February 28, 2014

Another colossal Slavic politician: Alexander "The Experiment" Karelin

Commenter John Craig points out that Just Not Said was all over this question of immense tough guy Slavic politicians like boxers Wladimir Klitschko and Nikolai Valuev back in 2013. 

Another member of the Duma in Russia is Alexander Karelin, the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler of all time (lifetime record: 887-2). The Siberian heavyweight's loss to American Rulon Gardner at the 2000 Olympics is the only thing Americans like me have ever heard about Greco-Roman wrestling. Karelin's nicknames include the "Russian Bear," "Alexander the Great," and, my favorite, "The Experiment." He is 6'3.25" and wrestled at 286 pounds.
Karelin is now on the International Relations committee of the legislature.

(Thanks to commenter roundeye, too.)

By the way, Secretary of State John Kerry's recent attempt to improve Russian-American relations by exclaiming "This is not Rocky IV," when, yeah, now that you mention it, it kind of is Rocky IV, reminds me of the underrated intelligence of Sylvester Stallone at sensing where guys' heads were heading. As an analyst of where modern culture was going, was anybody else as perceptive as Stallone was in 1976 to 1985?

The usual assumption today is that, well, sure, Arnold Schwarzenegger was obviously always a shrewd guy, but Stallone was kind of a meathead. Yet Stallone wrote one of the ten most influential screenplays in movie history in Rocky. I'm sure somebody before Stallone made a movie about working out and getting into shape, but Rocky's montage scene was a bolt from the blue in skinny 1976. Hollywood immediately knew it was an all-time great script, so Stallone was able to leverage the demand for his screenwriting talent to insist upon the right to play Rocky himself.

And Rocky IV is a bizarrely different from Rocky: while Rocky has all the great lines Stallone saved up from his first 30 years of life, Rocky IV has almost no dialog, just insane images. (And that's not to mention Stallone's Rambo movies.) So, while I'd much rather invest my money in a real estate development put together by Schwarzenegger, Stallone had more moments of genius in his decade.


Anonymous said...

Ehh, Chuck Zito could probably whoop him.

Anonymous said...

The Tom Landry/Gil Brandt/Tex Schramm Cowboys went after Karelin pretty hard - like they had gone after Renaldo Nehemiah and Bob Hayes - but they weren't able to convice Karelin to switch careers.

BTW, has iSteve ever done the topic of the rise in "Olympic Sport" salaries?

Back in the 60s and 70s and 80s, when the Olympics were still for amateurs, guys like Hayes and Nehemiah didn't have much choice but to switch careers.

Maybe the USSR was offering Karelin more than the Cowboys could?

Anonymous said...

Stallone comes across as a dummy because of his bizarre manner of speaking, which is caused by one side of his face being entirely paralyzed from an accident as an infant. Most people in the know realize that he is in fact a very smart guy.

Anonymous said...

RE: Stallone,

Yeah, he had an almost uncanny sense of the zeitgeist. Cf the first ROCKY, which tapped into the vaguely anti-authoritarian ethos of the '70s. In particular, note how patriotism comes across as a kind of scam in the film, another button for shrewd hucksters, like Apollo Creed, to punch.

RAMBO II and ROCKY IV, in contrast, were full-on Reagan-era celebrations of love for America and the need to defend her from the Soviets.Even Apollo, whose patriotic effusions in ROCKY were purely mercenary in origin, is now suddenly filled with Cold War fervor.

Anonymous said...

"The Siberian heavyweight's loss to American Rulon Gardner at the 2000 Olympics is the only thing Americans like me have ever heard about Greco-Roman wrestling."

I remember commentators talking about how shocking Karelin's defeat was. No thought that he was going to lose.

non said...

High five to Steve for finding that photo, and 21 gun salute to the photographer who snapped it.

thirdtwin said...

"As an analyst of where modern culture was going, was anybody else as perceptive as Stallone was in 1976 to 1985?"

Billy Joel?

Anonymous said...

My impression is that Stallone always had more than enough talent to have been a darling of the critics, had he really wanted to, but he preferred to be a crowd-pleasing populist instead. Obviously, he was mindful of Cosmo Brown's warning in song: "You can charm the critics and have nothing to eat..." Even Stallone's schmaltzier or more clich├ęd moments can be fascinating, if you want to understand how to expertly push an audience's emotional buttons.

Oswald Spengler said...

If Rocky IV was made today, during World War G (rather than the Cold War) Rocky's final speech would feature the quote, "I guess what I'm trying to say, is that if I can like gays, and you can like gays, then everybody can like gays!"

Caleo said...

No, Chuck Zito could not whoop him. No disrespect to Chuck Zito of course.
As a former wrestler who still follows international wrestling I can tell you Karelin was a titan who utterly dominated his weight class for 12 years, and he did it with a level of athleticism unknown among super heavyweights. I followed his exploits for many years, and the only reason he lost to Rulon in the finals was on a strange technicality due to a rule change the year before. If he had won, he would have been a 4 time Olympic gold medalist. Rumor had it that he was pressured into competing for a 4th gold by certain elements of the Russian government/mafia. He carried the flag for Russia during the opening ceremonies at the 2000 Olympics, and was a national hero in Russia...still is really. The living embodiment of Slavic strength and power. He was born and raised in Siberia, apparently weighing 15 lbs. at birth.
On a side note, in Russia many former elite wrestlers make their way into politics and/or the mafia. The distinctions are murky.
Another example for Steve is Mikhail Mamiashvili, a Gold medalist at the 88 Olympics in Greco Roman. He is one of the most powerful and influential men in International wrestling, and it's an open secret in wrestling that he is a high ranking member of the Russian mafia.

Anonymous said...

A brief rundown of the ties between Russian athletes and organized crime.http://www2.hs.fi/english/archive/news.asp?id=20020430ie1

Superman said...

I can't deliver an opinion on the Stallone v. Schwarzenegger debate until I get an accurate reading on their respective heights.

Rocky said...

He doesn't look so tough. I bet he can't even punch a beef carcass.

Anonymous said...

Russians are muscleheads, not mindheads.

RonMexico said...

Many Greco-Roman enthusiasts were pissed that Gardner defeated the legend, Karelin, 1-0. If I remember right (maybe not) Gardner scored the point on breaking a hold, which is about how most points are scored. Karelin sometimes would throw guys, which was scary to watch. He was a beast, but not that night in Sydney. Gardner just used his upper body girth to leverage a victory. Gardner wasn't a fluke back then, though, as he earned a Bronze in '04. Karelin's training regimen was something out of Rocky IV, carrying logs in the snow, etc.. The athletes we get in Congress aren't intimidating like the three you have mentioned lately, Karelin, Valuev, Klitschko. Schwarzenegger and Ventura were guvs, but more caricatures by that point in their careers.

Stuff Black People Don't Like said...

The story of Stallone shooting/directing the first "Expendables" film is worth tracking down. He broke his neck filming the movie (in a fight w/ Steve Austin) and - I believe - took over directing midway through production.

it used to be available on Netflix.

He also directed the absolutely awesome 2006 "Rambo" -- great features on the DVD into his intelligence/ability to direct a tough ensemble piece.

Steve -- I'd love to get your thoughts on the 1992 battle to get the Wyatt Earp film out between Costner and Russell.

The entire story behind the production of "Tombstone" is one of the great Hollywood stories ever, and I have a feeling an insanely badass cut of the film exists with all the footage shot for that movie.

Anonymous said...

Karelian was something like 16 pounds at birth. There is a youtube video somewhere of a Japaneses game show where Karelin lifts a small Japanese man and tosses him 25 feet.

His match against that slob Gardner was probably the only time when I was sad to see the American win.

jody said...

randy couture was the olympic alternate 3 times in a row, so basically, he was the number 2 greco wrestler in the US for 8 years straight. he did not get into UFC until after he got second again at the 1996 olympic trials. if he had switched from wrestling to UFC earlier, no telling how much better he could have done. he was 34 when he STARTED.

greco is probably harder than freestyle, and americans don't do either, they do folkstyle, so they have a harder time than other guys when they make the transition into international level wrestling.

an american has not won a medal in greco at the world championships since 2007, and not at the olympics since 2008, where they won 1 bronze. they pretty much get tossed around.

rulon gardner only took 1 MMA match, for like 250 grand, and after he won he decided he didn't like it and never took another.

Anonymous said...

"A Burrito Stomping on a Human Face—Forever
The future of the American economy, and what to do about it.
By Matthew Yglesias"


"Over the course of my time as Slate’s Moneybox correspondent, I’ve frequently had occasion to write about the fast-food sector. Chipotle, especially, but also Chopt and Taco Bell and KFC. To some, this has become an object of fun. Why is this guy writing so much about fast food when there are so many real economic issues in the world? The answer is simple. Fast food is an important issue. If you want an image of the future, imagine a burrito stomping on a human face—forever."

Auntie Analogue said...

Has the U.S. not had its share of Jesse Venturas and Arnold Schwarzeneggers? Have many U.S. candidates and politicians not cultivated for public display and electoral advantage their association with athletes? Were Rafer Johnson and Rosey Grier not there to disarm the "Palestinian" Moslem who shot Bobby Kennedy? Did Rome's elite not take advantage of every opportunity to be seen bestowing laurels on popular victorious arena competitors? Did mediaeval monarchs and nobles not have their chosen single combat champions?

Why, then, all the fuss about Russo-Slavic politico-gorillas? After all, since the collapse of Soviet Communism, Russia has been ruled by the financially and criminally muscular who enjoy hobnobbing with their athletic equivalents. The point is that the symbiotic relationship between powerful political elites and renowned athletes is anything but novel.

Anonymous said...

What do you expect? Stallone is partly Jewish.

Robert the Wise said...

Fuck Chuck Zito.

Zito is a pussy who can only sucker punch people like the coward he is.

Zito's also an ex-con. Only idiots go to prison.

Thanks for bringing up something totally irrelevant and pointless by the way.

wiseguy said...

Another Slavic tough guy involved in politics: Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, who was both a world-class mma fighter and a member of Croatian Parliament.

Then there's Manny Pacquiao, but, admittedly, he might not be Slavic.

Gubbler of the Society of Reformed Chechenistics said...

Who are the real neo-Soviets?

We keep hearing that Putin is a neo-Stalinist who worked for the KGB--and still has a KGB mentality--, but, as long as we're playing that game, what can be said about American power-players and political agendas?

FDR's administration was filled with commies, commie spies, and commie sympathizers, but most Libs seem to have no problem with that.
And the 'victims' of McCarthy were Stalinists and other commies, but they are lionzed and sainted by today's Liberals(who also played a key role in the communization of China and Cuba).

If working for the intelligence department is wicked, then why did conservatives go with George Bush who was once a CIA man? Indeed, he was far higher up the CIA ladder than Putin was in the KGB. Surely, CIA pulled a lot of dirty tricks too.

And speaking of backgrounds, if Putin has a 'Stalinist' background, don't the Neocons have a Trotskyite background? (Is it Stalin vs Trotsky all over again under new guise? Nationalism vs internationalism?) If Putin cannot shake off his past, then logically the same goes for neocons whose worldview and character were defined by Trotskyism.

And if communism is so bad, why is the Democratic Party much easier with the far left than the GOP is with the far right? We see conservatives going out of their way to prove they are not 'racist', but we don't see libs trying to denounce the radical left.

If anything, lots of boomers who run elite institutions were communists or communist-sympathizers in the 60s and early 70s, yelling ho ho ho chi minh, the NFL is gonna win. And consider the Che Guevara worship among 'progressives'. Che, the man who wanted to trigger nuclear war in the name of 'revolutionary sacrifice'. Obama had ties with Alinskyism, and Alinsky was a soft communist.

Now, what were the defining features of Soviet display of power? Mass rallies with banners and mass hysteria. And branding anti-Marxists and anti-communists as mentally ill and even sending them to mental asylums.

Today, who holds mass rallies and whips up mass hysteria with parades and banners? Homoviets.
And what do homoviets and Jews say? They say that if you don't think fecal penetration among men is wonderful and if you don't approve of 'gay marriage', you are mentally ill with a phobia. You should be fired, blacklisted, sued, and destroyed.

Compared to all of this, it seems Putin did more to put away his Soviet/commie past than the people who run the US who are either neo-Trotskyites or promote the homo agenda in the mass-propaganda ways of the old Soviet Union.
And speaking of national intelligence, isn't it funny that NSA spies on all of us while its whistle-blower find refuge in Russia of all places?

Americans think they are so ironic but they are so doggone earnest. Indeed, earonic is what they are. Facade of irony but really easily duped like children.

Anonymous said...


scottlocklin said...

The list of muscle bound Slavic politicians is, well, "fookin huge." Here are a few of my favorites:
1) Yuri Vlasov: his political career wasn't as impressive as some (Congress of People's deputies and a failed presidential candidate in 2004), but he did a lot better than his Olympic weight lifting rival, Norb Schemansky. He was also a philosopher and said things like this, "The blood of your fathers has turned to water in your veins. Not your lot is it to be strong as they were. Having tasted neither life’s sorrows nor it’s joy, like a sickling you look at life through a glass. Your skin will shrivel, your muscles grow weak, tedium will devour your flesh destroying desire. Thought will congeal in your skull and horror will stare at you from the mirror. Overcome yourself, overcome yourself. I tremble, I seethe, I clench, I seize the haul."
2) Mirko Filipovic or "Cro Cop" in MMA; was a member of Croatian parliament. I think he's still a ranked heavyweight fighter.
3) Alexander Lebed probably counts, and I consider it a tragedy for Russia that he didn't live longer. He's a giant former special forces guy. Probably for the best he ain't presently president, as he was quite a nationalist on the Ukraine question. Fun quotes:

To be fair, there are plenty of American politician athletes. The Slavic nations, though, seem most enamored of men of the "Jesse Ventura" mold. Americans athlete politicians are more of the "Jack Kemp" mold. Either way, it's kind of fundamental primate behavior following the tall monkey.

scottlocklin said...

You know, another thing that occurs to me: my Ukrainian pals who support Klitschko do so in part because he is seen as an honest man who made his living with his fists, rather than in shady deals. I think there is a Slavic tendency to have respect for physically tough guys; one we've lost in the West. I can't imagine Teddy Roosevelt being elected today (Eisenhower, who was also a badass, had a hard enough time in the 50s). But the "anti-corruption" and "fair fighter" aspect of things might be the dominant reason for electing tough guys.

RAZ said...

You could tell Stallone was just milking it by Rocky IV (Rocky III was actually OK, better than Rocky II). Remember reading that he cut a few minutes from the run time to be able to get an add'l showing, and the extra money that brought in, each night. Cheesy with the Gorbachev like Premier and the impromptu speech Rocky makes after he beats Drago and the approval the Premier gives him.

Anonymous said...

Dude looks like Jaws.

Anonymous said...

Kerry's remark about Rocky IV might make some sense if USSR had made the film(or Rambo). But Soviet films about the Cold War were far more sober and mature than those silly Reagan era cartoons.

It's the US that's been Hollywoodizing the neo-cold war.

Anonymous said...

Well, that's done. Russia has just admitted that it's now rolling tanks and helicopters into Crimea.

Shows what Putin thinks of President Teleprompter.

roundeye said...

American football players include Whizzer White and Gerry Ford.

Gubbler of the Society of Reformed Chechenistics said...

"Well, that's done. Russia has just admitted that it's now rolling tanks and helicopters into Crimea."

This is hardly an invasion. If Putin is smart, he will focus putting troops in overwhelmingly pro-Russian areas and prepare for breakup of Ukraine.
Both sides have legit gripes in Ukraine, and I take no sides. With better leaders, maybe the two sides could have come together. But since both sides have been corrupt and idiotic, I think Ukraine needs to break up like Czech republic and Slovakia.
Czechs and Slovaks are ethnically identical and have very similar languages but wanted to go separate ways. Fine.
Same with Ukraine. It should break into East and West. End this silly business.

jody said...

"Well, that's done. Russia has just admitted that it's now rolling tanks and helicopters into Crimea."

as i expected. EU will not respond, which means the US under obama also will not respond.

the interesting question: how will moron mccain respond. listening to his idiotic ideas about this kind of thing is almost worth him still being in office, for the sheer entertainment value alone. let's see what head slappingly stupid stuff old john can come up with here.

will he call for the US to start world war 3 over the ukraine? or perhaps, since it's not some small weak country of brown people that the US navy can bomb with impunity from an aircraft carrier, he's not so eager to send 20 year old european americans to go die for no reason. tune in all next week for the mccaniac's network television response!

i have been thinking that maybe the full court press on the homosexual agenda, RIGHT NOW, RIGHT THIS SECOND!, is to flood all US news media with that topic, so that people are distracted and think less about PPACA as an election approaches. but now, with an international incident brewing, the GOP has a new opportunity to shoot themselves in the foot. instead of hammering on PPACA relentlessly every week, the neocons could be licking their chops at precipitating another military conflict.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous:"Kerry's remark about Rocky IV might make some sense if USSR had made the film(or Rambo). But Soviet films about the Cold War were far more sober and mature than those silly Reagan era cartoons.

It's the US that's been Hollywoodizing the neo-cold war."

Surely you are joking, dear boy. Soviet Cinema contained its fair share of anti-American silliness. Cf films like "Incident at Map Grid 36-80","The Detached Mission",etc.

Of course, these films, lacking Hollywood polish, have had little impact in terms of world cinema.

Dave Pinsen said...

Yeah, whoever heard of Russians doing something mentally demanding like playing chess?

Dave Pinsen said...

Did you mean to write Vitaliy there, Steve? Has Wladimir gotten involved in politics too?

I wonder, btw, if voters might feel like they'd get in fewer scraps as a country with a heavy weight champ running things, as he would feel no need to exert machismo.

Anonymous said...


This is hardly Rambo.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous:"This is hardly Rambo."

Of course not, dear boy. As one would expect from a Soviet era film, it's not nearly as entertaining or well-made.

Anonymous said...


Just when you think that Soviet cinema can't get any worse, there comes THE DETACHED MISSION.Crikey, this makes RAMBO II look like CITIZEN KANE or THE SEARCHERS in comparison.

Anonymous said...

Surely you are joking, dear boy.

Whoever this 'dear boy' guy is, he should get an avatar that resembles the old ask jeeves logo.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous:"Kerry's remark about Rocky IV might make some sense if USSR had made the film(or Rambo). But Soviet films about the Cold War were far more sober and mature than those silly Reagan era cartoons.

It's the US that's been Hollywoodizing the neo-cold war."

Another choice piece of Soviet era anti-American cinema is the deliriously OTT mini-series Dokument R:


Adapted from an Irving Wallace novel. Needs to be seen to be believed.

Anonymous said...

Another bit of OTT Soviet Anti-American propaganda,Bogach, bednyak.
This one is adapted from RICH MAN, POOR MAN:

Anonymous said...

America should be careful about the endless threats it keeps issuing to Russia about Ukraine. We all know that the man in the empty suit will do nothing at all if Russia actually does intervene. This only makes America look even more ridiculous then it actually is.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous:"Whoever this 'dear boy' guy is, he should get an avatar that resembles the old ask jeeves logo."

I must say, being placed anywhere in the vicinity of Wodehouse is a sublime pleasure...

RonMexico said...

"The Tom Landry/Gil Brandt/Tex Schramm Cowboys went after Karelin pretty hard - like they had gone after Renaldo Nehemiah and Bob Hayes - but they weren't able to convice Karelin to switch careers."

Not probable. Brandt and Schramm were fired in early 89. Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones wouldn't have gone that route. Soviet Union wouldn't have entertained such a thing. Most likely someone's wet dream that got published somewhere. Skeets Nehemiah didn't amount to much. Bullet Bob HOF!

Anonymous said...

You know, I got to wondering if maybe it might have been the Jimmy Johnson era.

But I have a very clear, strong memory of the Cowboys trying to get Karelin into training camp.

Truth said...

Funniest Stallone story:

Casting for Rocky II, he wanted a tough, menacing black guy to play Clubber Lang. He decided he was going to go with realism and cast heavyweight contender Ernie Shavers, who had just lost a tough fight to Ali.

Shavers had, and still has the unofficial title as "puncher in boxing history" as he used to wind up in the ring and coldcock guys with one punch. They start sparring to prepare for the role, and Shavers is just love-tapping him, as you'd expect a non-psychopathic heavyweight contender to do with a 170 lb. actor, but Stallone took offense.

He starts yelling at Shavers, "I thought you were the hardest puncher in the world!" "Is that all you've got!" "COME ON YOU PUSSY HIT ME HARDER!!!" In front of an entire crew.

Shavers then cranks up a vicious body punch that makes Stallone fall onto his knees, vomit and shat his trunks, and crawl out of the ring on his hands and knees, back to the locker room.

They asked Shavers about it later and he said. "Mr. Stallone sent me home after that, I didn't ge the job and Mr. T went on to be a star."

Anonymous said...

Peter The Great was 6' 8"