25-year-old Denis Smoldarev (197 cm, 122 kg) is the highest ranked prospect hailing out of Europe. His record is 11-1. His rival tonight will be ex-Bellator champion Alexander Volkov (200 cm, 107 kg) with record 24-6.
I adhere to an exciting style of fighting because of heatlh issues.
The story of Denis Smoldarev.
Russian – Estonian heavyweight fought against a crowd, saved people’s
lives out of flame, and has been suffering from a diagnosis that
forces him to be an athlete. He‘s fighting for the M-1 Challenge
championship title tonight.
25-year-old Denis Smoldarev (197 cm, 122 kg) is the highest ranked
prospect hailing out of Europe. His record is 11-1. His rival tonight
will be ex-Bellator champion Alexander Volkov (200 cm, 107 kg) with
Smoldarev wants to show his best unless as he puts it “Unless
Alexander kicks me in the head too early”.
- You are heavier than your opponent. Have you always been that heavy?
- When I was 12 years old I weighed around 73 kg. I can’t say that I
was fat back then. I had always been taller and broader than my
classmates. I used to wrestle in the heaviest categories. I used to be
quite lazy though, I was mommy’s son.
Since 12 I started training judo and that’s when my life turned
around. A couple of years later – in 2004 – a friend of mine showed my
some Fedor Emelianenko’s fights. I learned about his judo and sambo
roots and decided to become an MMA practitioner. So I had this goal
- What was your weight back then?
- Around 103 kg.
- You debut fight into MMA?
- I finished all 12 school years and could proceed to a university.
However due to financial difficulties in my family it was not destined
to happen. I had to start working so I went to become a bouncer at a
night club. Beside that I started training kickboxing. After a week of
training I was told I could train for free. Also they asked if I was
willing to fight under MMA rules at an upcoming event? I was excited.
My opponent was Mikhail Vasilev who I had a little bit of grudge with
since he’d broken my hand long time ago in a sambo match. I stopped
him within a minute.
I used to participate in various World and European (combat) sambo
championship and I never returned with a medal. The government would
not support me at all. Guys in Russia complain they don’t get enough
support. In comparison to Estonia they should not complain at all. In
Estonia when you return with silver they’d ask you why the hell it’s
not a gold medal? Well, I knew anyway I would get nothing be it for
the second or the first place. So the next stop was to become a
- How much did you earn for the first MMA fights in Estonia?
- My first wage was 40 bucks. The second one – $120. Don’t ask me
whether it was enough to live.
Six nights a week I used to work at the night club. I managed to train
twice a day back then. For my first fight I asked to leave for a brief
moment. I went, I knocked the block out, I ran back to the night club.
I had no other option available to me. I used to earn $5 per hour
which yielded $40 per shift that lasted from 21:00 till 5:00. Around
6:00 I was in my bed. At 11 I woke up and went to have the first
training of the day. Then sleep, then the second training. After that
it was time to go to the club. When you are young you have that energy
and you don’t think how hard it is. You just go and do what’s
- What was the hardest in your job? Communicating with drunks?
- Yes. Plus keeping yourself from beating someone badly. I would never
instigate the conflict by myself. Unless they punch me first. Then
they’d better flee. Me and my colleague used to fight against crowd of
like 8-10 guys. The outcome used to vary but we had never ended up
being beat up. The recipe is simple: knock their leader out and the
rest will lose the interest. Even if they keep attacking, just strike
them a bit and they’ll feel enough.
- Can you share the most intricate episode from those nights?
- Well, when the soldiers came. They were allowed to leave their
quarters for a time being. A dozen of them would come. They wouldn’t
appreciate that they were not allowed to enter. They would throw stuff
at us or try to destroy the door. Initially there were only two of us.
Then a colleague came down to reinforce and we sent them back. As I
said, you strike them, they see first blood and retreat to call the
police. That’s so funny: they initiate fisticuffs, then they complain
to police. Every single weekend we were at the police station because
of that. Police resided with us since we presented them with the video
evidence. We have never had a problem. Nowadays things get more
complicated because of the notorious tolerance and European lawmaking.
If one spits at you, you are to open you mouth.
- When did you leave this job?
- In 2012 before my third fight under M-1 banner. Then I started my
education as a firefighter. I’m idealist by nature. I have always
wanted to save people.
- Did you experience fear at your new job?
- No, it was other way around. I was extremely excited. When my
partners saw me they told me not to pull on the mask, probably there
is no fire at all when we arrive
The first serious case occurred after the first 10 days. Every flat
would be burning from the second to the fifth floor of a stone
building covered inside with drywall and wadding. The fourth
difficulty level. We as athletes use a hammer to strike tires to
increase the striking power. We as firefighters use hammers to break
walls and in that very case we were doing it for 7 hours in a row, the
whole night, with full equipment on with the fire temperature of
Three days later we had another fourth level case fire – a ship went
up in flames. A heating meter indicated 960′C inside one wall! We
started to extinguish fire from that wall, water started evaporating
and producing steam that was just unbearable. We would get boiled
there. Steam is actually the most dangerous thing, it always finds a
way to get under your skin and boil you.
- You were awarded for your service…
- Yeah, a chair was burning in a small apartment, smoke all around.
Within a minute we broke through the shut door and found a guy,
carried him to the outside and passed him to the medics who brought
him back to life. Had it taken us longer to break the door that person
would make it.
Wooden doors are relatively easy to break. However you can’t destroy
them with a kick like in the movies.
- What if someone is lying right behind it? Moreover, watch Backdraft
(with Kurt Russell). When there is no oxygen left, the space is
burning down slowly. Once you quickly open the door plenty of oxygen
will lead to a boost of flame.
- How well are you protected?
- If you strictly follow the instructions you might ending up not
being able to save somebody. Sometimes you have to take your helmet
off to carry someone out. But if anything happens to my head in that
very moment, the insurance won’t cover the costs…My family won’t get
any compensation… I quit this job in June 2015 when my son was born.
I believe I’ll get back later because I really enjoyed it although the
remuneration leaves much more to be desired…
- Did you earn less there than when you used to work at the night club?
- Yes. But that was not the main reason. I noticed I became to get
gradually more tired while combining training regimen and those
shifts. Firefighting shift is 24 hours work and 3 days of rest. One
can recover fully when relaxing during those 3 days. As for me, I
train twice a day even during the shifts.
- Was there a gym at the fire station?
- Yes. Including a punching bag, dumb bells, treadmills, rowing
machine. Enough to remain fit. Of course there is no solid schedule.
Once a call is in, you rush to help. However there was an opportunity
- Is it true you have a health issue concerning thyroid gland?
- That’s correct. When I was 16-17, my organism started to produce too
many hormones. I remember myself in a training camp that I started
with 120 kg but left weighing 98 kg. I had tachycardia with almost 160
beats per minute while calm. As a result a hypofunction developed in
thyroid gland. Antonio Silva has the same issue. He has it since
childhood and that led to acromegaly. Luckily for me I got it later
that’s why there are no physical anomaly in my body except for
hormonal failure and acne. I take specific medicine to support the
proper thyroid gland functioning.
- Does cause you problems in life and/or in a fight?
- I get tired quickly, become less active. Everything takes more
effort than it used to. When fighting I try not to sit down during
breaks otherwise I start falling asleep. I need action to keep moving.
This explains my exciting way of fighting. The most dangerous effect
of this illness is that you barely move and lead an extremely passive
way of life. I know for certain: as long as I keep training, I’ll stay
alive and fit.
- How many fights do you need on an annual basis in order to keep from
working and retain the same way of life as you do now?
- 2-3 pure fights with no sponsors at all. I don’t have them now
anyway which is a pity.
- How hard is it to have quality sparring partners for a heavyweight
of your size?
- I have no sparring partners for MMA. Sometimes I go to a boxing gym,
sometimes I wrestle with heavyweight wrestlers. Basically only when I
come to Saint Petersburg, I can have a complete MMA sparring with
heavyweights. That’s why I put more effort into strength and
conditioning while in Estonia.
- What’s your speed (taking your weight into account)?
- 10 km = 45 min. Regarding Cooper’s test it’s 3200 m per 12 min.
Endurance is the key to a victory. Even without training one can land
a punch, being physically gifted one can wrestle. But fighting at the
same steady pace is impossible with no prior proper preparation.
- Saint Petersburg is the only place you go to in order to train. Is
the cause financial?
- Of course. I’d love to go to Dagestan to wrestle or to Thailand to
train striking and so on. There is no one would sponsor me. If I spend
money on that I won’t have enough for more basic stuff.
- Has anyone offered you to move to Russia and change your citizenship?
- Once I was offered to fight under the Russian flag. I declined.
There is almost no MMA in Estonia. Nobody gives a damn about MMA here.
However I still hope one day the situation will change.
- Earlier you had a chance to fight for the M-1 belt and lost to
- I could barely remember what was happening inside the rage. All I
could remember is how I took him down. That rest was so vague. Some
loose strikes. Me going for a leglock which is something I had never
tried before in a fight… That’s a common case for anyone who fights
with a high temperature. Your head is overheated.
Blame it all on my grandmother’s birthday. She turned 75 and lots of
guests came to celebrate. There were many little kids who always have
cold. I was a the peak of preparation which means weak immune system.
Prior to the fight I got sick. We wouldn’t get the temperature under
38′C. Within a week I lost 7 kilos. I entered the rage weighing 117
kg. And those 7 kg were not that extra weight that you need to lose.
All my health left me. Physically I was devastated.
- Did you contemplate to decline the fight?
- Well, I needed to get paid because of the upcoming wedding we had
planned. I need to earn money.
My family still doesn’t really like what I do for living. Mommy cries,
my father and the brother get nervous every time. My wife gets
nervous, too, but she knows it’s what I love to do. All she says is
“Don’t let them damage your head. Keep it well protected”.