Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Fedor Emelianenko in happier times. Photo via M-1 Global.
MMA is finding itself in the middle of a fascinating international political story, courtesy of M-1 Global and the recent Fedor Emelianenko vs. Jeff Monson fight. At that event, Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was in attendance, and shown in the audience throughout the show. After Fedor was victorious in the main event, Putin entered the ring to congratulate him and say a few words to the audience in Moscow. And the Russian fans booed him.
The boos alone are notable as Putin is expected to cruise to another term as Russian Prime Minister in the March 2012 elections. This kind of mass demonstration of displeasure with Putin is not common in Russia. But it's the aftermath of the show where things get really interesting.
The show aired live on TV in Russia, but in all subsequent replays, the post-fight booing was edited out. However, footage immediately surfaced on YouTube that confirmed Putin being booed. When news of the boos began to leak, Putin's office released a statement indicating that while there were indeed boos while Putin was in the ring, they were actually directed at Fedor's opponent Jeff Monson, not at Putin himself.
Russian fans were outraged at this accusation, and, in a powerful show of viral politics, took to Monson's Facebook wall to post thousands of messages showing their support for Monson and stating emphatically that they were not booing the American - they were booing Putin. Much of the anger stems from the idea that Putin would claim the fans were booing a man who came and fought honorably, when in fact the fans have shown their appreciation for Monson for coming to Russia to challenge Fedor.
The story has been picked up by major international new outlets, including the BBC, The Moscow Times, and countless others. It's a fascinating story, and a rare moment when our sport is at the center of such a big issue.
Watch video of Putin being booed in the ring: