both good interviews, praising, criticizing, and making some excuses Big Nog/Rizzo The day before he fought Mirko Cro Cop for the heavyweight belt, Emelianenko’s breakfast was eggs, bacon and sausages. What bothers you guys most, the fact that Pride today has a non-Brazilian king or that he is, well, chubby? Rizzo: What really bothers is that he’s got on his waist that which we want [laughs]. Nogueira: His genetics say he is chubby, so that’s got nothing to do with it. There are other great fighters with the same body type, such as Mark Hunt. What we must do is to push one another and train harder. Further, the fact that he is fat makes it even more complicated when it comes to such an explosive, slippery fellow. It’s like Jeremy Horn, when the guy is fat an the skin is smooth, it gets hard to grab him. Rizzo: More muscular fighters have more edges you can grab. Nogueira: It was three times I fought him hitherto, right? What puzzles me is that he is smiling the whole time. As soon as he sees us he starts smiling. Amaury Bitetti says it’s because he is happy, he has the belt, what would you want him to do? Cry? Is the secret in the water he drinks? Or the vodka perhaps? Nogueira: He does like drinking, I remember after I defeated Mirko he came up to congratulate me with a powerful breath in the lobby of the Japanese hotel. He was all happy, at leisure and drunk, invited me to have a drink with him. I then remembered he owned the belt and tought: “What I’ll have is your neck, now it’s easy to kick your ass [laughs jocosely].” Now, for real, down in Russia those guys train a lot, both him and his brother, who I used to think had an even heavy hand, more dangerous boxing. But after this fight with Cro Cop, Fedor showed he has greatly evolved in standup game. Rizzo: In that hellish cold one’s got nothing else to do: you either train or you train. I, who have never drunk in my life, would have to train like that to, just to warm myself up. Who can defeat him, and how? Rizzo: The secret is truly exchanging strikes, and then just let MMA flow. Because playing on the bottom is difficult, since to attack from the guard you’d have to open it, then he jumps out and stands up. Nogueira: The key to beating him, to me, is explosion. It’s what got in my way when fighting him. I go for the spring, he takes off. I try a thrust, he hits and runs. The person who has best fought him hitherto was Arona, who is as explosive as he is. Took him down and got his back. Arona can take anyone down. Then it’s possible for Arona and Wanderlei, even lighter, to give him a try? Nogueira: Well, it is. Just go there try it… (General Laughter) Can Fedor be deemed the most complete MMA fighter of all time? (They think for some time.) Rizzo: These days everyone is complete. He is quite complete, I don’t know. And he can play true MMA, he trades standing, he takes down, plays on top, submits, he doesn’t only play on the bottom. He is good at everything, so in order to beat him one must do everything too. Nogueira: He’s got a good play. But if you look at it, Igor Vovchanchyn has already had a phase like this, for three years he’d beat Kerr, Sakuraba… Until he fell under Coleman and didn’t make ir. Fedor hasn’t faced a wrestler full on , someone who falls on top… Let’s see. He fought Coleman in the end of his career, as well as Randleman. Technically he may not have such a big advantage, but physically he is the fastest heavy guy in MMA history. He tries a punch, misses it, then immediately shoots again – Cro Cop for example didn’t even see them coming. Nogueira: He’s the fastest I’ve ever seen. Much faster than Mirko. And he’s got a great reaction. Rizzo: That’s what I was going to say: he has a fast eye, good for counter-attacking. And in every fight he shows up with something new under his sleeve. Against Filipovic he used a great clinch-strike combo: he’d go for the uchi-mata, quickly following with a powerful hook. Nogueira: He must practise that a lot, because it’s not easy to improvise that kind of thing. He is really with a good combination of styles, he can go from one art to the other – that’s what makes him different. Rizzo: Exactly, he managed to mix everything, Fedor is no excellent striker, no excellent wrestler, no excellent ground player, but he is good at everything. To me Shogun won the Grand Prix because he did like him, showed the best in MMA: wenr for the striking, grabbed, took down, fell on the bottom, reversed, fell on top… And he was the underdog, which somehow helps, the responsibility is helpful. Fedor was the underdog in that first fight against Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira, who on his hand was undefeated till then, in 2003… Nogueira: That’s right, I fought that one nearly crippled, with a contusion on the sciatic nerve. On the way to the stadium I had to sit in the middle of the street. But it was the main fight and I was there in Japan, what could I do? How important is the psychological factor in the ring? Nogueira: A lot. Today the Russian’s mind is strong and it’s hard to beat him. I think for example that his brother Aleksander’s hand is better than his. But he probably doesn’t have all that stamina… A Russian director who shot the documentary of Emelianenko’s life said he was impressed by Fedor’s discipline and humility, his training routine. Does he let that through, the aspect of a fully disciplined athlete? He claims to run about ten miles daily on the steppes… Nogueira: He is married and probably’s got a slow nightlife. The rhythm down in Russia, in Cuba, is psychotic, they train their whole lives. Rizzo: That is it. And Fedor looks like a small refrigerator on top with those little legs underneath. But he invests a lot in training: the same way Rodrigo goes to Cuba and I go to Holland, Fedor is now in Holland all the time training muay thai with Ernesto Hoost. Then he has that conscience concerning his career, another positive trait… Nogueira: He does have a good manager. He only signs up fights when he is 100% sure Rizzo: You just have to look at who he’s fought this year. He faced a weak Kohsaka and only fought in August because Pride’s summit went there with the contract and the pen and told him: “Sign it or leave!” Nogueira: If he didn’t fight his belt would have fallen again, as it did in 2003 [when Rodrigo submitted Cro Cop and gained Pride’s provisional belt]. So they pushed him. What did you guys think about Fedor x Mirko? Was the result as expected? Nogueira: It was, kind of. I even thought for the fact Cro Cop had knocked Fedor’s brother out, he could win. In the first round he was even dangerous. But Fedor is much more of a fighter. Rizzo: I was betting everything on Fedor. I lived with Mirko in a gym for two months, in the same room. He doesn’t have a warrior’s heart. You just have to see his style, always backwards. Peter Aerts said something I agree on: “The longer the fight takes, the more chances Mirko has of losing it.” He has no heart to turn a fight upside down. Nogueira: Fedor, on his side, will fight you to death. And Cro Cop fights in the counter-attack, waiting for a hole to get in, which is easier in any kind of martial art. The one who attacks more exposes themselves… Rizzo: But when you push the rhythm up it gets easier to trap them. Fedor has that styles, like Shogun’s, of going irresponsibly, and that smothers counter-attacks. But indeed Fedor got out of that fight more injured than Mirko. Nogueira: What if the opposite happens: Fedor gives Mirko one of those nose blows? I think Mirko just calls for the waiter and asks for the check. Rizzo: Yes, Mirko never takes the initiative. I always cheer against him. It’s like Bob Sapp winning K-1, a big guy with no technique. What about Fedor’s ground play? Nogueira: It wasn’t all that good in this fight, he probably trained to fight standing. Rizzo: This last fight he mounted about 30 times incorrectly, looked like a horse. But Mirko did a good guard-work, defended well. He’s got strong legs, hard to get in. He doesn’t want to fight you on the floor. How did the two of you change your preparation after losing to Russian fighters? Nogueira: Every time you lose it’s good because you see something is amiss. The guy that’s on top with no effort just settles. I’m training force and explosion, working with rubber. That’s why I’m on a diet here, when it comes to eating I’m a Gracie. Rizzo, I’ll go for the cabbage and you for the sausage. Rizzo: (Laughs) But I believe in genetics. No matter how hard I train, I’ll never be as explosive as Cacareco or Randleman. One must find their own path. In my fight against Kharitonov I was stupid, I’d trained for ten days and wasn’t well. The first jab I suffered I should have taken him down. After that loss I realized I had to mix my game a bit more. I lack some connection among standup, wrestling and ground techniques. In MMA everyone is getting good at everything, so we’ve got to train the weak spots to stay in front. Nogueira: When everybody is good at everything I want to be home, watching it was on TV. What about the news in the heavyweight milieu? Is there anyone else who can show up out of nowhere before the Grand Prix next year? Nogueira: There’s that Roger Gracie kid, he is good, I guess if you put him up against a wrestler in his debut he can make it. BABALU “I’ve fought strong guys. Like Fedor, never” By Renato Babalu, Gracie Barra Combat Team When I fought Fedor in 2001 no one knew who he was. I suffered a stomach kick in the first round and there went my stamina. He then played technically, striking from the top, and made good use of Rings’ rules. I ended the round exhausted. I went for the jackpot in round two but I was truly done. Look, I’ve fought many people from around the world, so I’ve seen many strong fighters. But like him, never, no kidding… He’s got takedown skills, but sometimes just throws you down, using tremendous strength that he just doesn’t look like he’s got. But being chubby means nothing, and he is proof of it. Fedor is a modern age fighter, a guy who knows how to do everything. I’m not sure the technique to beat him is to take him down: Randleman gave him quite the takedown, the guy didn’t even shake, just went there and submitted the American. Then the right strategy is to go for the striking. Cro Cop did a great fight with him, just went back a bit too much. He just should have trusted in his shoots some more, he even broke the Russian’s nose. Of course he didn’t even notice it, but that seems to be the way. I think Rizzo has a good weapon to fight him, which is the thigh-kick, which Fedor doesn’t usually block. Then one should make a good strategy and pray one good blow gets in. In my fight against him I could have gone better. We knew the Russians were strong, but technically a bit weak. But I had some training mistakes and suffered from jet lag, didn’t have the support I have today. Today, to face him, no one can go with a blind training. Further, one must remember who the Russians are. They descend from Caucasians, a race that always fought against the harshest climatic conditions. I’ve heard the Olympic champion Aleksander Karelin was born weighing 11.5lb… Nearly an ox.