Russian featherweight Rasul Mirzaev has a perfect professional mixed martial arts (MMA) record of 5-0 and was set to make his debut for Bellator when a disagreement outside a Moscow night club ended in tragedy and put an end to his hopes of fighting in the United States.
On August 19, 2011, Mirzaev punched Igor Agafonov, a 19-year-old student, who fell to the ground, banging his head. The punch itself was not fatal, but the head trauma caused by the collision with the pavement was, and the teenager died in the hospital four days later.
Mirzaev had only signed with Bellator four months earlier but instead of travelling to the U.S. to fight for the second biggest promotion there, he found himself on remand in a Russian prison, where he would remain for the next 15 months.
Initially charged with murder, he was ultimately convicted of manslaughter with everyone, including the victim's family, accepting that it was not the punch which killed Agafonov but the fall. On November 27, 2012 he was released, having already served his sentence.
Now trying to get his life and career back on track, Mirzaev, who won the Combat Sambo World Championship in 2010, is training at Phuket Top Team in Thailand, where he agreed to answer a few questions through his translator:
Are you signed with Bellator and do you think you will ever fight for them?
I did sign but now I have to wait and see as things have happened since then.
How did the manslaughter charge affect your career and are you happy you have finally put it behind you?
Sure it affected things, now I am just focused on the combat sambo world championship and getting back to fit and fighting.
Can you tell us anything about what happened that night?
I prefer not to talk about this, the situation is very touchy in Russia and still for awhile will be. It is regrettable but never intentional.
How did you end up in Thailand?
I come to get away and get fit. Luckily I find Phuket Top Team and I enjoy it very much here. Great team and fighters. I will be back again also.
When / where are you planning on fighting next?
Combat Sambo in Russia. For MMA, I will wait and see with my manager
Khabib Nurmagomedov and Rustan Khabilov have enjoyed success in the U.S. recently. Are you confident that, given the opportunity, you could have a similar impact?
I am very sure I can do well. I want to fight anywhere and everywhere to show my skills. For now one step at a time.
What are your ambitions for your MMA career?
I only want to be the best, nothing more.
Do you worry that people will always remember you for the manslaughter case rather than for your achievements as a mixed martial artist?
Maybe this is true. Anyone who knows me, know I am humble, polite and this is me. My fighting is my life, like my family.
How are you finding Thailand?
I find Phuket Top Team and the training has been great. The Leone brothers, Nonsai, Samkor and the coaches at Top Team are great, like a home for me.
Russian prisons have a bad reputation, were you able to stay in shape while you were there and if so, how?
No, I do not do anything in there. This was not a focus at that time.
How did your time in prison affect you?
I enjoy the ability to have freedom. I will live my life to be what I can.