Last May Russian mixed martial artist Alexander Emelianenko was found guilty of sexual assault, kidnapping, and forced use of narcotics by the Simonovsky District Court in Moscow. According to prosecutors, the longtime heavyweight extorted sexual favors from his housekeeper, Polina Stepanova, on March 2, 2014, after stealing her passport and forced her to consume “narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.” Emelianenko, arguably the second-most-famous little brother in MMA, claimed the sex was consensual and pleaded not guilty, but the court saw things differently and sentenced the fighter to four-and-a-half years in a penal colony in the city of Voronezh, about 200 miles from the Ukrainian border.
While a four-and-half-year sentence might seem to some like meager punishment for sexual assault, after thinking things over the Russian criminal justice system apparently decided it was not only enough, but far too much. Earlier this week, after just 17 months, Emelianenko, the little brother of Russian MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko, was granted early parole for good behavior. Instead of three more years in prison, Alexander will be forced to complete just two years and 23 days of “correctional labor” and to give 10% of his “convict’s salary” to the state.
According to Emelianenko’s lawyer, Kakhaben Dolbadze, the fighter is currently still in Voronezh awaiting his official release.
Count it as yet another catastrophe narrowly avoided by the black sheep of the Emelianenko family. While Fedor has strolled through his life as a sort of patron saint of Russian MMA—undefeated for most of his career, universally respected, unsullied by controversy—little brother Alexander has had a harder go of things, lost in a great shadow, never quite scaling the heights his brother did in the ring while continually plagued by controversy outside of it, including numerous reports of improper behavior, suspect acquaintanceships, questionable prison tattoos, and a previous arrest after drunkenly assaulting a 63-year-old man in a Moscow café in 2013. That case was dropped after Emelianenko reached a financial settlement with the victim.
And while the criminal justice system’s decision to grant him early parole is an enormous stroke of luck, Alexander will be walking out of prison straight into something of a geopolitical buzz saw. When Alexander was sent to Voronezh, big brother Fedor was still an untouchable figure in Russian MMA: President Vladimir Putin’s favorite, the head of the Russian MMA Union, a king among men. Just as it should be and had been for years. But that was before Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov put on an MMA event with fighters as young as 8 earlier this month in the capital city of Grozny, incurring the wrath of Putin’s sports ministry and Fedor himself, who said he was “outraged” by the fights. Since then Fedor has been getting torn apart in the Chechen press and on social media by Kadyrov’s cronies. Fedor’s shimmering reputation has been called into questioned and countless threats, both veiled and unveiled, have been made against him. There are even rumors that Kadyrov supporters were behind the assault of Fedor’s eldest daughter in Moscow earlier this month. Which means the world greeting Alexander Emelianenko upon his release will be a much darker, more confusing one. The good old days may never return.
But even in these troubling times the Emelianenko name still carries weight in Russian MMA. Alexander Emelianenko has already expressed hopes of getting back to fighting, and at least one promotion, Moscow-based EFN, which put on Fedor’s most recent fight, seems willing to look past Emelianenko’s criminal record and give the heavyweight a shot at redemption. Not even a sexual assault conviction can keep an Emelianenko from a Russian MMA ring.
Which delights Emelianenko’s lawyer, Kakhaben Dolbadze, who went on Facebook this week to implore MMA’s most notorious little brother to return to the ring and to use his powers for good rather than evil. He even came up with an adorable little metaphor to equate the hardship of getting defeated in the ring with the hardship of getting convicted of rape.
“I hope he learned the right lessons from the difficult situation,” Dolbadze wrote. “He has revised his views on standards of conduct in society. And, with the dignity of a true champion, will rise after a knockout. Today he should be released on parole, and I wish him to throw out his incredible power only in a sports ring, praising the strength of character and the Russian sport!”
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