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MMA Diaries: Lunch with the victim of an MMA cult in Kiev

In the second MMA Diaries entry in Moscow, Karim Zidan has lunch with Konstantin Glukhov, the fighter who escaped a sect just over a year ago, and attends a fan meet-and-greet that turned into an arm-wrestling competition.

Anton Tabuena

Day 2 - Entry 1 (How to escape a sect and the crazy coach who heads it)

Long before my scheduled trip to Moscow, I wrote about notable heavyweight Konstantin Gluhov, who escaped a sect last year that had "brainwashed" him and controlled his entire income and livelihood for a 12-year period. It was a difficult story to wrap one's head around, and the details were not made clear in the few articles written about it.

It began when the former PRIDE fighter released a statement on his Facebook page that brought to light the situation that he was in.

"I left my coach, Yuriy Ryjikov, because he was robbing me during all 12 years of my training under his camp," Gluhov said in his statement. "And furthermore, by talking about his own "warrior code" he lied to me, humiliated me, embroiled me with my family and friends. Yuriy persuaded me that I should give him all money from my fights, as he was not a coach, but mentor. And tutorship can't be done without full submission from my side."

Once it became clear to me that I was to attend M-1 Challenge 56, I made it a priority to find time to sit down and have lunch with Gluhov in order to understand exactly what he went through during that time.

Little did I know just how harrowing the entire story would turn out to be.

In fact, the scenarios and situations that he underwent between 2002-14 were so uniquely bizarre and unprecedented that it forced me to pull out my phone, record the entire conversation, and plan out a feature story.


‘Kostya' Gluhov's incredible frame was easily noticeable as he walked down the hall towards the breakfast buffet. Regularly dressed in a white t-shirt and accompanied by his wife and his training partner Igor Mesmer, he maneuvered between the tables until he found a comfortable spot. Adel had introduced me to the heavyweight that morning and informed him that I was interested in hearing his remarkable story.

Delighted at the opportunity to delve into the details, Kostya obliged and offered me a seat at his table to complete my meal and be a part of the discussion. I sat down and immediately asked him to start right at the beginning. He fiddled with his white cap, the word BAKER written on it, and explained that he would speak through Igor, who had a firm grasp of the English language. He may have been the best English speaker I encountered during my entire stay.

With a fork in one hand, a knife in the other, and my phone already on record, I braced myself for the tale to be told.  I was riveted - two sausages sat on my plate nestled by a slice of tomato and some omelette, all untouched.

The story was one that began 13 years ago when a young, ambitious, and (self-professed) naïve Kostya met a Latvian coach by the name Yuri Ryzhikov. After taking him under his wing, Yuri slowly infiltrated the heavyweight's life and poisoned it from the inside, as would a cancerous tumour.  Before Kostya knew it, he had cut ties with his family and close friends, and moved closer Yuri, where he focused entirely on fulfilling his career ambitions.

As the well-built heavyweight sat in front of me and drank his tea, I quietly pondered how a man of his stature and intimidating frame could be so easily controlled by a much older coach. It was difficult to imagine a situation where Konstantin Gluhov would not be able to get his way.

However, with a look of solemn understanding, as though he has been questioned about this before, he looked directly into my eyes and told me that he was extremely naïve at the time, and willing to do anything to achieve his dream. Whether it be separating from his family and loved ones, move to a foreign land, or even surrender his fight purses, he did it without batting an eyelid. It became more difficult as time went on, but the coach always found a way to reel Gluhov back into his web of misery.

For a man who had endured a significant amount of degradation during the past decade, Kostya was surprisingly pleasant throughout the entire conversation. He maintained eye contact with me while he spoke in Russian, which was unlike what most interviewees would have done had they been aware that I didn't understand them. Instead, he threw in English words whenever he could and smiled at me, as though to say, "It is ok to joke about it. The story is behind me now."

Day 2 -- Entry 2 (Egyptian honeymoon recommendations)

Daria, M-1 Global's head of PR, found me in the lobby minutes before the start of the weigh-ins and asked whether I would be interested in accompanying her and a small selection of the promotion's fighters to a fan meet & greet session. Since I was yet to discover Moscow or visit any of the sights, I was keen to be part of the trip. It was also a chance to see the local scene and view how Russian fans interact with M-1 and their fighters.

"Be ready to go at 5pm," said Daria, as she scurried back to her numerous duties, which seemed to multiply as the event neared. After being used to spotting her regularly during my stay in St. Petersburg, my encounters with Daria were minimal on this trip. Like everything else in Moscow, the event was clearly bigger, and therefore more exhausting for all those involved.

A few minutes before our scheduled departure time, I boarded the medium-sized bus that would take us to the renowned Moscow mall, Evropeiskiy. Once I stepped onto the vehicle, I took my seat close by Kostya Glukov, who was one of the feature attractions for fans at this meet-and-greet. Since his training partner once again accompanied him, we were able to continue our bilingual back-and-forth throughout the duration of the ride into the city. Given that Moscow is famed for bumper-to-bumper traffic at all possible hours, there was much time for discussion.

We must have been the second of two buses to head into the city, as the only other fighters who accompanied us on the bus ride were Abukar Yandiev and then M-1 middleweight champion Vyacheslav Vasilevsky. Even with their respective entourages, there was more than enough space for all of us. The champ and former Bellator fighter kept to himself on all the occasions I saw him during my stay in Moscow. He was a difficult man to get ahold of, but I was used to that due to the language barrier between us.

I instead focused my efforts on Kostya, who was keen to get a sense of who I was. He could not understand why I was an Egyptian man living in Toronto but visiting Russia for work -- seemed a bit excessive to the heavyweight, like a multinational concoction of sorts. I gave him a brief overview of my life and the incidents that led to my arrival in Canada. He asked whether the revolution played a part in my decision to move to Canada; I answered ‘no' but added that it certainly helped cement my decision to stay on that side of the pond.

In Russia, a conversation about Egypt barely stops after one question. Soon, I found myself giving Kostya honeymoon recommendations and writing out a list of locations on the Red and Mediterranean seas for him to visit with his wife. My strategy was simple: keep them as far away from Cairo as possible. This should apply to anyone reading this who has never visited Egypt - spend as little time in Cairo as humanly possible. The pyramids may be spectacular, but the infernal maze of poverty, pollution, bartering, marketplaces and harassment one has to endure on the way certainly reduces its magnetism.

Day 2 - Entry 3 (Surrounded by hungry fighters)

The drive to Evropeiskiy was not as demanding as I had expected. I was barely finished telling Kostya about the beautiful rides up the Nile in locations such as Luxor and Aswan. Our guide for the trip was not Daria, who was busy running a press tour for their light-heavyweight champ Stephan Puetz, but Valeria, the bubbly 20-year-old with a consistent smile on her face. She directed us from the bus into one of the main entrances to the luxurious mall. We proceeded up a flight of stairs in the well-lit and spacious entrance until we reached the top, where a metal detector awaited us menacingly, a guard leaning off either side of it.

We certainly looked out of place. While I was dressed in a polo shirt, black jeans and a formal black coat, the fighters and their respective entourages were clothed in sponsor t-shirts, caps, and training pants. Vasilevsky was dressed in attire designed for the Russian national team and had ‘Russia' branded in white on the back of his blue jacket. Others around us were clad in Gucci, Armani, and other ostentatiously priced brands. They stole glances at us, confused as to whether we walked into the wrong place, or were stupid enough to believe we belonged.

Turns out, we had taken the wrong entrance.


The third entrance was the charm; we finally found our way to the correct metal detector and passed under them inconspicuously. I noticed that it beeped repeatedly once I went through but I was ignored entirely by the security once they realized that I only spoke English. It was as though they simply didn't want to deal with a harmless foreigner who didn't speak the language.

All eight of us stepped into a glass elevator that raised us to the fourth floor, where we were guided into Uruk Café, an Uzbek shisha lounge with a magnificent array of gastronomic sampling platters. The place was tinted with a purplish hue and smelled like a mix of grape and apple shisha - all too much like home for my comfort. Would the uncanny similarities never end during my stay?

Daria and M-1 champion Stephan Puetz were already seated at the table, along with a few other staff members and fighters. Our group of eight hovered around the table until we found suitable seating. I ended up across from Puetz and could not help but smile as I saw the big man eagerly eye the smorgasbord of delicious Uzbek food laid out in front of us. Known for his big appetite and love for food, Puetz was clearly eager to dig into the region's delights, but politely waited for everyone to arrive and get seated.

Following a delightful nibble and a discussion about Anderson Silva's positive drug test for steroids, the fighters were led out of the café and around the corner, where they were told to wait. I could hear the swarm of fans that had gathered on the other side of café, where a roped-off area had been set up specifically for the meet-and-greet.  One by one, as their names were called, the fighters walked around the bend to the roped off area, where they were greeted with loud applause and even louder Russian dubstep anthems.

Somehow, I ended up with Puetz's backpack, which I kept with me for the next hour, while I stood with Valeria and watched as each of the champions and fighters were paraded out in turn to arm wrestle with fans eager to prove their toughness. Fans who managed to overpower the pros were awarded with tickets to the M-1 Challenge 56 show the following night. It was unlike anything I had seen back in North America but seemed like a natural way to engage with the combat sports fans.


Once the fan meet-and-greet was over, we were told that we had half an hour before the bus would be back to take us to the hotel. Everyone split up into small groups and walked around the mall. Valeria (everyone called her Lera) decided to tour the lower level of the mall and the stores it had to offer. In the end, most of us decided to stand outside and enjoy the fresh air and beautifully lit area.

It was my first real survey of the Moscow downtown region but certainly not my last. Little did I know that the following morning would bring with it a wealth of cultural activities and sightseeing that would broaden my knowledge of the remarkable history that this country had to offer.

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