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Russians and Mixed Martial Arts

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Aвтор: Илья Виницкий Октябрь/2005г.
Russians and Mixed Martial Arts
Too many times by now I have been asked the same question: Why are there so few Russian fighters in MMA? And every time I had to answer that it's a very long conversation and that it would take me a while to explain so that my opponent would get a clear picture of the situation. And indeed this is a long story and I feel that the time has come when I finally should reveal the whole misterious foggy spirit around this topic, since nobody yet has done it before me. We all know that MMA is realatively new sport. It had gained a huge popularity in Japan, USA and finally in Europe. As we may easily notice it was successfull mostly in well-developed countries. But what about non-developed or poorly-developed ones? Have you ever seen an MMA fighter from Bulgaria? Romania? Uzbekistan? Iraq? Well, maybe, but they are so few that we can not even remember their names. The reason why there is no MMA fighters from non-developed countries is well known and needs no explanation: a poor standard of living. When it is hard to feed yourself you wont even think about participating in any fighting event. Unfortuanately this issue also refers to almost all of the ex-Soviet group.
Popularity is what makes any sport survive. One of the main reasons MMA didn't get the same popularity in Soviet block as in the other countries is definitely a lack of media coverage. Media cannot broadcast something that is unknown to the mass. Or at least they could do it only if there was a potential to raise up the popularity and make money out of it. Something that Russian media never does. As far as it is not practiced, that may only mean that there is no point for them to introduce this kind of sport to the Russian mass since it won't be profitable enough. This fact by itself means a lot - people in Russia are not yet ready for this. This may also take some time. On the other hand martial arts always existed in Russia, even in Soviet socialism period. And the final summary? People there deal with much more important things. To explain that, we should refer to Maslow (a well-known American economist) and his "Needs". As we know people all over the world (not only Russians) at first satisfy their Basic Needs (that would be food, place to stay, basic clothes, safety, etc) and only after succeeding in that they move futher to Social needs (and that would be mostly communication and dealing with other people and entertainment). After these Social Needs follow another 3 categories which we are less of concern to us. Focusing back on our issue one might ask what is MMA? Namely it is a show and as far as it is considered as entertaiment it is definitely in the Social Needs part. We may easily guess that as fast as people cannot satisfy their Basic Needs they can not move to Social ones. This is what happening in Russia and all of the other non-developed or poorly-developed economically countries. As I mentioned before, the living standards in ex-Soviet countries are lower than in European countries. Therefore, people think about increasing their budget rather than participating in any Martial Art event and I am not even referring to MMA, which is well-known but yet not popular at all.
The other very interesting factor that should be mentioned is a wrong or misconcieved translation. Usually a phrase "Mixed Martial Arts" is translated to Russian as "No Rules Fighting". And as we all know Russia (and the other republics of the USSR off course) had suffered a very long period of time under a Socialism system which itself is a very conservative system. Full of strict rules, illogical and totally useless laws which sometimes were harmful to the people. From the very beginning of your life you had not just to follow those silly rules but even had to contribute somehow to the development of the Soviet Socialism Disaster. That's how peope lived and continue to live even now no matter if things had changed a long time ago (15 years I consider enough to change you views). But on the other hand we have no right to criticise those people because when you are born and raised up in these circumstances it is difficult or even impossible to change anything. So when it comes to "No Rules Fighting" the usual reaction would be at first a deep tourturing thinking then a few cautious steps back and finally a runaway in full and complete ignorance (metaphorically off course).
Martial Arts were always linked with outlaws and criminals in the early post USSR period and this tradition is still kept even today. So when people hear a phrase "Mixed Martial Arts" automatically they would associate Martial Arts to criminality. They may ask what it consists in since this phrase is not frequently used. When they hear the explanation: No Rules Fighting, they just run away. That is the mentality, that is what our brilliant system did to us. People think that if I practice any martial art that means that I am most probably a criminal, that is the usual logic people follow.
However I must say that MMA always existed in USSR and Russia. Apart from some traditional village-on-village fighting or some other ancient fighting festivals that are held mostly in villages and which may look like western MMA but in a more raw version, there were a real NO RULES FIGHTING in Soviet period (in the middle 80's to be more particular), which as you might guess were illegal and therefore were organized in deep underground. Not because people were not interested but mostly because of brutality and lack of civilized rules (what was civilized in USSR anyway?). Fighters used to fight without any protection and sometimes even to death. As usual those events were organized by criminals. Eventually, the bloody and brutal tournaments disappeared. Maybe people got smarter, now they do not get disabled in the ring. One may also assume that the government improved, who knows, but even though criminals never lost their interest in MMA (NRF). Nowadays they just switched the bloody and illegal No Rules Fighting of the Soviet period into legal and very profitable Mixed Martial Arts tournaments in the Modern Democratic Russia. They might have lost the best part of entertainment - Hardcore beatings, but evolved it to a much more better thing: profit. They've created a highly profitable monopoly business. I should say that mostly all of the present MMA tournaments that are held today in Russia are usually organized by criminals or at least with their useful cooperation. People know it and that's another reason they try to avoid it. It refers to fighters as well, once you got into this stuff you will never get out. Who needs such a challenges in his life? Not many I guess. Nevertheless, we have to pay a tribute to these criminals for developing this sport in our countries. If not them - MMA would still have been in the underground. But now, thanks to them, it eventually gains more and more popularity.
At this point I have to say that fighting sports and martial arts in general were and are highly developed and ranked all over the ex-USSR countries. There are hundreds examples: in boxing: Klitchko brothers, Kostya Tzyu; in wrestling - Alexander Karelin; in MMA - Fjodor Emelianenko and this list may be continued for a long time. Martial arts separately were always developed in Russia and USSR but unfortunately they never united like they did abroad. We have a great stand-up fighters, great wrestlers, grapplers but we do not have well-rounded MMA fighters. Actually, I do not think that it is a problem. It would be enough to look at the most popular versions of MMA tournaments: the Japanese PRIDE and the American UFC: both are dominated by Slavs from former USSR countries - Russian Fjodor Emelianenko and Belorussian Andrei Arlovski. Some other great Russian fighters (like A. Emelianenko, S. Kharitonov and others) participate in those events but did not get on the top yet. I will emphasize it again - it is not a problem. Their presence makes a lot of other fighters be frightened... Not quantity but quality - that is our motto. We had a huge experience in other Martial Arts and almost none in MMA. As soon as we, Russians, learn how to unite our Martial Arts and share our experience we will present much more fighters who will definitely succeed just like other Russian fighters in all of the other fighting sports! MMA will not be an exception! Long Live Russia! 
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