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What's really happening in the Russian hotbed of MMA?

I recently joined M-1 Global in Russia on play by play commentary, which was a great experience. They have an awesome team, good production, fantastic fans and most importantly excellent fights. We were part of a national celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Republic of Ingushetia, and so the event was a fabulous way to help celebrate and showcase their impressive athletes, culture and history. While I was there, I was able to meet many people and make new friends. I had the opportunity to take part in an interview for a feature with Russia Today, a news and media company which covers these events in the country. In conversation with their Sport Editor, Denis Geyko, I was able to speak about a number of aspects of my experience – which will eventually form part of a larger feature yet to be released. You can read some of the excerpts below.

Traditional dancing in the Caucasus region - these guys were unbelievable!

Traditional dancing in the Caucasus region - these guys were unbelievable!

Opening up the international broadcast to 100 + countries with UFC legend Ian "The Machine" Freeman

Opening up the broadcast to 100 + countries with UFC legend Ian "The Machine" Freeman.

Hosting the weigh ins with M-1 President, Vadim Finkelstein

Hosting the weigh ins with M-1 President, Vadim Finkelstein

Interview excerpt here:

Was it your first time visiting Ingushetia? What was the most impressive thing for you? Something that stands out the most (culture shock - positive or negative)

“Yes it was my first time. I think the most impressive thing was the scenery and the surroundings. It was absolutely stunning and genuinely amazing to see the natural beauty – I love the mountains and Ingushetia did not disappoint in that department. Everywhere we travelled, I saw areas I would enjoy climbing and hiking! It was also really nice to meet the people who came to see the show – and to witness the depth of the MMA fanbase in the region.”

“It was great to be immersed in those two aspects of ‘the setting’ for the event.” Was there something interesting that happened to you during the visit… “One interesting thing was our driving through the countryside…cows wandering on the road, the changes in topography, fancy cars squealing their tires – there was never a dull moment!” Did you get a chance to talk to any of the locals? Try local food? “I thought the culture of the region was fantastic in both aspects.” “From a lunch of fresh vegetables, potatoes, steak, and bread…to a full meal with the President after we finished the event – we ate very well throughout the trip.” “I had quite a few chances to meet people – from the fans, to the athletes, to the coaching staff, event workers, hotel people, and others. It was awesome to connect and share something we have a common passion for. Martial arts has significant potential to bring people together in today’s globalized world. It seems that in this region, as well as Russia more broadly, there could be a great opportunity for more of this. To be a guest here, meet the locals, and be part of the 25th Anniversary of Ingushetia celebration was an honor and a pleasure for me.”

Did you experience the southern (or in our case ‘Caucasian’) hospitality?

“Definitely. See above!”

What did you like (or possibly dislike) the most about the tournament itself? “I wish more people from the West could have seen what I had the opportunity to see. I certainly had some understanding of what to expect before travelling to the region. But to see it, hear it and experience it…to feel it while being live on air and in the middle of the broadcast – this was something else.” “Obviously the high level of the athletes and fighting spirit was one thing that was immediately impressive to me as a commentator.”

“However, there was so much more than just the pure skill in the ring on display. The singing, the dancing, the festivities – these were just some of the things from ‘Caucasian culture’ that made their distinct mark on the martial arts gala. All of this combines for something that can be appreciated and admired by a viewer, even if you don’t speak the language or live anywhere near Ingushetia. It makes one think about how deep the history of martial arts competition is in this part of the world.”

“As an English language commentator, to introduce someone as holding a ‘Master of Sport’ in Sambo was just the icing on the cake for me! I was happy to be part of sharing these rich and strong traditions with an international audience. I think a society’s cultural characteristics will continue to partly define how MMA can be best presented to global audiences in the future. It is my hope Russia will continue to help lead the way – and that others will notice.” You can follow Denis here. Watch out for his forthcoming article on the M-1 Challenge tournament in Russia.

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