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Bellator NYC capitalizes on Russia-USA tensions with Fedor Emelianenko vs. Matt Mitrione

Fedor Emilianenko and Matt Mitrione have a staredown

Fedor Emilianenko and Matt Mitrione have a staredown during a Bellator NYC press conference on Thursday, June 22, 2017. Credit: Bellator MMA

There isn’t much subtlety to Bellator MMA’s promotion of Saturday’s co-main event between Fedor Emelianenko and Matt Mitrione.

As political tensions between the United States and Russia remain high, Bellator is pitching the fight as a battle of “USA vs. Russia” to fans ahead of Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden.

A commercial depicts the pair with their national flags behind them, the only fighters to receive such treatment, and Spike TV President Kevin Kay made their intentions clear at Thursday’s press conference.

“There’s an historic battle featuring a legendary Russian hero and a hard-hitting, fast-talking American,” Kay said. “I’ll do you all a favor and save the Trump joke for later.”

Bellator might not have a problem capitalizing on the political climate, but the fighters being marketed this way don’t seem too interested in this angle. Emelianenko has a documented relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin, who has attended his fights in the past, but the legendary heavyweight isn’t bringing that with him into the cage.

“Well in all the times, they used to say that sports always out of the politics,” Emelianenko said through a translator.

Mitrione wasn’t buying into Bellator’s pitch either.

“I agree, man, let the world do what the world does,” Mitrione said. “Fedor’s a good dude, I’m a good dude. We just get paid to go punch each other in the face, I’m not trying to put world implications or any kind of madness on this.”

“After this, I’m sure we’ll shake hands, sign each other’s posters and be cool. Hopefully we can do that in the world too.”

There’s been lots of buildup for this matchup over the last few months. The fight originally was scheduled for Bellator 172 in February, but Mitrione was pulled from the card on fight night because of kidney stones.

Still, neither fighter has developed any animosity toward the other — unlike the contentious main event between Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva.

“I don’t feel like there’s any tension at all, if there is it’s on his part,” Mitrione said. “I haven’t picked it up yet, he seems as cool as a cucumber to me.”

Emelianenko said he’s had no ill will toward Mitrione during the long lead-up.

“No, the tension is going away gradually,” Emelianenko said through a translator, sending Mitrione into a fit of laughter.


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