ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, July 18 -- In the first of several interviews focusing on the Red Devil fight team, most notably Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures), Sherdog.com spoke with the group's striking trainer, Alexander Vasilievich Michkov on Wednesday.
The boxing coach comments on all things Fedor; Red Devils competing this weekend in the M-1 card in St. Petersburg, Russia; and quite a bit more, including UFC president Dana White's dealings with "crazy Russians."
Sherdog.com: What is your own professional background?
Vasilievich Michkov: I'm a Rossiyskyi Master of Sport in boxing; it will not mean much in the West, but it is a big achievement in amateur boxing. After my own career I taught children's and youth boxing. I have trained many successful boxers, including European champion Michail Gallo.
Sherdog.com: Has Aleksander Emelianenko (Pictures) been a part of the training camp for Red Devil fighters in preparation for the M1 Event on July 21st?
VM: Yes, Sanya has been on a regular training schedule with us, at Olympic Dreams. Unlike most of the other fighters who are based at Olympic Dreams, he lives with his family, also here in St. Petersburg, and participates in all training sessions with the team.
Sherdog.com: What was the reason behind Gilbert Yvel (Pictures) pulling out of the event?
VM: We were not told specifically what the injury was, who knows what it could have been.
Sherdog.com: When were you informed of this?
VM: On Thursday the 12th of July, a week and a half before the fight.
Sherdog.com: Are you concerned about Aleksander's opponent on Saturday?
VM: Yes I am. I have to say I am concerned. That's just me. I prefer to know as much as I can about a fighter, and all we know about Jesse Gibson is his height, weight and that he has a karate background and is from Holland. I like to have tape on a fighter.
Sherdog.com: Is Aleksander concerned about Jesse Gibson?
VM: No. Aleksander doesn't care in the least who his opponent is.
Sherdog.com: What kind of support will Fedor give to the Red Devil fighters who are competing on Saturday night?
VM: Fedya will stop by each fighter's dressing room to give them the "champions word" of support and encouragement.
Sherdog.com: Who is responsible for coming up with the strategy for each of the fighters' upcoming matches?
VM: The two trainers, myself [Alexander Vasilievich Michkov] and Vladimir Mihailovich Voronin [wrestling/grappling trainer] and the fighter. It's completely logical; we look for our strong points that we can use to exploit their weak points. There is nothing more fancy than that.
Sherdog.com: Given that all fighters are different -- some are mentally very prepared and relaxed going into a fight, others are less so -- what kind of psychological assistance does the training staff provide for Red Devil fighters?
VM: Mihailich [Vladimir Mihailovich Voronin] will speak to some fighters, say a few words in a particular direction then tell me so I can support him, when I speak to them myself. I will do the same. Basically we know what each fighter needs psychologically to perform at their best, and will work together to try to bring that out.
Sherdog.com: There is a big difference in the facilities and equipment that fighters use in the U.S. and Russia. What is the mentality behind the simplicity of the Russian training regimen?
VM: We do not have enough money. (laughs) We are simple and clean because it's what we have to work with; we must think of the most advantageous means to use what is available. That makes us strong, adaptable, train harder. Because we think it may be a disadvantage, it's extra motivation. Even though we would like some fancy equipment I'll never understand treadmills. They are stupid. Fedor and the rest of our fighters prefer the street. At least there are distractions. Nature as they say is always more tasty. A treadmill I think is just brainless.
Sherdog.com: What kind of training is Fedor currently undertaking since he is not specifically preparing for a bout?
VM: Fedya has his own training regimen that is Fedor's [and I won't go into]. It does consist of running at least 15 kilometres per day.
Sherdog.com: When did you begin training Fedor?
VM: I started training Fedya in 2002, I think.
Sherdog.com: How did you start training Fedor?
VM: Mihailich [Vladimir Mihailovich Voronin] suggested to Fedor that for hands he needed another coach and suggested he approach me. We discussed working together and I took him on.
Sherdog.com: What was Fedor's boxing like when you started with him?
VM: Initially when we started he was basically self-taught in boxing. He would practice with punching bags or sparring partners and develop his own technique. At the same time, as we started he also started training striking with the Russian Top Team [Sergei Kharitonov (Pictures)'s team]. I adjusted his technique slightly, but did not need to change it completely.
Sherdog.com: Fedor's boxing technique is not typical of traditional boxing. Is this due to his own adaptation or specific strategies?
VM: If you look carefully, it is standard, formal boxing technique. Sometimes it changes slightly, but I train him in standard boxing technique.
Sherdog.com: Do you also train Fedor on his striking on the ground techniques (his ground-and-pound)?
VM: No striking on the ground is Fedya's own invention. Around 95 percent is him working out over a long period of time exactly what to do, how to be mostly effective. I might offer small tips for how to improve slightly but it is almost entirely his brainchild.
Sherdog.com: What makes Fedor who he is?
VM: He is a thinking fighter. His intelligence, and ability to think differentiates him. He is very smart. He always listens to us [trainers]. About 50 percent of fighters do not listen to trainers, or pretend they do but it comes right out of the other ear. They don't necessarily think they know better than us, but their own status blinds them sometimes. A fighter will continue to grow and achieve ever-higher goals, as long as they listen to their trainer. Fighters who stop listening to their trainers will remain on the same level and eventually start dropping. That is why Fedor will keep improving indefinitely. Another illustration of this is the way Fedya fights. In the ring he hears everything we [trainers] yell at him. Often less intelligent fighters can only think of their immediate fear of their opponent and are oblivious to their corner during each round. Fedya can hear everything we say and follows instructions. Mihailich [Vladimir Mihailovich Voronin] has a voice like a bullhorn, he hears him. I am quieter and he still hears everything I say. We take turns: I yell instructions if the fight is on the feet, Mihailich if it's on the ground. He [Fedor] will come back to the corner in the break between rounds and tell us that he heard everything and thank us for the help.
Sherdog.com: Is there anything else from his intelligence that makes Fedor the fighter he is? It is widely known that as a youngster he didn't display particularly impressive athletic prowess.
VM: That's true. He didn't spare himself then and he doesn't spare himself now. He plows and plows. He just works very, very hard. He consistently pushes himself. He also never trains for the sake of training. He doesn't lift dumbbells stupidly just in order to lift heavier, or build bigger muscles. If he is using dumbbells he will be thinking with each rep of the muscle that is being worked on and the advantage of working on it, like increased speed for punching.
Sherdog.com: What did you think when Kevin Randleman (Pictures) suplexed Fedor onto his head?
VM: I was not so much thinking as having a heart attack. Fedor says that everything was fine, he was aware of absolutely everything as it was happening and was not concerned about his health. Then when I saw that Fedya was OK I reacted by telling him to just punch Kevin and keep punching. If you count them, Fedor throws 32 punches, because I am yelling at him to do it, as I want to end it as quickly as possible.
Sherdog.com: Are the Emelianenko brothers -- Fedor, Aleksander and Ivan -- similar at all?
VM: No, they are all completely different from each other. Completely.
Sherdog.com: Do you think that Aleksander and Ivan can aspire to the same heights that Fedor has reached?
VM: If they train hard enough and believe in themselves, yes. They are both gifted physically. They just need determination and the desire to reach those heights.
Sherdog.com: What do you think of (UFC president) Dana White's comments in a recent interview about the deal being difficult to finalise because the UFC is dealing with "crazy Russians"?
VM: They can say what they like. The Americans and Russians have never seen eye to eye, don't see eye to eye now and will probably never in the future.
Sherdog.com: What did you particularly like about PRIDE?
VM: The thing that stands out most is the stand-ups that were performed by the referees after a short period of time with no action. No one likes a long running ground fight; it's not easily televised, not interesting to watch. Those interested on drawn out ground fights can watch wrestling. The Japanese fans like our fighters -- Fedor, Aleksander and Amar [Suolev] -- as they were exciting to watch.
Sherdog.com: Which is easier to fight in, in your opinion: the ring or the cage?
VM: The cage. You can lean against the fence and use it more to your advantage. There is also more room to move, utilising both defensive and offensive strategies. The cage is definitely my preferred choice.
Sherdog.com: Which rules do you think suit Fedor better? The rules in PRIDE or the North American unified rules?
VM: It does not make any difference to Fedor which rules he fights under.
Sherdog.com: Do you not think that the Unified Rules, and specifically their allowance for the use of elbows, is concerning as Fedor has been cut previously on a number of occasions?
VM: Yes, elbows are concerning in this respect. It is certainly a lot easier to inflict cuts on your opponent with elbows. However Fedor is prepared for all eventualities. Elbows do not overly concern him.
Sherdog.com: If you were looking back on Fedor's career from 10 years in the future, whom would you say he'd have to fight to ensure that he retains his legacy as the best heavyweight of all time?
VM: Whom he fights in the future is Fedor's business.
Sherdog.com: Who makes the decisions whether to take or pass up fights?
VM: Management, trainers and the fighters themselves. A number of factors go into this decision. With Fedor (who has suffered injuries) in the last few years, we have had to refuse an opponent on occasion because they were not a good match-up for the particular injury that Fedor was inflicted with at the time.
Sherdog.com: What do you think of Randy Couture (Pictures)?
VM: He is incredible. I think he is fantastic and fantastically smart to be how he is at his age. And I wish that everybody could be the same when they are 43.
Sherdog.com: What do you think of the Cro Cop vs. Gonzaga match?
VM: I think Cro Cop came out for a stroll. He wasn't ready; he thought it would be a walk over. And Gonzaga came out determined to take the match. Cro Cop was not ready for the elbows. I think that fighting as soon as he is after such a knockout is unadvisable. He should be playing with his kids for sixth months letting his brain recover. That's not my opinion, that's the standard medical opinion on such powerful knockouts.