Russia spent months moving troops near the Ukrainian border before launching its first attacks on the country on Thursday – attacks that prevented several Brazilian MMA fighters from returning to their home countries.
Former BRAVE CF champion Luan Santiago, a welterweight fighter out of Brazil, headlined RCC: Intro 19 against Ilyas Khamzin on Wednesday in Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city. Santiago lost the fight by split decision, but he and his head coach Cristiano Marcello are much more worried about whether they will be able to return home.
“I asked [RCC] officials if the war was to spread [into the country] and if we had to worry, and they said they live in the tension of war, that’s normal for them,” Marcello said. “I asked the hotel receptionist if there was a risk of airports closing, and she told me that Sochi airport was already closed.”
Marcello said walking around Yekaterinburg on Thursday felt like any other day, and until the situation turned dire he didn’t feel like he was in a country currently embroiled in international conflict. . “Nobody expected a war,” he said.
Marcello had a flight scheduled for 11:50 p.m. Thursday to Moscow, but was told upon arrival at the airport that his flight had been cancelled. He hopes to catch a flight tomorrow, or leave the country on a train for Europe and then return to Brazil.
The situation is a bit trickier for The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 2 alum Marcio Santos, who lost a decision to Mikhail Allakhverdian on Wednesday in the main event of AMC Fight Nights 109 in Sochi. The city is located near the Russian-Ukrainian border, and many flights have been canceled since the start of the conflict.
Santos spent months training in Dagestan in 2021 and planned to do the same in 2022 before the conflict started. Having already agreed to fight in Russia in May and June, Santos still hopes to return to Dagestan to continue his camp, but now has no choice but to wait and “see how things go”. Another MMA fighter, Taigro Costa, is currently at the hotel with Santos, also waiting and unsure how they will return to Dagestan.
“We were taken by surprise,” he said. “[The war] was imminent, but we were surprised by it. I was going to return to Dagestan but the airports are now closed until further notice. I’m not good at geography but my translator told me we were basically on the Ukrainian border so I’m tense now. ‘Sh*t, so close?’ She said we were almost at the epicenter. I was like, I live in Belford Roxo [Rio de Janeiro] so I’m used to wars, [but] I worried. I thought we were distant [from the conflict]but then I discovered that we were closer than we had hoped.
Fellow Brazilians Brendson Ribeiro and Vinicius Cruz fought on the same AMC Fight Nights 109 card in Sochi, but decided to leave for the airport hours after their fights rather than wait at the hotel. Fortunately, they managed to leave the city before the airport closed. Both fighters and their teams are currently at Moscow airport, waiting to fly back to Brazil.
“I feel like everything is going to be fine with our flight,” Cruz said. “Our flight from Sochi to Moscow was delayed, we waited two hours inside the plane, then the actual flight took longer than normal, over three hours instead of normal time and 45 minutes, but we had no idea what was going on.. It wasn’t until we landed in Moscow and connected to wifi that we found out the war had started.
Fabio Maldonado, a UFC veteran who lost a bare-knuckle boxing match Wednesday night in Russia, managed to fly to Moscow and catch a flight to Brazil.
Jose Marcos, member of the fourth season of TUF Brazil who participated in RCC’s co-main event: Intro 19, also returned to Moscow without any problems, but the MMA fighter and his team were removed from their subsequent connection flight to Poland as the country has restrictions on the entry of Brazilians due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and are currently stuck in limbo.
“We don’t have a flight yet,” Marcos said. “We are waiting for our manager to tell us what to do. We don’t speak English and we can’t even find out which company has our luggage.