The first Russian UFC Champion - Oleg Taktarov, answered the questions of the web site valetudo.ru readers.
valetudo.ru: Oleg, do you work out? If so – what is your approximate training schedule?
Oleg Taktarov (OT): I do. In fact, yesterday I set up some kind of record. I got lost in the forest and made it 13 kilometers through wind-fallen trees! As of right now, I reside in Saratov with Victor Meleshkin and Maksim Tarasov. Everything is set up for training so we spar. Victor is younger, so he puts it a little on Maksim and me. But I got into shape and caught him on a knee bar and heel hook.
valetudo.ru: Do you lift weights and if so how does you training program looks like?
OT: If I’m not running and there are weights around – yes. You need to work out with weights since it helps to keep joints in a good shape. I try to work on every muscle groups. But I prefer to work with my own weight – pushups, pull-ups, exercises for abdominals, etc.
valetudo.ru: What do you think about nutrition supplements that fighters use in their preparation for the fights? Which ones are appropriate, which are not?
OT: You need to learn your body, understand how it works before fight. If it helps, energizes you – then why not? But to be honest, I’m not a believer in supplements. You used to eat good, healthy food and then start using supplements. For instance, animals get sick when they switch from one fodder to another. Competing athlete needs meat and fish first of all. In my childhood I had a case when I took glucose before competing at Volga Region Championship in judo. It might be coincidence, but I won that tournament. Since then I was taking glucose before every competition for mental support. I thought that I felt stronger.
valetudo.ru: Is it true that you are master of sport (this title is part of athlete’s ranking system that is used in ex-USSR countries, corresponds to top level competitor in particular sport – valetudo.ru) in boxing?
OT: No, not in boxing. However I trained in Freddy Roach’s “Wild Card Boxing Gym” where I had a chance to spar with masters who came from Russia and ex-USSR republics. I dominated them.
valetudo.ru: There are several gyms in Moscow that have an associaition your name. Do you visit them, train there or conduct seminars?
OT: I stay in touch with two gyms: “Aikido-sport” on Shelkovskaya street and gym on Varshavka. That’s pretty much it.
valetudo.ru: What do you think about the situation with Fedor Emelyanenko? Fans all over the word would like to see him in UFC, but his manager demands support in his business project from the promotion. It was the reason why negotiations failed. Are the terms of UFC contract as fettering as Vadim Finkelshtein possesses?
OT: No, they are not. You can treat Vadim Finkelshtein in different ways and I still haven’t decided for myself if Fedor benefits from the partnership with him. Different people say different things. I’m gathering information at this point. But I can tell that time will put everything where it belongs. I know for sure that M-1 lost a lot of money on the cancelled fight with Barnett. Vadim is interested in growing his business and it’s understandable. At the same time, UFC can’t allow that since they need to prove that their brand is the best. “UFC” brand is more important than the names for them. Even if this name is Fedor Emelianenko. And time shows that the brand turned out to be strong. Fertitta brothers have wide financial opportunities and good connections with athletic commissions.
valetudo.ru: What were the criteria for contenders for “Men’s games” show?
OT: There were three groups that selected contenders. First group decided if the individual is pertinent from legal and social stand points. For instance, if he can leave his job and family for a time being. Next group selected people based on physiological, intellectual and entertaining principals. This group had to select individuals that would be interesting to watch on TV. Third group consisted on my coach, Vitaly Mikhailov and me. We selected people with good physical conditions. Those who could show decent result. While training, I discovered for myself that if you give somebody good information, put in proper conditions with good training plan even unprepared, from my prospective people, can show some result. I was surprised how fast one can adapt to routine with intelligent training plan.
valetudo.ru: We have vivid discussion about “Men’s games” project on our web site. Some people think that working out process on the show is not highlighted the way it suppose to be. At the same time, regular life of participants takes too much of the air time and part of it can be used to feature the training process.
OT: From the very beginning I wanted this show to be interesting not only to athletes, but to wider group of audience including housewives and glamorous people. Participants had three working out sessions daily, but we were filming their regular life as well. So at the end of the day we had to make a decision what footage is going to be broadcasted to attract more audience. I was telling that we need to show more work outs. Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes not. Overall, there were lots on negative stuff on the project. Sometimes fighters acted like spiders in can. Tried to injure each other on practice in order to win the fight. We had a guy from special forces, who kicked my shin with his boot on the warm up. I asked him why he would do that. He apologized and said that it was instinctively. We had to cut him off the project since his body wasn’t ready whatsoever and doctor forbid him to participate. After couple punches on bag his heart rate accelerated to 200 bpm.
valetudo.ru: Is there a chance for “Men’s games” to be broadcasted on central channels?
OT: Yes, we are negotiating for this opportunity. And if not for crisis we would be on the air long time ago. We spend a lot of money on the show before recession. But after it channels were not able to pay us even the same amount we invested. That’s why we decided to put the broadcast on hold. I think that nothing increases the popularity of MMA in our country like these shows. I believe we made our show much better then everything that was done in US. We have more global ideas then American shows which could be built around only a single conflict between two people (for instance Shamrock and Ortiz). The slogan of our program says: “Everybody can become a champion”. Of course you need some time to achieve it.
valetudo.ru: Are we going to see “Men’s games 2”?
OT: Yes, as soon as we return our investments we are going to start production of sequel. But next show is going to have more tough and more professional routines. I plan to double the time for work outs since the time I had for training on the first show was not enough. Guys could do much better in US. The working load needs to be increased and the fights should take place in a week or two after training cycle ends.
valetudo.ru: Do you plan on participating in the movies in future?
OT: The NTV channel is going to broadcast “The Guardian” show soon. I am a producer of it and have one of lead roles.
valetudo.ru: Oleg, thank you. Let’s move on to the questions regarding your fighting career. You lost to Mark Sperry only 4 points on the Abu Dhabi championship. And he was considered as the best at that time. Did you study BJJ besides Sambo, or you utilized Sambo skills only that allowed you to go through the whole fight with top ranked grappler?
OT: I lost only one point to Sperry. When I competed in Abu Dhabi I wasn’t training hard. Therefore, I wasn’t in shape. If I kept up with good shape I could probably beat pretty much everybody there. After the UFC tournament I was in good shape for another half a year, but Abu Dhabi tournament was much later than that. The recipe for successful performance there consisted of combination of Sambo and Judo and training with guys from Brazil for two years. Once they asked me to help them with preparation for Japanese “Universal Vale Tudo Fighting” tournament. I grappled without any rest with Carlos Baretto, Valid Isamil and Liborio and gave all of them full work out. I want to say without going into details that didn’t lose to any of them and the most dangerous was Liborio. Overall the rules for Abu Dhabi tournaments are often designed to comfort BJJ grapplers. In my fight with Sperry I allowed him to step over my leg since I was working on submission but lost some points because of it. Rules are tricky thing. Leg locks were not allowed when BJJ fighters knew only chokes and arm bars. In Japanese Judo rules were changed if Japanese couldn’t counter offer something to new moves. For example, when people started using grip on belt, they decreased allowed time for grip to several seconds. When people started using oblique grips from Sambo – they forbid them. BJJ tournaments are the same case.
valetudo.ru: How did you make it to Ken Shamrock’s Lion’s Den? How long did you stay there and who was your training partner there?
OT: Ken Shamrock came to Dallas to conduct a seminar at Guy Metzger’s gym where I was training at that moment. Actually training camp, if to be more specific. Ken had to win his bout with Royce Gracie. He was training for a super fight. At the same time I was training for my second tournament in the octagon and needed strong training partners. Ken made me an offer to move to his camp where other fighters were living and training. I agreed and spent two months there. I think that helped him a lot. I remember that we sparred without shin guards, gloves and even without mouthpiece. Pat Williams and Frank Shamrock were training with us as well. They were very young those days. Training process was “reversed”. Good workout with weights and running on a stadium in the mornings and in the afternoon, when muscles were numb, wrestling and striking. I was working with 8 people sequentially and gave a good workout to everyone. I always took Frank Shamrock as a last one, since he gave the most resistance, up to 8 minutes, among all. The record was when I couldn’t do anything to him for 10 minutes.
valetudo.ru: Who was your strongest opponent? Shamrock, Ruas, Tank, Severn, Goodridge?
OT: The tactically solid one was Severn, since he never went for exchange and was setting up a goal to win by points. It was hard to grapple with Ken Shamrock because he used steroids. It was especially noticeable when he couldn’t make it through 12 minutes on a practice, but before the fight with me he became much stronger and at the bout made it for 30 minutes. At that time, I realized that I can’t compete with guys on steroids. Over all steroids are dangerous because of slump after the end of the cycle. Coleman was on the slump when was KO’d by Pat Williams. I had the similar story with Gary Goodridge. I fought him when he was pumped by steroids and after that, he was losing to everyone. You can fight these guys, but should have a good cardio and patience. Every fighter on steroids had a short winning stream for about a season or two. But they couldn’t keep up with this pace. Kevin Randleman or Vitor Belford for example, who got under influence of Mr. Olympia at that time, used all you can imagine, and as a result he lost it after a series of great performances. Vitor had a great chance to build a solid grappling foundation by training with Carlson Gracie and other BJJ specialists, he had great training partners. If he worked for couple more years without steroids, he could utilize these skills for the rest of his life. It was very hard for him to recover both mentally and physically. Great example of the athlete who never used steroids is Nogeira. Both Rickson and Royce Gracie as well. Note that all of them are long-livers athletes.
valetudo.ru: Do you think that referee in your fight with Mark Ruas was against you? You almost had Brazilian in a choke but referee told you to stand up. As a result the fight lasted much longer since Brazilian didn’t want to grapple with you anymore.
OT: No, I don’t think so. I have nothing bad to say about John McCarthy. And even more, I consider him the best referee UFC ever had, may be even best MMA referee ever.
valetudo.ru: You had a successful fight against Mark Kerr recently. Do you want the rematch against Severn and Gudridge?
OT: I wouldn’t mind to fight Gudridge, but I don’t think I have to prove anything to Severn. I was preparing for the fight with Mark Kerr in Atlantic-city. I knew it all in advance and I had a game plan. I realized that Kerr won’t last long and he’ll gas out. It’s simple with those who used to be hardcore steroids users. Overall, I’m not that excited about competing any more. To be honest, I didn’t like organization (YAMMA) and atmosphere in Atlantic-city tournament.
valetudo.ru: Mark Colman and Chuck Liddel were included to UFC not a long time ago. The rumors are that Tank Abbot is next in the line. Do you think if the tournament will include the name of the first Russian champion in its history?
OT: Couple years ago, I came to US, to UFC. I found out that according to polls I am in top eight most popular all times fighters of the Octagon. I don’t think that something dramatically changed since then. Fertitta brothers and Dana White are trying really hard to slander all first champions because they bought UFC later and now trying to show that everything that was before them doesn’t worth any attention. That’s why they are matching Royce Gracie with Matt Hughes or enjoying how Tito Ortiz whipping the Octagon with Ken Shamrock. It’s important for them to show that they made a difference in the sport. I understand them from business prospective.
valetudo.ru: Why do you think you weren’t given much time to rest before your fight with Dan Severn on UFC 8? Do you think it was done for a reason for you to lose the fight?
OT: I don’t think that it was done against me. It was arranged that the sub-group I competed in consisted of none American fighters. If you recall my first fight was with Canadian, then Brazilian. I.e. strong fighters in my sub-groups weren’t Americans. Another sub-group consisted of Americans. So, foreigner without rest was going into a fight with rested American. It was arranged this way so that an American would become a Champion. UFC wanted to see Shamrock as a Champion, but he never won a single tournament. Severn didn’t work out as well – fans didn’t like him because of his fighting style. Regarding Severn I often recall the moment when I had his heel in my arms. We talked a lot after that and he said that already raised his arm to tap out, but I acted immature. I didn’t want him just to tap out. It was important for me to break the knee that cut me minutes before. So I lost the fight because of my immature principals.
valetudo.ru: Do you follow MMA tournaments? Can you name several fighters you conceder to be the best in the world?
OT: I would say that the best in the world is my compatriot – Fedor. At his last fight, he was 30% ready, and working as the second number, he won the fight in spectacular manner. It tells a lot. The second one is GSP. His conditioning is unbelievable. I can’t recall anybody with that type of conditioning. The man can go for 30 minutes straight. Third place goes to Frank Shamrock. He was smarter than his stepbrother and everybody else in Lion’s Den. He spends a lot of type studying the moves. Very intelligent fighter. However the first time I saw him I never thought that he would fight – he was training in bodybuilding and just came out of jail.
valetudo.ru: Oleg, thank you for your time and good luck!
OT: Thank you, good luck to you too!
Translation by Kao.