For the past eight years, one man has stood atop the heavyweight division of MMA, Fedor Emelianenko, the Last Emperor. He single-handidly insured that the countries of the former Soviet Union were respected as a major source of MMA talent.
For much of the time that Fedor ruled Pride Fighting Championship's heavyweight division, his rival Andrei Arlovski (a Belorussian) held the UFC heavyweight belt. Between the two of them, fans had a healthy respect for Russia and her former vassal states as a source of top-tier MMA talent.
Now that Fedor and Arlovski have fallen from the heights of the sport, Russian fighters are at best an afterthought.
But that's not how it was in the 1990's.
Back then, fighters coming out of the former Soviet Union were a key part of the heady international mix that built the sport. The Brazilians were the first to dominate modern MMA (then called No Holds Barred) but American, Japanese, Dutch and Russian fighters all played key roles.
I'm going to talk about 5 of those fighters in this series: UFC champ Oleg Taktarov; EFC champ Igor Zinoviev; Igor Vovchanchyn, king of the 8 man tournaments; and RINGS fighters Volk Han and Mikhail Ilioukhine.