by Irvin Muchnick
The New York Times has added still only intriguing, but crucial, details to the galloping scandal of Donald Trump’s long and deep ties to Russia, and the interference in Trump’s favor of operatives of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in the American presidential election. The new details involve a back-channel initiative by a Ukrainian politician, Andrii Artemenko, which a Trump personal and business lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, delivered in a sealed envelope to now-fired national security adviser Michael Flynn while Cohen was visiting the White House.
The Times reporters describe Cohen as having “joined the Trump Organization in 2007 as special counsel [and working] on many deals, including a Trump-branded tower in the republic of Georgia and a short-lived venture starring a Russian fighter. He is considered a loyal lieutenant whom Mr. Trump trusts to fix difficult problems.”
The article does not name the Russian athlete. But in an email, reporter Scott Shane, who wrote the piece with Megan Twohey, confirmed to Concussion Inc. that it was Fedor Emelianenko, a legendary figure in mixed martial arts.
Last week Emelianenko’s former manager, Vadim Finkelstein, spoke about the Trump-Emelianenko relationship to the RT network — the same Putin-puppet media company from which General Flynn collected fees prior to becoming a Trump foreign policy pooh-bah.
In 2008-09, Emelianenko and Finkelstein’s M-1 Global co-promoted two of Emelianenko’s fights in the U.S. in association with Affliction Entertainment, whose majority owner was Trump. See https://www.rt.com/sport/377180-trump-fedor-emelianenko-bellator-172/.
“The Last Emperor,” as Emelianenko is known, arguably already had declining MMA skills at that point; his place in the sport’s history had been made in the Pride Fighting Championships in Japan, where he was heavyweight champion from 2003 to 2007. But the late 2000s was definitely the peak of Emelianenko’s marketability after MMA exploded as a pay-per-view phenomenon, thanks to the breakthrough success here of Ultimate Fighting Championship. (Recently, UFC was sold for $4 billion to William Morris Endeavor-IMG — whose co-CEO, by the way, is Ari Emanuel, brother of Chicago mayor and former Bill Clinton aide Rahm Emanuel.)
In 2010, stringing for a Canadian news agency, I covered Emelianenko’s first career loss, to Fabricio Werdum, in San Jose for the now-defunct Strikeforce promotion. Through that period, Emelianenko and his management team were known for their unwillingness to sign cookie-cutter talent deals with American companies, and demanded co-promotion equity for M-1 Global. Today Emelianenko is affiliated with UFC’s much smaller rival, Bellator; his fight scheduled for last night’s Bellator show got canceled with a last-minute announcement that his opponent had fallen ill.
MMA, of course, is pro wrestling’s frighteningly real sports-entertainment cousin, and it is not surprising that Trump’s business history includes associations with both. But not even Linda McMahon, Vince’s wife and former CEO of WWE — now in Trump’s cabinet as head of the Small Business Administration — is known to have found a line, through that work, to Vladimir Putin.