Saturday, March 10, 2007

Wasted Talent & Potential: Sergei Kharitonov

By Lazarus K. Grant

At first glance, it may appear wrong to put Sergei in this category. His career has been mostly good wins and impressive performances, no embarrassing losses. But when I think about his near misses and natural ability, more and more it seems that he is (unfortunately) a good candidate for this series of articles.

In 2000, at the Brilliant 2 - Yalta’s Brilliant 2000 event was held in the Ukraine. Despite the low level and odd name of this event, there was a 20 year old future superstar competing for the first time in MMA. That August night Sergei would fight three times, winning and stopping his opponent in each fight.

Sergei would not fight again until 2003. In February of 2003, he competed at TORM 8, fighting twice in the same night, gaining submission victories over both of his opponents, neither of which took him longer than a minute to execute.

From here, Sergei would take a large step up. He began his Pride career in 2003 with an easy victory over Jason Suttie by armbar. Four months later, Sergei would dispatch Cory Peterson just as easily as he did Suttie, once again picking up a win via armbar. In these two fights, Sergei looked good but not exceptional He was training with the Emelianenkos.

Sergei’s next fight would see him pitted against Murilo “Ninja” Rua. Ninja was stepping up in weight, but his diverse offense and high energy style had given fits to some of the best 205 lbers in the world. Ninja was outclassed by Kharitonov, who dominated both standing and on the ground. This was Kharitonov’s toughest test to date, and he passed it with flying colours. A spot in Pride’s inaugural heavyweight grand prix was on the line in this fight. By outstriking Ninja, Sergei showed he had very good striking skills and that he could take a shot.

Sergei would encounter his second tall task (pun intended) when he was matched up with renowned striker Semmy Schilt at Pride Critical Countdown 2004.

Sergei looked impressive in this fight, taking Schilt down early, gaining side control and mounting Semmy at around one minute into the fight. Schilt would then gain top position before both fighters made it to there feet two minutes into the first round. From here, he would take Schilt down again and keep control from that point on, gaining the TKO victory at just over nine minutes of the first round. Sergei showed the killer instinct in this fight, pounding Schilt’s unprotected face into mush. He also demonstrated excellent ground control.

After finding success in the first round of the GP, Sergei faced Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in the semi-finals. Sergei lost a great fight by unanimous decision. This was his first loss, but he was able to hold his own for the entire fight and, while losing, helped to prove himself as the real deal. What was particularly impressive is that he was relatively even with Nogueira in all aspects of the game. Nog was a little better, but Sergei showed he didn’t really have any weaknesses.

After this, Sergei would return at Pride 29 to face Mu Bae Choi. After an amusing staredown, Sergei had little trouble in controlling the stand up, finally finishing Choi at around three and a half minutes into the fight with a nice flurry of punches, followed by a knee and a kick, at which point the ref called a stop to the action.

At Pride Critical Countdown 2005, Sergei fought Pedro Rizzo. After another amusing, and this time much more intense staredown, Sergei dominated Rizzo, hitting numerous beautiful combinations, and making the stand up superstar Rizzo look quite amateur. After just two minutes, the ref had to call a halt to proceedings, and Sergei had another impressive win under his belt.

Shortly after this Sergei would fight at the Rings - Lithuania event, scoring a first round victory over Peter Mulder.

Sergei fought at Pride 30 against Fabricio Werdum. Sergei would win a close split decision. During the first few minutes of the fight, Sergei would suffer an injury to his right shoulder, but was able to finish and indeed win the fight. Sergei looked to be a solid number four in Pride and maybe the world. Then things started to unravel.

Sergei fought at Pride 31 against Alistair Overeem. Once again, Sergei would suffer an injury early on, this time dislocating his shoulder. Despite this injury, he would not quit the fight, with the ref being forced to end the fight five minutes in to save Sergei from suffering any further punishment. This fight is a testament to Sergei’s heart but set him back in the division.

Sergei returned to action seven months later against Aleksander Emelianenko. The fight was close, and ended with Aleksander taking a TKO victory, after Sergei taunted Aleksander, pointing to his chin on two separate occasions asking Emelianenko to hit him again. Aleksander did indeed hit him again, and Sergei would suffer his third loss in his career. This is a fight that would have put Sergei in the title mix. He seemed to have Aleks beaten, and he ruined his chance with stupid clowning. Obviously he was no longer training with Fedor and Aleks at this point.

From here, Sergei returned at Pride’s second show on U.S soil, facing Michael Russow. Despite Russow getting good position on occasion during the fight, Sergei did not have a lot of trouble with Russow, submitting him under four minutes into the first round. That Pride was willing to give him a showcase fight says a lot about how much confidence they have in him.

So why do I feel he has never lived up to his potential? Well it must be said that he has performed very well in the past, and none of his losses are bad ones. He can avenge all his losses. I believe he would have few problems with Overeem, and could even beat Nogueira. But I feel by now, he could have been at a higher level. One reason is the injuries that he has suffered. This is something that really is not his or anyone’s fault, and they have clearly hampered him. Outside of his injuries, I feel there is very little else that has contributed, as I feel not training with Fedor has not affected him negatively, as training with the very best fighter is not necessarily a guarantee of success.

What do I see for him in the future? I think he will get to the top. He has a huge amount of talent, and he isn’t wasting it of his own accord like some, he has had other things (his injuries) weighing him down. He is still young and has a lot of fighting left, and I think he will go far.

In closing, I will offer my customary well wishes for the future. I always enjoy watching Sergei fight, and knowing that he could be one of the best, I hope to see him do it. If he reaches his potential, there could be a new Russian Emperor ruling MMA.


No comments: