CHALLENGE First time Mirko CroCop challenged Fedor to fight him was after he KO'd an exiting fighter Igor Vovchanchyn on 10/08/2003. On 14/08/2004 with the same high kick to the head he dropped Alexander Emelianenko. Two months after Alexander was KO'd, Fedor met Crocop backstage at a PRIDE event. "Is your brother ok?"- CroCop asked After the win against Alexander, Mirko got four more, while spending only 9 minutes in the ring, meanwhile talking about fighting Fedor all the time. In the summer 2005 he was the most popular he's ever been. Everyone assumed that sambo fighter Emelianenko out of self preservation will try minimise Mirko's strengths and take him down as fast as possible. Alexander Michkov, Fedor's striking coach: When I first saw Mirko, I immediately understood that this is a very high level fighter. He was very impressive. My opinion is: at that point Fedor was no match for him at striking. CroCop's base is kickboxing, his stand up game was much more varied. Fedor had boxing, because back in Stary Oskol we didn't have kickboxers of necessary level or weight. It was obvious that Fedor's kicking technique needs work. In preparation for the fight we put a lot of work into that aspect. Roman Zentsov, MMA fighter, Fedor's sparring partner: It was a fight of two of the best of that time. Fedor was a reigning champion of PRIDE. Mirko was the greatest striker of that time, KO artist; very dangerous fighter. Fedor's road to that fight took more than a year. Everyone knew he was going to face Mirko, but no one knew when. Vadim Filkenshtein, Fedor's manager: Japanese had their ways - they tried to make a public announcement: "In two months Fedor is fighting Mirko". But Fedor said: "I'm not ready to fight in two months. I have to prepare better for Mirko." By 28'th of august though Fedor would have had enough time to prepare. WHAT FEDOR COULD DO STANDING UP? At that point Fedor had 6 years of boxing practice. He hit hard, opponents fell, but his trainer Michkov recieved regular criticism from colleagues Michkov: I heard this from other coaches all the time: "Why can't you put his hands up higher? Why are they so low?" I put them up once, almost to the classic boxing stance. And Fedor started to get hit in training. He says: "I put them up, I don't see the hits coming at me". So I told to keep them as high as it suits him. So he put them down again. And again I hear:" Man, why so low?" Zentsov: Fedor is a very unorthodox fighter. We sparred in St. Petersburg with professional boxers and they a had problem with him in the ring. He's unorthodox, fast. The technique is unusual and the hits are hard. Michkov: His strikes don't follow classic trajectories, more like an arc. And they tell me:" He swings on strikes too much", I say:" Guys, he hits, they fall. What else do you want?" Vladimir Voronov, Fedor's wrestling coach: Preparation for Mirko is four stages: mountains, pioneer base "Raduga", Holland and a camp for the actual fight in Stary Oskol. Michkov: Training in Holland is to perfect kicking technique and defence. TRAINING IN THE MOUNTAINS Zentsov: What sets Fedor apart from others is that he's a thinking fighter. He always thinks - on the ring and in training. At the same time Fedor is a workaholic of the type I've never seen before or after. His work ethic borderlines asceticism. What do I mean by that: there were no fancy gyms, we were wrestling on mats outside, in the summer we were jogging in waterproof training costumes - we made our workouts harder so the fights would go easier. We've met an athletics team in the mountains, and they were shocked, because our daily jogging distances were higher than theirs. Around 20 km a day, and in addition to that we had striking training, wrestling and conditioning. It was like this: 5km jogging in the morning. Shadowboxing and warm up after. Before the mid-day training we jog 10km in the mountains, an hour of wrestling after. In the evening 5 km and striking training. Our feet were blistered from all that running, clothes didn't have the time to dry off, skin didn't have the time to heal. Voronov: The training went in the context of fatigue. It is especially effective at high elevation. Fedor always jogs a lot. Zentsov : You train twice a day - you jog twice a day. You train three times a day - you jog three times. It's Fedor's rule, he likes jogging. This is what gives him stamina. Before I started training with him I ran maybe once a week. But he taught me that every workout starts from jogging. If workout starts at 4pm you start jogging at 3:30. When training starts everyone are still relaxed and you are already loaded, you heart is beating and you get used to wrestling and spar while feeling this way. It makes a lot of sense. Why do people train and train for the fight and after the second round they are gassed? Because before the fight you haven't even entered the ring yet but your heart is already racing, adrenaline is rushing through veins: you might be calm outside, but your body is on elevated rpm and expends resources. I'm not sure where that was though, Kislovodsk or Prielbrusje. Voronov: It was Cheget, Prielbrusje. Zentsov: That's right. Sometimes mountain mid day training would include 10 km jogging, then an hour workout with shots, kettlebells. We got really creative with those: throwing following the trajectory of punches, backward throws. It's actually nothing new, weightlifters Poddubny, Zass and other strongmen trained in a similar way 100 years ago. TRAINING IN THE PIONEERS BASE (basically a soviet boyscout base) Zentsov: After the mountains we had a long camp in Stary Oskol: we were living and training on the pioneer's base. Me and Fedor shared a room, the beds were on the opposite sides of walking path. Voronov: We've been training at "Raduga" base for a long time and felt at home there. As for conditions... It was like this: three workouts a day. All outside. Michkov:We trained there because we didn't really have any other options. Training conditions were unexistant. We put our mats on grass. Guys come back from jogging and the mat is red hot from the sun. Like a frying pan. Zentsov: Yeah, and you fidget on that mat like an eel, it burns so much. If it rained we put mats in the hall and trained there for two hours. Michkov: As for equipment we had a horisontal bar, parallel bars, sledge hammer, tire, barbell, kettlebels. Horisontal and parallel bars were and are Fedor's favorite. He never pushed for the maximum, but he does 30 reps per set. The schedule was: get up at 6:30 - half an hour before kids wake up. Jogging, warm up 30-45 min: boxing, stand up-wrestling. Shower, breakfast, rest. At 11 another workout, two hours. Shower, dinner, go to sleep. At 5pm another workout. Same food what kids ate, at the dining hall. Zentov: The food is simple there, low fat, kompot. Portions were kid sized, but we could refill as much as we wanted. Sometimes during mid-day sleep, Fedor would drive to the city to buy fruits for the team. He was driving a simple Russian car "Lada" back then. Fedor never cared about status and things like that. We paid a lot of attention to recovery, which is understandable with the amount of training. We went to banya regularly. To the swimming pool as well. Also Fedor was probably the first Russian fighter who had a personal massage therapist. Generaly Russian attitude is: "pick up as much as you can, throw as far as possible". But without recovery this attitude leads to a very sad result. To be able to give everything you've got in training, you need to be protected from injuries. Or you get injured and then waste time for two weeks. TRAINING IN HOLLAND Michkov: Fedor's hands were on the level needed at that point, as for leg kicks and defence from them, there he was lacking. In Holland he imroved. His leg kicks speed increased. Before he used to sometimes overlook leg kicks and get hit. We worked and sparred a lot with boxers, but good kickboxers were always in demand. Finkelshtein: In Holland Fedor did a very good job training under Johan Vos, a very good muay thai trainer. His student Ernesto Hoost holds three wins agains CroCop. Zentsov: We spent around a month in Holland. Vadim(Finkelshtein) arranged everything so we were welcome everywhere we went. We went to Johan Vos's gym, Lucien Carbin's and other trainers. At that time I was training for Werdum and Fedor was working on his striking. Michkov: Everyone were very helpfull and fourthcoming. All sparring partners assumed southpaw stance and imitated CroCop. Fedor's tactic was to spin to the left. Go forward and to the left. And sparring partners task was to throw left kicks to the liver and to the head. Zentsov: Fedor preparation went with the help of Remy Bonjasky, Tyrone Spong, Gilbert Yvel, he sparred a lot with them. The task was to throw a left mavashi to the head. When it comes to striking, my impression was that our school is better with hands. But we had to work on legs there, and we especially learned a lot about defence from lowkicks and knees. I was writing down training programs into the notepad, it was a lot to remember. In Europe we finally understood that we need good equipment. Not because of the looks or something. Before we thought: "what's all this decorum for, we've got Russian character - we can spar bone to bone". But there we saw that good equipment allows to go full force in training. You shouldn't be worried about injuring your leg while training. After the first camp in Holland we learned our lesson. Vadim bought everything we needed. To ignore things like training equipment is to steal from yourself.