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Bigfoot Silva to complete in Russian promotion that set up Jeff Monson

Karim Zidan delves into the shady promotion that signed Bigfoot Silva and the oligarch who will pay his $500,000 purse.

MMA: UFC 193-Hunt vs Silva Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday evening, it was announced that Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva had signed with Titov Boxing Promotions to fight on November 18 in Ekaterinburg, Russia. Given Bigfoot’s downward career trajectory, the decision to sign the Brazilian came as a surprise until it was evidently clear that the long time UFC heavyweight is set to compete for the same promotion that took advantage of Jeff Monson several months ago.

Back in May, Monson was scheduled to complete against Ivan Shtyrkov, the same undefeated opponent now scheduled to face Silva. However, Monson tore his right bicep several weeks before the scheduled bout and attempted to withdraw from the event. Promoter Alexi Titov insisted that Monson fly out to Ekaterinburg, where negotiations would commence to ensure Monson’s participation in something apart from an MMA fight. Monson obliged and ventured across the continent to renegotiate.

Over the course of the next few days, Titov convinced Monson to commit to an “entertainment” bout against Shtyrkov that would serve as a prelude to the actual fight several months later. Monson was required to do nothing more than an exhibition performance this time around. He agreed to the stipulation, though noted that the promoter’s behaviour was suspicious as best.

"He wouldn't let me see his guy,” Monson told BloodyElbow several months ago. “He kept making excuses. During the weigh-in, we met with my opponent for a few minutes and that was when he said that he wasn't really in agreement with doing this. I told him that I don't have any experience doing an entertainment thing but we would just show some positions and stuff for the crowd. He said he was not comfortable doing this. So we talked to the organizer, who continued to put it off."

Aware of the risk that he was being set up, Monson attempted to pack his bags and leave. He was stopped by Igor Altushkin, the majority shareholder of the Russian Copper Company (RMK) and the promotion’s financial backer. According to Monson, the oligarch “said what was going to happen and that we would go out for a couple of rounds and show some stuff.” Both agreed to the stipulation.

However, when the bell sounded for the opening round of the main event, Shtyrkov sent Monson tumbling to the canvas, targeted his injured arm, and forced him to tap in particularly violent fashion.

"I held on five seconds longer than I would have in a real fight. I was just expecting him to let go. He didn't."

Monson later “bitch slapped” Titov for his shady tactics. The promoter vowed to release a statement with an apology explaining the events. Instead, he proclaimed Monson a liar to Russian media.

The oligarch who set up the exhibition fight was nowhere to be found.

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While Bigfoot Silva may not necessarily be faced with a similar situation when he arrives in Ekaterinburg, his case does not inspire confidence. According to reports from Russian media, the Brazilian is scheduled to make $500,000 to fight an undefeated 4-0 local. Silva’s fight fee will be covered by Altushkin, the same oligarch who funded the Monson fight and paid for Kovalev’s boxing bout in Ekaterinburg as well.

So why would a relatively unknown promotion spend such an exorbitant figure on a former UFC fighter with a 1-6 (1 NC) record in his last eight fights?

Bigfoot, who is being billed as Fedor Emelianenko’s vanquisher, is being brought over to face local talent, Ivan Shtyrkov. A victory for the Ekaterinburg native would help increase his overall value, and to do so in front of his fellow countrymen would only help increase ticket sales and the development of the sport in a region better known for boxing. Whether Bigfoot will be tricked into a similar situation as Monson is yet to be determined. Until then, he remains optimistic about the new opportunity in a foreign land.

“I’m very excited about the upcoming fight against Shtyrkov,” Silva told MMAJunkie. “I have made many fans in Japan, Brazil and the U.S., and I will make amazing fans in Russia. Thank you to all my fans, RCC Boxing Promotions from Russia and to Alex Davis and Narcis Mujkic, who made this fight happen.”

The aforementioned RCC Boxing Promotions appears to be a mistake on Bigfoot’s part, though it highlights the relationship between Titov Boxing Promotions and Altushkin’s Russian Copper Company. While oligarchs backing sports organizations is typical behaviour in Russia, Altushkin’s affiliation with Titov remains fascinating. According to Forbes, Altushkin is the 50th richest man in Russia ($1.68 billion) and earned the majority of his wealth as the main shareholder for Russia’s third largest copper company.

In a likely attempt to reap the political rewards for sports diplomacy in Russia, Altushkin became involved in combat sports in 2014. He began funding Alexi Titov’s promotion, which garnered more attention over time, particularly following Kovalev vs. Chilemba. Over time, Altushkin was able to use the stars he funded to help promote economic improvement in the Ural region of Russia.

For example, Altushkin timed the Kovalev fight around the opening of the International Industrial Exhibition "Innoprom 2016" in Ekaterinburg so that they he could use the event as an opportunity to network with businessmen and politicians visiting the region. The long term goal is to use combat sports events like boxing tournaments to attract major Russian figures to his region for political and economic gains.

Altushkin’s overall ambition is similar to that of fellow oligarch Ziyavudin Magomedov, who invested in Fight Nights and paid the exorbitant cost to promote Fedor Emelianenko. In return, he managed to negotiate a deal with the Kremlin to bring Elon Musk’s Hyerloop One tube transportation system to Russia. One correctly timed event around the St. Petersburg Economic Forum elevated Magomedov into Putin’s political elite. Altushkin is likely after similar results.

Unfortunately for Bigfoot, he is merely a pawn in a Russian oligarch’s chess game.