22/03/2008 - 18.22

RUSSIAN PRIDE

ryndin

Vladimir Putin is one of the most loved and hated men but in Russia he is certainly admired. After two terms in office he will shortly step aside in favour of his protégé and continue to run the country as prime minister. During his “reign” – since in reality Putin is like a Tsar – Russian society has accelerated in a way that seemed impossible just ten years ago. During this period, Moscow has become a mega-metropolis of 15 million people (with all the inherent problems) and it is still growing. From the Tverskaya, the long main boulevard, you realize how beautiful, bright, even gleaming it is. It is the nerve centre, the showcase of a Russia that aspires to play a leading role in the contemporary world thanks to its wealth of raw materials. Moscow is a very rich and expensive cosmopolitan city that rivals any other on Earth.

You can find anything and everything in Moscow thanks to legality, but also illegality and corruption are widespread. This city can frighten you with its excesses and for the desire in people to “get everything now”, specially the visibly rapacious, omnivorous and omnipotent  “nouveau riche”. Maybe their behaviour is a form of compensation for all those years of oppression, sadness and conditioning they were subjected to. Who knows? The bottom line is that Putin is admired because he can speak to the great powers of the world, he can impose his conditions and affirm his rights backed by the impact of his gas and petroleum – as the Europeans and the Ukrainians have learned the hard way – and he is resurrecting an apparently slumbering nationalism. Nowadays, you can actually feel the Russians are proud of being Russian and Putin is loved because he is, first of all, fully Russian, unlike his predecessors Stalin, Khrushchev, Gorbachev and Yeltsin.

It is common knowledge that the sports world is affected by the predominant national sentiment, atmosphere and socio-economic situation. There might be some exceptions, but Russia is not among them. Also kickboxing is perfectly attuned to the national feeling, be it unconscious or not. Furthermore, Russian athletes confirm this trend by delivering excellent results. They are absolutely exceptional generally speaking and particularly in kickboxing – they have been a tower of strength in our WAKO world championships, particularly in the ring disciplines, for ten years – and also the people love this sport passionately and practise it with true spirit and intensity.

During the five days I spent in Moscow for the “Best versus Best” promoted by the Russian Kickboxing Federation (officially recognized by their Olympic Committee and boasting 450.000 members, yes, that’s the correct figure!) I was shown various sports facilities including those of CSKA (the Army’s Sports Club) and I must say I was flabbergasted. They have enormous, modern well-heated, state-of-the-art facilities which are open to everybody. Seriously, that’s paramount to obtaining great results.

The kickboxing Gala was hosted at the Basketball Arena in Leningrad Prospect, which is the recognized temple for this sport in Moscow. The Gala’s aim was to show that Russia’s athletes are among the best in the world, as if we didn’t already know it. Among the many promoters Yuri Nikolai Ryndin, the Russian Federation president stood out. He is also second in command at Norislk Nikel, the world’s largest producer of nickel. Without playing favourites, the sponsors invited 10 athletes, 5 Russians and 5 from various other parts of the world to fight for 5 pro titles: 2 titles were under the auspices of WAKO-Pro, 1 under ISKA, 1 under WPKA and 1 under W5, a fledgling association recently launched by the Russians.

 

The press conference stated that the Gala would prove the Russians could win under any type of federation and, above all, for some who already are WAKO-Pro champions, that they would be able to become the  “Undisputed World Champions” across the entire board of federations.

This concept was a bit absurd for me and the facts confirmed it. Let’s see why.

The evening opened with a great American-style dance routine, but with dancers donning military attire because February 23rd is their national day. After watching their imposing choreography with lasers, fireworks, music and light effects, the first match for the WAKO-Pro World 60 kg Low-kick title began. Russia’s Ruslan Tozlyan faced the Moroccan champion, Issam Laafissi, gold medalist in Thai-kickboxing at the 2005 WAKO World Championships in Agadir. For the record, Ruslan is the brother of Arthur Tozlyan, who in 2006 beat Massimo Rizzoli in his last career match at Palalido.

Ruslan is a carbon copy of that great champion Arthur who, at only 25 years of age, retired to clear the way for his brother in the same weight category. The match was well fought and even up to just before the end of the second round when Tozylan landed a perfect, powerful roundhouse kick to his opponent’s liver, forcing the Moroccan to double over and lose by KO.

In the second match Italy was represented by the extraordinary Fabio Corelli, who at 36, and after 189 matches and 20 years of high-level activity in Sanda, then Full, Low-kick, Thai and K1 rules, still has the will to fight and has no intention whatsoever of hanging up his gloves. Corelli has recently become member of FIKB so I figured this would be a good opportunity for him to be showcased in an international context in Russia. I also wanted to see him fight as I had never done so before.

He was facing Evgeny Grechishkin, only 22 but with a background of 220 matches in amateur boxing clubs and 3 matches as a pro. The fighters were also very different body physically: Corelli is a slim, quick kicker with long muscles and weighing 68 kg and standing 1,80 m tall, while the Russian has a broad back and massive thighs on a 1,70 m frame. The two produced a formidable match that turned out to be the most beautiful and applauded of the evening. In the first round Grichishkin blitzed Fabio with a heavy barrage of two-fisted punches. From Corelli’s corner, Matteo Ventini from Imola, his coach for this Russian adventure, kept urging him to keep moving, not engage at a short distance and attack Evgeny’s legs, but Fabio, who later told me he hadn’t fought under Low-kick rules for 10 years, seemed not to hear him. At one point he went down but got up at once. Afterwards he said he had done so on purpose, to break his rival’s rhythm.

In the second round Corelli managed to attack the Russian’s legs, but the latter continued to advance like a small tank that couldn’t be stopped. I feared the end was near. The Russian was setting a frantic pace and during a furious close-range exchange Evgeny pummelled Fabio’s sides until he dropped to the canvas. (Fabio told me later that it was a head butt, not a punch, that sent him down again). The match seemed to be over. This young, baby-faced Russian who hammered like a veteran blacksmith was just too powerful. Instead, the third round saw the miraculous resurgence of the Italian. A livelier Corelli moved around more, used axe-kicks to the head, kicked to the inside of the thighs and landed some punches while the Russian appeared to slow down. But in reality, he was catching his breath for the fourth round. From Corelli’s corner I could hear Matteo yelling ”you aren’t paying attention to me..” Corelli just seemed to have lost his Kickboxing instincts, as he would later confirm that he felt like using his knees to attack. The fourth round was relatively uneventful and they entered the 5th and last round with the Russian trying to close the match with a KO. But Fabio by this time was smooth and relaxed and knew what do. Backing up from a clinch he unleashed a fantastic roundhouse kick… his shin to neck and the Russian was clearly stunned for a moment.  The judge didn’t count the Russian who managed to conceal his precarious condition until the onslaught had finished. The match was over and the public gave the fighters a standing ovation. Upon the announcement of the decision in favour of the Russian, Fabio asked me if he could hand over the champion’s belt himself. The public at once recognized his act of supreme sportsmanship and showed its appreciation, showering him with more applause.

The Gala cost the organizers 200,000 Euros, but for me it ended here because the remaining bouts amounted to a farce. With all due respect for the WPKA, the Greek they invited, Antonios Karadimas, lasted little more than one minute against the WAKO-Pro world champion, Ibragim Tamazaev, who defeated Roberto Cocco at Palalido in 2007.The ISKA title fight presented physically sculpted Camion Caldwell against Sergey Bogdan, the gold medal winner at the WAKO world championships in Coimbra in 2007. Unfortunately, Caldwell lasted even less time than the Greek. He took just one punch after just 20 seconds of the first round and never got back on his feet. The last bout of the evening was no better. Russia’s Anatoly Nosyrev, a winner over Augusto Sparano on points at Milan’s Palalido arena in 2001, KOed Croatia’s Leonardo Komsic in just 50 seconds.

In other words, if you needed further proof that there isn’t much substance at certain levels of kickboxing outside of the WAKO circuit (with the exception of Holland) then this Gala was a good lesson. The lesson was made very evident to the promoters of the huge event who aim to return to the glory days of high-level kickboxing in Moscow and in Russia, which saw guests like Benny Urquidez, Chuck Norris, Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Don “The Dragon” Wilson in the early 1990s.