Quo Vadis?” (“Where Are You
Going?”). I recommend you read him. Really interesting book. Polish
writer. It’s about the time of Nero. When Nero burned Rome. About
the birth of Christianity in the world, where it all came from etc.
I really don’t like how they film the latest Russian films. There
is simply nothing to watch. Basically I think that the budget which
is given is wasted on famous starts, famous actors. And the film
itself ends up being just nothing.
Music. I like music. Rap is good, so is Shanson. I also like
classical, pop. I like any music basically if it goes with a mood.
But again, here, there’s some kind of mess with music. Out of this
jumbled mess, I could choose single artists, songs, but I wouldn’t
want to. If something goes with a mood, I’m in -- that’s OK.
I like rock a lot. I basically grew up with Russian rock music. The
band Kino I like, also DDT and Alisa.
On whom he would like to meet, alive or
Emelianenko: I’d like to talk to Muhammad Ali. If not for him, I
don’t know where the world of boxing would be today.
I think that everything that boxing has achieved to date, it’s
because of the great fighters like Forman, Frazier and those even
earlier, Robinson. There are many boxers, but very few greats that
They did what they did; they fought and forged the road ahead. In
sport this always happens, even if you take chess. Take that
American. I forget his name. Fisher. He had to sacrifice himself in
making chess a more popular sport. Many people, in order to develop
their craft, their ideas, have to sacrifice themselves. Otherwise
it doesn’t work. So you have to choose.
On the way athletes are looked at in
Emelianenko: When I won the European championships in sporting
sambo, I thought I’d grabbed a piece of good fortune. I was going
home with such joy and was feeling so lucky. I was just a boy who
had been overseas for the first time, had shown up best at a
European Championship and had done something really high, something
really far reaching.
I was so happy when I came home. And the reaction was -- in most
cases here, when someone achieves something in sport, it’s “You
won. Great.” They shake your hand, they congratulate you and on the
next day they forget about it. That’s not right. I allowed myself
to be too happy, and of course it was hurtful. In general here in
Russia, the attitude to sport is not what it should be.
Everyone, absolutely everyone starting from the government down to
an average citizen thinks that it’s the business of the
sportsperson. It doesn’t really matter whether they compete in
sports or don’t compete in sports. Doesn’t matter whether they win
or lose. I think that a sportsperson, to become good, has to
approach their craft like it’s their profession, their career.
Like an engineer for example. If he’s an average worker, say at a
factory, who screws in nuts and bolts, he earns say 10,000 roubles
[$ 420 per month]. If he has an education and is on an engineer
level, he now gets 20,000 [840 per month]. If he’s a master of his
craft, say he gets 30,000 [1260 per month]. If he’s the director of
the whole enterprise, the whole factory, obviously he gets more
money. And so it should be with sportspeople, I think. The attitude
has to be this.
Because I know that many sportspeople to this day who show great
results, world-class results -- I have lots of friends who are
world champions who are leaving their respective sports because
they don’t get paid anything by anyone. They work as bouncers at
average bars and nightclubs, and get 1,000 per month because they
need to somehow feed their family. And that’s at the best of times
do they get 1,000 [per month], in order to feed their families.
Because they get nothing from their sport. Yes, they train. Yes,
they go to competitions and win. And they get given medals and
certificates and get their hand shook, and then they’re forgotten
about. Just like happened to me in 1999, when I returned from the
European Sambo Championships.
I came back not thinking that millions would fall on my head or
anything, but I thought the attitude would somehow be different. To
this day it’s the same. Sportspeople have nothing. Many of the
people who won gold at the last Summer Olympics, when [then]
President Vladimir Putin gave the order that gold medal winners
would get $50,000 each, many are still waiting. They haven’t
received this acknowledgement of their success.
On the participation in sports in Russia
Emelianenko: With MMA I think you must first show some kind of
results in your own sport. You must get somewhere, reach something.
To put down a foundation of skills and knowledge in order to move
forward, in order to achieve results. But now you take a drive
around some sports halls, gyms, they’re all empty. No one wants to
A boxing trainer I know went around some school classes, years
eight through 11. About five classes in each year. And he said if
even one person would have come to have a look at where the
training center is … what is happening there? Nothing he said,
nothing at all. No one came. But in my time, when I was signing up
to train, people were signing one year ahead because there wasn’t
enough space for everyone.
Why? Because there is little of the seriousness with which sports
should be viewed. There are little sports on television. There is
little knowledge, interest in a healthy lifestyle. What they show,
that’s what people go to watch. People sit in front of their
computers, on the Internet. No one wants to train. They advertise
only alcohol and cigarettes.
There was an incident here recently. There was a school playground
where there were kids, always playing something. Almost 24 hours a
day. Then the school administration decided it didn’t like this use
of their space and locked the playground. And the next day the kids
turned up and found the whole place locked. So they went and bought
beer and cigarettes and spent time on a park bench drinking
No one wants to do anything anymore. Dmitry Medvedev [Russian
president] commented the other say that in school only 20 percent
of students participate in sports. I’ve been talking to trainers
who say that at the best estimate, only about two percent train.
Everything is becoming commercial. Gyms, the only people who train
at gyms now are older, of a certain status. They’ve understood that
exercise is important, that looking after one’s health is
But as far as playgrounds and fields, there are less and less of
them. They’re closing more and more all the time. And if they open
one, it’s to say “Look we have a playground.” But who trains there
– no one. Either it’s because it’s paid entry or it’s for some
other reason. Maybe it’s limited to a certain group of people. So
100 people use it, what about everyone else? What do they do? Sit
and watch how the others train.
Children’s sport has become a paid activity. But many do not have
the money to pay for it. In my time if sports was a paid activity,
I would never have become a sportsperson, because my parents would
never have the money to pay for me. But I think that for children,
for teenagers with issues, from difficult families to pay money as
well, it’s terrible. They want to compete in sports, but they just
I think that I myself was a difficult, troubled teenager. And again
if sports had been a paid activity, we wouldn’t be sitting here
with you now, talking. You wouldn’t be asking me to answer
questions as a sportsman. So that’s why I think that we have to
make sport available.
First and foremost, children’s sport. We need to attract children
and youth to sports. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to
be combat sports. Let them be team sports or other sports -- there
are millions of them. I think they need to build schools, sports
clubs everywhere. It needs a government program, to be available to
On what he does to help with the
Emelianenko: I go, I talk to them, I try to involve them in sports.
When I can I go to orphanages, to teenage offender colonies, I
visit the youth there. I try to tell them about a healthy way of
life. About some perspectives on life different to those that they
may have. I tell them about having a good future. You know, when
you talk to someone, say with a child, and you tell them what will
happen with them if they drink and smoke, if they take heroin or
sniff glue, what will happen to them. And what will happen to them
if they play a sport.
And of course the choice is theirs. But just to tell them, it’s not
enough. You must also attract them, to hook them into it. As I’m
saying, there are a lot of wrong paths, but to play a sport, it’s
very hard work, especially if you’re aiming at results. And because
of how hard this is at this point in time, I am limited in my
But eventually to fully realize my goals, I’d like to build a
school for sports. I’d call it the Aleksander Emelianenko School,
and anyone who wanted to use it, or to train there, could. Not only
in Russia but throughout the whole world.
On why he decided to compete in
Emelianenko: In Russia in amateur competition, it doesn’t matter
who you are. It doesn’t matter how good a sportsman you are. It
doesn’t matter what kind of results you attain. I’m a person from
nowhere, someone that no one knows, and when I entered the Russian
stage as a sportsman, they stopped giving me access, stopped giving
me a fair path through competition. They started to block my
advancing in competition.
In amateur sports in Russia, you already have your champions. You
have your winners, and it’s already set out long ago -- it’s all
decided. Who goes where and for what. And they had no need for me
whatsoever; I wasn’t at all advantageous for them. And so I decided
to leave amateur sports. So I thought I’d go into professional
sport. So I re-qualified into combat sports.
From sports sambo into combat sambo, and I think I would have also
entered Pride earlier. But even then I was the youngest fighter to
fight there. I didn’t work before Pride. I’ve never worked. I just
On what happened between 2000 and
Emelianenko: I lived with my parents and trained. And I understood,
I mean, it was important to understand how to continue and what to
do and how to live. I had to work things out and choose a path for
myself into the future. I understood that like an engineer, for
example, or a scientist, I wouldn’t become. Some kind of worker I
wouldn’t make either. And so the road for me was sport.
Professional sport. And so I decided to go professional.
On the transition from martial arts to
Emelianenko: I don’t know, for me it came easily. I am not just a
sportsman; I am a fighter in my heart. To me it’s all, it’s
everything. I love to fight.
On fighting and Mark Hunt(Pictures):
Emelianenko: When I had to, on the 11th of May, fight with Mark
Hunt, I was just overjoyed that I would get to fight him. That I
can fight against such a fantastic fighter, that we’d come out and
have this great fight. That we could beat on each other. That he’s
a guy who would provide a good opponent for me, who’d show a good
I was just so happy to hear that. And it was like a huge weight
falling on me when I was told that Mark Hunt had declined to fight
me. I couldn’t find anywhere to get away, to sort out my thinking.
So I became upset. Because. Tell another person … I don’t know. Can
you become upset about the fact that you don’t have to fight
someone? No. …
And it’s not even a fight. I think that when you walk out into the
ring, the fighters, I think, they don’t even get a beating from
each other. It’s more like a game of chess in the ring. Who can
outplay who, find their weak points. Who will outlast who, who
trained better. Who can better trick who.
It’s not like they took someone off the street and just put him in
the ring with me, you know, and I’m standing there, beating him
like I want. No. I have to watch everything. Have to think about
everything. I have to make instantaneous decisions. I have to judge
the situation all the time. It’s chess in the ring.