Jeff Monson heard a pop in his arm and knew that something had gone terribly wrong.
Trapped in a ring, surrounded by the likes of current WBO, IBF, and WBA champion Sergey Kovalev, actor Sergey Badyuk, and a host of other Russian celebrities, the former ADCC champion tapped to an arm-bar submission in a matter of 30 seconds. It was a premature end to a fight that was billed as the main event of the evening.
Monson knew he had been tricked. This was supposed to be an exhibition match - purely entertainment value because of the injury he had sustained weeks earlier - but his opponent never got the message. Based on their chillingly silent confusion following the quick ending, the Ekaterinburg crowd was never informed about the program change either.
Jeff left the ring in utter shock. For the first time in his career, he didn't acknowledge his opponent following a loss. Instead, he had to comprehend how he had just lost a professional fight that he was never aware was happening.
Jeff arrived at the Ekaterinburg airport in the beginning of May, where he was escorted through a private airport entrance into the VIP lounge. Liaisons were present to escort him directly to the hotel, where he met with the Titov Boxing Promotions CEO, Alexei Titov.
Despite recent back-and-forth discussions regarding Jeff's recent bicep tear, the promoter insisted that the fighter show up to the event. Once he arrived in Ekaterinburg, negotiations would commence over whether he can compete on the show in some capacity.
"Two weeks ago, we talked," Monson told BloodyElbow. "I told him that it feels alright but it wasn't enough to compete. He said that he based the whole show on me and wished that I had said something before. He said that I am the main event on this card and that we had to figure out something. I said I would do an appearance, but he wanted me to fight."
As the promoter insisted that Monson should still fight, the Snowman stood firm: "I can't fight the guy."
Titov, clearly desperate to keep the UFC veteran on the card, made an interesting offer that Monson thought was a fair compromise: a match for "entertainment value" with the real fight rescheduled for the next show in three months.
"When I came to Russia, I did a Master Class, we had the pre-fight press conference, interviews, weigh-ins - he said that we would meet with [my opponent] and go over what to do," Monson explained. "We would put on something entertaining for the crowd and then after the fight announce that we would have a fight-fight on the next card. We would figure out who really is the best guy."
Monson agreed to the stipulation but quickly became suspicious with the promoter's dubious actions.
"He wouldn't let me see his guy. 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."
Anxious to get on the same page as the promoter and his opponent, Monson arranged for them to meet and discuss the fight when the undercard started on fight night. His opponent never showed up and the promoter continued to ignore their requests.
"At this point, I think I'm being set up."
Jeff packed his bags with his manager, Marshall Comins, and informed Titov that he was about to walk out on his show. Unable to convince Monson otherwise, the promoter sought out the event's financial backer, Igor Altushkin, the majority shareholder of the Russian Copper Company (RMK).
"The financial backer for the card got in contact with them and got everyone into a room. We basically said what was going to happen and that we would go out for a couple of rounds and show some stuff. I went up to the guy, put his hand on my arm, and told him that I have to be careful with it. I can't even throw punches or grapple you.
"He reluctantly agreed. He is a competitor. He didn't want to do this."
The first punch Ivan threw was a hard one. The second one sent Monson tumbling to the canvas.
Jeff, dazed from the punch and confused because of its ferocity, tried to grapple with Ivan. The local fighter immediately went for Monson's injured arm and wrenched it into position for an arm-bar. Monson was in complete shock. It was a mere 20 minutes ago when he had placed Ivan's hand on his injured arm and told him to be careful with it.
"The submission is getting tighter and I'm starting to worry. This guy had to realize that he had the lock too tight. Then I heard the popping in my arm. It was loud. I was shocked because he wouldn't let go after the pop. He was [expletive] my arm."
Still unsure about whether Ivan would let go of the submission, Monson allowed his opponent to pull at him for a little while longer.
"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."
Alarmed and in pain, Monson tapped.
With a shocked expression plastered across his face, Monson stood up and quietly exited the ring. It had just dawned on him that he had been played, but by whom?
"I had no idea if it was the fighter himself who decided 'screw this' or if he was told to forget about our meeting. I have no idea. I just know that it wasn't a fight.
"We were just supposed to put on a show. I don't know what they were telling the crowd but they were telling us that it was an entertainment fight."
Jeff returned to his locker room angry and confused. He had been so close to walking out of the event. His bags were packed and his mind was made up. Then the financial backer convinced him otherwise.
He regretted his decision.
As Jeff sat backstage and dwelled on the ill-fated proceedings, he noticed the promoter pass by in the hallway. Monson went up to Titov, "bitch-slapped" him and took him down. The entire scuffle lasted seconds, as Titov's bodyguards lifted Jeff of him and sent him on his way.
"Unfortunately I lost my temper. When I saw him, it turned to anger. His security guards picked me up and kicked me. It became a big thing in the back."
Jeff eventually got back to his hotel room and left Ekaterinburg the following day. He had since been promised that the promotion would release a statement to clear up the incident.
"We've been waiting for three days now for the promoter to come out and release a statement. He was supposed to apologize and say that things got out of hand. That hasn't happened."
After positive experiences across Russia's many republics, Jeff was appalled by the level of dishonestly he endured that night in Ekaterinburg. He lost a fight that was never supposed to be a fight, and will now carry a memory of the traumatic night every time he looks at his professional record - the only loss that does not deservedly belong on his resume.
"I don't know what happened. I don't know why it happened. I'm just so confused."