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пятница, 17 июля 2009 г.

The Great Seven MMA Heavyweight Fighters from Slavic Europe

I really wanted to do this post for a while now on the great mixed martial arts fighters that have been produced in Slavic Europe.

First of all what is Slavic Europe you might ask? Slavic Europe includes countries in Central and Eastern Europe where Slavic languages are spoken. These are namely Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Croatia,pb Bosnia, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia and a few other smaller territories.

My first idea with this ranking was to really to look at who were the heavyweight stars over the years. To my surprise MMA rankings is a relatively recent development. You can't really look at old rankings for even 2000-2009. This I think just shows how small MMA used to be just a few years ago and how big it has really become.

Fighters from Slavic countries are known for the fighting skills. Most of the countries were part of the Soviet Union where Sambo was a well-known sport practiced at the international level and contending at the time to be part of the Olympics. Even today various variations of Sambo are practiced in schools and clubs in most of these countries and remains extremely popular despite the growth of brazilian jiu jitsu, which is beginning to penetrate Eastern Europe but I think much more slowly than USA for example where media coverage and lack of related arts played a big part.

There are so many fighters that this region has produced. One could mention some of the mysteries of the sport like Igor Zinoviev who defeated the brazilian jiu jitsu legend Mario Sperry and Volk Han, a legendary Sambo practitioner who fought with Antonio Noguiera in Rings, displaying incredible grappling skill.

There are others who have been veteran mma heavyweights of the sport like Roman Zentsov and Ibragim Magomedov who have displayed there skills for years in the ring on an international level. They remind me of Mark Coleman who has been fighting for so long that has been included in the UFC Hall of Fame. Roman and Ibragim perhaps deserve the same.

Another great fighters is Vladmir Matyushenko who stands out as the great grappler from Belarus with a very strong MMA record, now competing in the light-heavyweight division.

Today there are new fighters coming on to the international stage including Kirill Sidelnikov and Jan Blachowicz from Poland. There are of course many others and I think there will be many new heavyweights in the future.


7. Sergei Kharitonov (Russian)

Sergei Kharitonov will always be one of my favourite and most interesting fighters to have competed in Pride in my opinion. As a well-rounded fighter with good submissions and strong boxing he has proved to be a dangerous opponent, defeating such world-class fighters as Semmy Schilt, Alistair Overeem and Pedro Rizzo.

What makes him stand-out of course is his absolute dedication as a soldier. He fights while under active duty with the Russian Airborne Forces (Parachute Corps). He is absolutely dedicated to sports and training naturally. I heard for one of the matches for Pride he trained by just working outdoors with a shovel.

The guy is extremely tough but also I think very technically proficient. He is International Master of Sports in both Boxing and Combat Sambo as well as Russian National Kickboxing Champion among various other titles. Sergei's loss to Jeff Monson I think showed that there are areas where improvement is still needed and I wish this fighter to return to the top-10 world rankings as he was a few years ago.

6. Aleksander Emelianenko (Russian)

In my opinion (and I read also his brother's opinion), one of the most naturally talented fighters in MMA. He has a very strong background in grappling and at the same time he is an extremely powerful striker. Just take a look at the video below. It just shows what can happen when you step into the ring with a very powerful striker. And the same thing happened when he fought James Thompson. (although admittedly the ref stopped the fight prematurely)

His style I think is not really professional boxing though, at least looks to me. I don't know much about boxing but it just looks like he is a magician and judging the distance rather than being effective at throwing straight punches, the way Andrei Arlovski does for example.

Aleksander has faced some very tough competition and lost only to three very accomplished fighters, namely Fabricio Werdum, Josh Barnett and Mirko Cro Cop. The news that he got Hepatitis B makes it very unfortunate that he will not be fighting in Affliction and as I understand in any other big MMA promotion. This essentially means that Aleks will not be fighting quality opponents from now on.

Aleksander's fanatical love for tatoos and criminal past, and many other traits I think have pushed him and his brother Fedor apart. Aleksander trains in St.Pete, enjoying a very different lifestyle than Fedor and I think it is visible in his latest fights. He has added a lot of weight and does not look to be in the same condition he once was when he faced Mirko for example.

I hope he has a chance to share his experience fighting Barnett though with Fedor. You can see from the video below where Fedor trains with Aleks for the Barnett fight. Aleks is visibly out of shape compared to how he looked only a few years ago, especially the beer belly.

Despite not winning a major MMA title, I believe Aleks deserves fully his place at number 6 and I wish him well!

5. Andrey Arlovski (Belorussian)

Andrei Arlovski is a very interesting character I think in MMA. First and foremost he was the Undisputed UFC Heavyweight Champion having successfully defeated Tim Sylvia, Justin Eilers and Paul Buentello on his way there.

Andrei is known in MMA as an extremely technical striker with very good boxing skills which he honed from Freddie Roach (past Mike Tyson's trainer). An extremely good athlete he moved from his country of birth, Belarus, to Chicago where he presently lives and trains.

Apart from his prowess in striking, he is also a good grappler, having won the Silver medal in both Sambo World Championships and Sambo World Cup.

Good takedown defense skills and superior striking have allowed him to make a name for himself in MMA. Perhaps his only flaw has really been his chin. Andrei it looks like it has always been the guy that could not take a punch to the chin. This has been evident in the past, but was really highlighted by the loss to Fedor Emelianenko and later Brett Rogers.

I think you can also see how his weak chin has also played a part in his style of fighting. His striking is very long range and he is never eager to be aggressive in the fight. (apart from the flying knee against Fedor which was just plain dumb) And I think Andrei knows all about his chin, really ever since Vyacheslav Datsik knocked him out in his first MMA fight back in M1. If you look at his fight with Tim Sylvia or Fabricio Werdum. The striking is careful and so technical, where Andrey hopes to take advantage of his superior technique and not engage in close quarters, brawling and getting hit on the chin.

There is nothing that really can be done. It is a weak aspect of Andrei and there is nothing that can be done here. Today it seems his career is really coming to an end and I think he now urgently needs a win against a top heavyweight to bounce back.

4. Oleg Taktarov (Russian)

Oleg Taktarov "The Russian Bear" was the UFC 5 Heavyweight Champion and one of the most durable and calm fighters in MMA. He has never been submitted and most notably fought Ken Shamrock for the UFC Superfight title in a 33 minute bout which ended in a draw.

His intriguing style has been well-observed where he has utilized rarely seen Sambo techniques in MMA. He is also perhaps the first successful MMA fighter from the ex-Soviet Republics who displayed Sambo as an effective grappling martial art in MMA back in the mid 90s.

It is really a shame that we never got to see the ground battle between him and Renzo Gracie which would no doubt have been an exciting showcase of Sambo vs Gracie Jiu Jitsu.

Today Oleg Taktarov is a movie star and inspires I think all Sambo practitioners around the world to practice this martial art. He recently returned to MMA competition but looked rather out of shape and is certainly not the "Russian Bear" of the 90s, but I would definitely put him in my list of favourite MMA fighters of the 90s.

3. Igor Vovchanchyn (Ukranian)

Igor "Ice Cold" Vovchanchyn was born in 1973 in a small Zolochiv, Ukraine. Igor focused initially on kickboxing and by 1993 he was the IAKSA world kickboxing champion. Despite being only 5ft 8, Igor became known as one of the most brutal and also popular fighters due to his powerful striking and KO power. His unique style allowed him despite the fact that he did not possess substantial grappling skill to succeed in mixed martial arts competitions.

Vovchanchyn successfully transitioned into MMA and competed in Pride where he defeated most notably Kazushi Sakuraba, Gary Goodridge, Gilbert Yvel and Mark Kerr. He was runner up in Pride World Grand Prix 2000, losing in the finals to Mark Coleman.

Later in his career, Igor accumulated injuries which clearly affected him but his record of 33-1-1 until he fought Mark Coleman was truly impressive. If you haven't heard of the guy, just take a look at this highlights video of one of the most devastating strikers ever.

2. Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic (Croatian)

Mirko is an incredible fighter. One of the greatest strikers to have ever fought in MMA as is Igor Vovchanchyn.
Cro cop is legend for his powerful high leg kicks with which he has been successfully knocking out many of his opponents including Aleksander Emelianenko.

Cro Cop in the past IKBF World Heavyweight Full Contact Champion, K-1 World Grand Prix 1999 Finalist, K-1 World Grand Prix 2000 in Fukuoka Finalist and PrideFC 2006 Open weight Grand Prix Champion.

Mirko's rapidly improving jiu jitsu and wrestling has made him a siginificant threat to any fighter in the MMA ring and with many followers. At the height on his form, he fought Fedor Emelianenko in a historic battle that Mirko lost by unanimous decision.

Since joining UFC, Mirko suffered many injuries including going through knee surgery which took a long time to recover. Despite his two losses in the UFC, I believe he still has many fights and victories ahead of him. I believe he would be a great challenge for Brock Lesnar who I think has never faced such an athletic fighter with devastating striking abilities. We already saw his devastating kicks force Choi Hong Man, another giant to submit.

1. Fedor "The Last Emperor" Emelianenko (Russian)

Fedor is the greatest fighter of all time according to Inside MMA and the best pound for pound fighter today by numerous accounts and publications. So far undefeated, Fedor is the WAMMA Heavyweight Champion and the last Pride Heavyweight Champion (undefeated).

Fedor Emelianenko there is no question is the number one on any list. I wish The Last Emperor well in his next fight with Josh Barnett on 1st August 2009 which will no doubt the most anticipated MMA fight this summer.

Here is one of my favourite fights in MMA, Fedor vs Kazuyuki Fujita when they fought back in 2003 in Pride. A great fight and really enjoyable to watch!

I think what makes Fedor is so amazing is not that he is amazingly strong, or big or anything else. It is the fact that he can always find a way to win the fight. Everyone makes mistakes but he makes fewer mistakes than anyone it seems.

Of course the fact that he is so well-rounded gives him a lot of flexibility. He can finish the fight on the ground via ground and pound or via submission, or he can finish the fight from standing.

I think one of the most amazing things was his submission defense against the americana that Mark Hunt had him in. His technique is very proficient and he controls the fight from start to finish.

The other thing with Fedor is I think he has incredible natural talent, he would be good to have in a fight even if he did not know any martial arts!

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