I try to follow the elite fighters of the world on social media, Facebook, twitter, and on Instagram. Despite the language barrier, the fighters usually post things in English, or post a picture with a smily face or something, allowing me to keep up. So as I go down my Instagram wall, I notice that Russian based(Dagestani by birth) fighter Dhabar Askerov had been posting pictures of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Now again, I don't understand the words that accompany the picture, but I will say that Putin looks pretty damn cool in the pictures. Often wearing shades and seems to cool to be bothered by the events of the world. Adding to this, Artem Levin is another Russian fighter who has several pictures of himself and the National Muay Thai team with President Putin. In fact, international Russian fighter Artem Vahkitov is in one of the pictures with Putin, all of the men proud to be in the presence of one another. I also follow Ukrainian kickboxing star Artur Kyshenko. As I watched his recent post on Instagram I noticed that he has crossed himself out of the Legend poster, the Russian promotion that used him on their card last year. Adding to this, Kyshenko recently posted a pick of him in his Ukrainian youth, wearing his national colors at the podium of an amateur Muay Thai event. It most be noted that there is a chance this is complete coincidence, as the youth pick is a comparison pick and Kyshenko was injured after the first fight in the tournament, so he could have crossed himself out because of that. Also, I do not think that the fighters are in anyways enemies, but as one could imagine, there is no way that they couldn't be effected by the events between the Ukraine and Russia.
Whether its Max Schmeling and Joe Louis during WWII, Ali-Frazier during the Vietnam, or even the many kickboxing cards that were cancelled during the Thailand and Japanese Tsunami's, the events of the world shape combat sports just as much as any other sport. Adding to it, they usually heighten the spectacle. Schmeling was given a heroes welcome after he beat Louis. James Braddock was talked into defending his title against Louis instead of Smelling, as people feared a lose to Smelling would keep the heavyweight title locked up in Natzi Germany throughout Smelling's career. Louis beat Braddock, then beat Smelling with the entire country behind him. In that example, the events of the world mastered who fought for the title and the type of support for each combatant. Louis was a national hero afterwards and Schmeling returned to Germany to the loudest silence of his life.
Now kickboxing isn't boxing, so I am not saying that the events of the world heighten the events in our sport to that degree. Also, as of right now, Kyshenko is scheduled to face Askerov in Milan for the Russian based Legend Promotion, so I am not suggesting that there is animosity there. I am however saying that with the amount of elite fighters that come from both countries, whether one wants to be political or not, the events in Ukraine will directly or indirectly effect the athletes in those countries.
For those who follow my kickboxing podcast show (Warman Kickfighting Show) I often talk about Alim Nabiev, a Ukrainian fighter who I have been following since his mid teens. Coming off a big win over Armen Petrosyan (who I believe he is rematching on the Legend Milan card) Alim has regularly fought for Legend and has also fought for Tatneft, another Russian based promotion. Sure he is a prize fighter, but if something happens to a loved one, would it be out of the question for him to seek to fight for K-1 or any promotion other than the Russian based ones, culturally seeing Russia as a whole the enemy, rather than the individuals involved. Enriko Gogokhia is another high level Ukrainian fighter, he too has fought for the Legend promotion and has fought for Tatneft several times. He is a phone call away from tragedy, not to mention, all of these men could be called to military service for their country.
Now I hope I am not sending warning with this, nor am I confirming that this is indeed going to happen. Yet as a history major, I have witnessed these very events happen to professional athletes throughout the decades. American football player Roger Staubach won the Heisman, the most prestigious award in college football, but then went to serve in Vietnam before he was able to pursue an professional career. It was big kickboxing news when Hong Man Choi announced that he would have to leave the kickboxing circuit to fulfill his countries military obligation at the height of his popularity(though granted, I was not a Choi fan.) This very call could come quickly for the above mentioned athletes, as a sporting career is considered a luxury in a time of war. A luxury, or a symbol, either way, the athlete is no longer the same.
Yet as usual, I am hoping the sporting world can rise above it. In the example I used with Joe Louis and Max Schmeling, it must be noted that Max didn't agree with Hitler's Germany even a little bit, and was good friends with Joe, who he was grateful to for giving him his shot at the title. In fact, in a crazy twist of fate, as Joe went into tax troubles at the hands of those who once supported him, Max found financial gain at the hands of those who once abandoned him, and was able to send Joe some financial aid. These two men rose above the conflicts of their countries. If there is one thing I love about combat sports, you will see two people who were aiming to hurt one another sportingly, but at the last bell, embrace one another, united by the bond of delivering and receiving hurt for pay. My hope is that despite these conflicts, the above fighters will continue to do what they always do. Remain respectful and honorable towards those of different races, faiths, nationalities, and political views. Never in your life have you come across someone who wanted to get to K-1 or Glory so that they could spread their views over another. No, they wanted to get there so that they could compete on the highest stage. I am hoping that no matter what happens between these two countries, these fighters are part of and the symbol for a peaceful solution.
PS, thanks to all those who gave me congratulations on my fighter Johny Hendricks winning the UFC title. Means a lot kickboxing world.