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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

No Holds Barred in Ultimate Fighting

MTAmerican fighter Terrence "Cobra" Crumpton, right, submitting after a choke-hold by Russian heavyweight runner-up Valery Pliyev, standing to the far left.
One of the most popular new sports in Russia's regions makes boxing look like afternoon tea. Saturday night at Moscow's Universal Sports Complex CSKA, Muscovites got a peek at boi bez pravil, a no-holds-barred competition in which two combatants try to pound each other into submission.

Boi bez pravil, which translates to "fights without rules," is better known around the world as ultimate fighting, mix fighting or absolute fighting. It has swept across the United States, Japan, Brazil and the Netherlands over the past decade -- generating considerable pay-per-view receipts -- and has only been officially organized in Russia since the mid-1990s.

Each country employs its own set of rules. In general, though, the fights are governed by a short list of forbidden tactics: eye-gouging, hair-pulling, shots to the neck and groin, and elbows to the throat. But don't be fooled -- this is one of the world's most punishing sports.

Competitors are allowed to use any form of fighting -- karate, boxing, judo, Thai boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, ju jitsu or any random combination of punching, grappling or kicking that will get the job done. Many fighters enter the ring bare-knuckled, or wearing only thinly padded open-fingered gloves, which often leads to a mat awash in blood.

Saturday's World Absolute Fighting Championship attracted 24 contestants, from Belarus, Brazil, Poland, Russia, Ukraine and the United States. The top prize was $4,000 out of a total purse of $40,000.

Bouts were held inside a two-meter-high octagonal cage with black, padded posts at the corners and a green chain-link fence that locked the fighters inside. The matches consistently left opponents bloodied and the mat requiring thorough mopping between each round.

Boi bez pravil competitions have been held in Moscow in recent years, though primarily in smoke-filled clubs and casinos. Saturday's event was the first of its scale here. Boi bez pravil's fan base lies primarily in Russia's regions, where bouts have been staged regularly for the last decade.

Mike Solovyanov / MT

A bruised contestant trying to get up to face another beating. His face was badly battered by the end of his round in the ring.

"In small cities, such competitions are the event of the month," said Georgy Kobylyasky, vice president of the International Absolute Fighting Council, Russia's governing body for the sport. "It's easy to fill an entire arena. In Moscow it's a lot harder. There are so many other things going on." Though ticket agents claimed a sellout for the event, the 5,000-seat CSKA stadium was only a little over half full.

But there was plenty to cheer about for the hometown crowd. Three Russians fought their way into the finals. In the lightweight (less than 85 kilograms) championship, Russians Ansar Chalangov and Andrei Rudakov squared off against one another. Chalangov earned a second-round TKO win when Rudakov was too injured to continue.

"Tonight I was really focused," said Chalangov, as he pressed an ice bag to a large welt on his shaved head after the match. "The final fight is always the most difficult, knowing that you have to win."

Russian Valery Pliyev did not fare as well in the heavyweight (85 kilograms and over) final against Brazilian Mario de Silva "Sukata" Neto. Pliyev rallied the crowd behind him after forcing American heavyweights Terrence "Cobra" Crumpton and Garry Meyers to submit in consecutive rounds with merciless chokeholds.

"My man in there can take a punch," Crumpton said of Pliyev. "He withstood everything I threw at him, and when he got me in that choke, I basically couldn't breathe."

But de Silva was too powerful for Pliyev, who held out for the entire five rounds before losing a decision. The Russian spent a majority of the 25-minute match pinned on his back, while de Silva delivered repeated punches to his head, stomach and kidneys.

Standing around the ring watching the final bout, American competitors heaped praise on their Russian counterparts.

"Russian fighters have a lot more heart than anyone in the world," Meyers said. "These guys won't back down. You have to hurt them, because they won't submit."

Mike Solovyanov / MT

American John "Big John" Dixon, on his back, fending off punches from Russian Nikolai Onikiyenko while the referee looks on.

Hunched in his chair in a muggy locker room after the fight, heavyweight champion de Silva gave his own opinion on the matter.

"Brazilian fighters are the toughest in the world."

Communist State Duma Deputy Vasily Shandybin, in attendance at the matches, praised the toughness needed for boi bez pravil. Known for scrapping with other deputies on the Duma floor, Shandybin told RIA Novosti that ultimate fighting was "the type of sport that we need to develop. It's better to come in the gym and square off, rather than fighting with knives on the street."

Shandybin added that he would "like to bash the snouts of Yeltsin, Chubais, Gaidar, and whack Gorbachev's bald head."

Saturday's crowd wasn't quite as bloodthirsty. Enthusiasm lagged throughout the night, with scattered cries of "hit him" and "kick him in the legs" occasionally breaking long periods of silence.

But the fans did display moments of energetic national pride, with roars of approval and "Ro-ssi-ya" chants ringing out whenever local fighters toppled foreigners, Americans in particular. These provided only fleeting bursts.

"It's a new type of sport, and we need to spread the word about it," Kobylyasky said at the conclusion of the evening. "There is still a lot of work to do to make the sport more popular in Moscow."