A Fellow Traveler Enters the Moscow Cage Match
American MMA fighter Jeff Monson is a posterboy for the Russian Communist Party's propaganda push. But he may be a pawn in a larger game.
Monson also has strong feelings about Russia’s relationship with the United States; he believes that the two countries are slipping back into Cold War mentality, something that his studio handlers appear to be keenly aware of on the set preparing for his show. Back at the RT studio, Monson is doing a promotional shoot for his new program. Occasionally, he looks sheepish at the scene he finds himself in — a studio packed with executives in suits barking directions at a half-naked, heavily tattooed man covered in oil. “Now, you just have to say three lines for an ad,” they tell him in English before carefully annunciating the Russian phrases: chto (what), sloosha sooda (listen here), and nyet parmimo (I don’t get it) — well-known language from Russian mob films that will help tie Monson to the country’s ethos of tough-guy politics. Monson rehearses off camera but can’t get the words right, the absurdity of the project lit up under 750-watt halogen bulbs.
“Nyet parrno!” the producers yell, their words clipped into typically rolling Russian.
“Net porno!” Monson shouts at the camera.
“OK … maybe a bit more confused. Ni-yet parrrno. Parrrnnno.”
“Maybe a little angry. Give me angry. You’re confused — ‘I don’t get it’ — you’re a little angry.”
The suits watching agree to settle with what they’ve got. Monson steps in and suggests it would be really cool if he did it with the Russian flag draped over his shoulders. Artur, the head producer, offers some excuses about not being able to find one, but an assistant foils the ruse and says there’s one upstairs. Artur finally explains: In Russia, we don’t use our flag like that.
To many Americans, Monson will undoubtedly be seen as an envelope for anti-Americanism, a distinct vision prized by RT and the Communist Party for his utility in a country where political ideas are largely forged by expediency. Monson is even beginning to get that feeling, too. “[The Communist Party] reached out to me. They wanted to be affiliated with me,” he emphasizes. “I don’t want to be a poster boy — I want to make changes and decisions.”
“I’m disappointed with the Communist Party,” Monson admits, looking tired after a day of filming and sprawled out across the back seat of the studio car driving him around Moscow. “I don’t know if they have the same idealistic desire for what they want [as I do]. They’re living in the past but enjoying the spoils of today.”
He takes a rare pause. “I don’t know,” he finally says, “but I feel like they’re distancing themselves from me in the lead-up to the election, as a foreigner.”
Photo credit: YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images