Finkelstein Discusses UFC, Fedor Emelianenko
How do you see the
development of MMA in Russia, and how has your organization (M-1)
contributed to this over the last ten years and where do you see
the promotion going in the future?
That's a few
questions; I'll try to address them one at a time. I started M-1
Mixfight here, it St. Petersburg 10 years ago. Since that time we
have developed a lot, to the point of having regular television
coverage on a state channel with large ratings and staging events
Please discuss the last
event that you organized.
That was the BodogFight event in
St. Petersburg on April 14. I thought Bodog behaved very badly in
regard to that event. They acted as though the whole organization
of the event and everything surrounding it, the VIPs such as Jean
Claude Van Damme and
Vladimir Putin: was because of them. In reality I and my brother
[Evgeny Finkelstein] organized 90% of it.
The logo for the event was also very unfortunate, Bodog Fight was
very prominent and they almost hid a small M-1 logo in the corner
in all marketing materials, so that it was almost impossible to
see. So I am not particularly pleasantly disposed towards
BodogFight at the moment.
Russian president Vladimir
Putin has recently been described as a big fan of MMA and of
Russian fighters. Could you please discuss his involvement with the
Initially I believe Putin saw our
fighters on the weekly program which has been run on NTV, one of
the national channels. He is a big fan of Fedor Emelianenko
(Pictures), and was present at the
BodogFight event on April 14 as a personal guest of Fedor's.
Please talk about the
support the city of St. Petersburg has given you for putting
together this event.
The city and its officials have
been fantastic to work with on my projects over the last ten years.
The city is helping hugely, financially, from its reserves. They
paid for some of the hotels, the work on the pontoon and other
aspects of the production also. As we did not sell tickets to this
event and the television rights aren't paying a huge amount the
help has been very welcome.
We could have of course staged it in an arena, like last time,
however I wanted to show off the city I love to the rest of the
world. I've even had the Guinness Book of Records call as they want
to enter the event as the first MMA tournament held on a floating
Please discuss the
perception of MMA in Russia, it is not a sport that is that well
known, and what you are doing to change that.
Much the same as it was in the US
when it first started; MMA in Russia was initially vilified as
thugs brawling without rules and was very much looked down upon.
Videos of street fights and such were constantly shown and the
We have worked very hard to legitimize MMA into a sport that is
slowly becoming more and more popular and one that young people
aspire to participate and compete in. We are going to show the
event in the middle of the beautiful city center, with five million
dollar yachts anchored around the ring and three hundred year old
palaces in the background. We've come a long way.
What's the next move for
We are planning on holding an event
later on in the year in Moscow, that Fedor may fight in if we have
no success in signing with one of the organizations with whom we
are currently in negotiations with.
Please discuss how you
feel about Russian fighters going overseas to fight, when the sport
is developing here so fast and is soon going to be able to match
the kind of money they could be getting in the US or in Japan.
I have no problem with this, if
it's good for my fighters, it's good for M-1 and it's good for me.
I would be very happy if tomorrow Aleksander was to go fight in
PRIDE or K-1. I do not see us as competing with those
organizations. UFC, PRIDE and K-1 are not our competitors; rather I
would be very happy to work together with any of them in developing
the sport further in this country.
I am talking about collaborations similar to the one with
BodogFight, except that BodogFight is not an organization that has
integrity and I will not work with them again. They used us to get
a foot in the door in Russia and have now started developing their
own business here on their own. Last week I found out that they
have landed a weekly spot on Channel One here. In fact this makes
me happy when you get down to it, as it's all contributing to the
development of the sport here, and I think that's the most
As Fedor's manager, can
you please fill us in on the current state of his contract
At the moment we are in
negotiations with a number of organizations who have put offers on
the table. I'll be blunt in saying that the UFC offer is the most
financially attractive one. However they are very harsh in their
terms and are not very flexible in actually negotiating them.
Fedor has now been the PRIDE heavyweight champion for four years
and I think we have earned the right to negotiate a contract that
suits both parties. Instead we are faced with a blunt "you are
either in or you're out." This does not really suit us. If the
negotiations continue in a similar manner, we'll prefer to fight
for less money but with an organization which is more flexible.
The problem is that Fedor is the face of Combat Sambo in Russia.
His popularity is at a level where he is acquainted with president
Putin himself, in part because he is so successful and well known
for Combat Sambo here.
Combat Sambo is a Russian sport that's not at a level of difficulty
of MMA, but is hugely popular with our public. Fedor must represent
Russia in Combat Sambo and at world championships, specifically the
ones coming up in September. All we want him to do is compete
something like once a year in Combat Sambo. But the UFC is not
happy with that.
Their proposal has all kinds of clauses, all kinds of fines etc.
that do not suit us. The UFC is not really that eager to
communicate and negotiate. The negotiations are still continuing,
and we will try very hard to get our demands met, if not Fedor will
simply not compete in the UFC, even though that will be unfortunate
as they currently have one of the, if not the, strongest,
heavyweight divisions in the world.
What do you think of the
way the UFC markets itself? I am asking specifically about an
interview Dana White gave recently where he mentioned that the
negotiations [for getting Fedor into the UFC] were continuing, but
that he was dealing with "crazy Russians," and he wasn't sure what
they were going to do next.
I think that first thing is that
the UFC politics are that they probably want an American champion.
I think it's safe to say that in America this is the case.
But in theory, if the organization is honourable, take the Japanese
for example, for them the sport and integrity of the success of the
fighters was most important. Their philosophy was that once at a
high level the fighters were going to be matched with only the top
level of the competition, and we know that eventually if you only
face the best, eventually you will lose.
The UFC is slightly different. They have their own ways of doing
things. For example, I suggested that they have a UFC event in
Russia, which I would organize for them, including financial
assistance. They said that didn't suit their current development
I requested the right to show UFC content during the television
slot we have with the state broadcaster in Russia. They declined
and said that they had their own people who would organize this
here. And today those people came to me to ask me to place the UFC
content into our slot. I was fine with this, it's going ahead. I'm
not a spiteful person. What matters is the exposure of the sport in
Russia, UFC, or other organizations, it doesn't matter. What's
important to me is my fighters getting recognition and the sport
gaining popularity here.
Of course I prefer that they came to me for help in Russia, in
organizing an event for them here in St. Petersburg, or in Moscow,
no on else could do what I can. There is no one in Russia that can
even get close to us with MMA promotion.
As Fedor's manager, how
long would you like to see his career progress for, and also who
would you like to see him fight before he retires?
He's only 30, there is lot's of
time left to fight still. The UFC is of course fighting in the
cage, not in the ring. And we'd prefer that he would not fight the
very strongest opponent straight away. Of course we want to fight
strong fighters, but would like an opportunity to grow, get a
little used to the new format.
I have absolutely no doubt that right now Fedor is the strongest
heavyweight in the world, and could beat anyone they throw at him,
but we would nevertheless like an opportunity to develop a little,
get used to the new surroundings. There are elbows now, etc.
Of course we want to fight with them. Though there are other
opportunities, other organizations. There is the offer from K-1, a
good offer, though a little less in terms of finances, mostly as
they do not have the kind of revenue streams that the UFC currently
has today, due to PPV.
But there are other factors. The UFC is only interested in Fedor;
they are not considering other Red Devil fighters. K-1 is prepared
to take our boys and provide other assistance as well, in
developing the team. But we're not in a huge hurry. If Fedor is not
signed for a while, I will organize a match here for him.
We have the resources and audience and television rights to make a
good go of it here. The first large overseas organization that
properly enters into Russia will do very well. But the UFC is not
interested. They are only interested in North America and a few
I've tried to explain this to Dana White, I suggested working
together as I believe there is a lot of potential in this part of
the world for joint ventures to be hugely successful. Apart from
Russia there are other former republics of the Soviet Union which
will be good sources of revenue in the future also, as there is
growing interest in the sport which will only increase over
Could you please discuss
some of the other fighters who represent Red Devil?
It's hard for me to talk about any
of the developing fighters specifically. Everyone is young and
promising; everyone is rapidly developing and will be very strong
in the future.
Of course if we are talking about Fedor's level, it has to be said
initially that he is an absolutely unique individual. He is a
champion inside. Quite a lot of good fighters, when they win they
begin to relax a little, I call it winners disease. Fedor doesn't
have this at all. He prepares for each fight like it was his first
one. This trait is unique to him, that he, honestly, doesn't
believe that he is the best. He's told me that he looks at his
flaws, his strengths and that's all.
At the same time other teams, from the US, Japan, Holland, they are
not sleeping either. They are developing their skills and levels,
and we need to keep up with this.
We need to work more on tactics. I think we are currently stronger
in the stand up then on the ground. Fighters like Roman [Zentsov]
and Amar [Suolev] depend on their very strong striking ability to
win fights. That's why they lose when fighting American wrestlers
who dumbly take them down and lie on them for the duration match,
winning through these tactics. Usually this doesn't make for a very
beautiful fight either.
Just today I had a discussion with the trainers and we agreed that
we are going to concentrate more on ground fighting going
What are your plans for
the next year?
I'm not going to stop or slow down.
I'm thinking about organizing a big event in Moscow later this
year. It's also probable that I will strike a deal with a large
international organization like the UFC or K-1 or someone of their
stature in order to work together.
We have considerable resources in Russia, America, Korea and Japan.
We can further develop television and internet coverage. We can do
very well financially together.
Basically, as a last word, I am interested in helping to make MMA
the number one combat sport all over the world.
GRRRR!!!More on Sherdog.com Mobile