Ranked at #8 on our 2011 World MMA Heavyweight Scouting Report, Russian juggernaut Soda Popinski (7-0) blasts his way onto our countdown as Russia's best hope at attaining the coveted UFC heavyweight crown. The Moscow-born former boxer was once considered the undisputed #1 heavyweight boxer in Russia before being stopped by the 4'8", 107 lb. Bronx bomber "Little Mac" in 1987. Despite the loss, Popinski amassed a 33-2 record with 24 knockouts before calling it quits. After bouts with alcoholism and the depression induced from the embarassing losses to Mac, Popinski has resurfaced, crushing all challengers in his path to becoming an international star and potential UFC contender.
Offensive Skills: Popinski's speedy footwork and powerful jab combine to create a daunting gauntlet of pain for any opponent willing to step inside the cage with him. As we've seen from many of the heavyweights outside of the UFC, speed isn't an easily attained attribute, nor is it quickly learned. Popinski effortlessly steps in and out on his opponent's range, unleashing heavy hooks and powerful uppercuts that leave his opponents face down on the canvas. In seven professional MMA bouts, Popinski has only stood in the spotlight for a total of 0:22 seconds, bombing opponents with powerful counters and Russian stereotypes.
Defensive Skills: Popinski relies solely on the use of bad jokes, laughter, and intimidation to confuse and belittle his opponents. Most of his opponents tremble at the thought of entering the cage, and the very few that came out confident were immediately dispatched by Popinski's boxing. Most of the talent on our countdown relies solely on defensive techniques and mechanics to avoid incoming attacks. Popinski, on the other hand, is a mentalist.
Progression: Popinski remains the same type of fighter he was during his days as a king in the boxing world. He has no ground game, or I should say that we haven't seen any sign of a ground game in the 0:22 seconds he's accrued in MMA experience. His boxing runs parallel with the style he implemented in the ring years ago. It continues to succeed due to the lack of high-level boxers in mixed martial arts, and I see no reason why it won't continue to succeed in the future.
Environment: Popinski is Ivan Drago with the spirit of Rocky Balboa. He doesn't need modern technology or steroids to maintain his physical superiority. He trains in the wilderness, pushing the limits of the human body by trekking through the tundra of Siberia and testing his mettle against the highest peaks of the Urals. Most of his sparring consists of knocking out bums at the local pub, although Bas Rutten has taken him under his wing and trained him in the rough night clubs of Holland and Sweden.
Potential: Soda has no ground game, next to no experience in the sport, and is knocking on the doorstep of 40 years old, yet he is one of the most exciting fighters in the heavyweight talent pool. Our #8 ranking is conservative due to the fact that we haven't seen him in any situations of danger in the cage. His blazing speed and powerful punching put him on a level that runs parallel to Alistair Overeem, but Overeem doesn't have the psychological tactics that Popinski excels at in the lead-up to fights.
I imagine Popinski will run through the regional scene this coming summer, making his way stateside by the end of 2011.
Fight footage after the jump...