Skip to main content

The scariest man in mixed martial arts history: Part I

Emelianenko's tattoos cannot be read as proof that he is a member of the criminal underworld, but the meaning of the tattoos is interesting.
Aleks Emelianenko wins Combat Sambo event

Aleks knows what's up.

In the beginning, Aleksander Emelianenko was a world-class MMA fighter, three-time world Combat Sambo champion, younger brother of MMA heavyweight GOAT Fedor Emelianenko, and the scariest man on the planet. Oh, and he killed a bear with a knife. This is a story of his ink.

Vory v Zakone Tattoos

Aleks's tattoos have been a source of some controversy. Tattoos and fighters are like peanut butter and jelly, but many of Aleks's can have a particular meaning, or not.

A number of his tattoos (some have been inked over since) have specific meanings in Russia's criminal fraternity, the Vory v Zakone (“Thieves in Law”), a group with origins that extend back to the Czarist era. They make the Mafia's code of Omerta look like a Boy Scout secret hand signal. Non-cooperation with authorities is central to their code.

During World War II, Russian prisoners were offered freedom by Stalin if they fought against the Nazis. Some did. When the war was over, many again landed in prison.

Once back in prison, members of the Vory v Zakone who fought the Nazis were termed Sukas (the term refers to a female dog, or "bitch" but in this context is something akin to traitor, or perhaps "scab" in a labor setting). The Bitch War broke out. It took place within the Soviet labor camp system, and lasted from 1945 to around the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953.

Prison authorities often ignored the war, as prisoner deaths reduced the overall prison population. Further, the guards often supported the Sukas with weapons, while the Vor were unarmed. An unknown number died in the Bitch war, but body count in the thousands. The Suka often came out ahead, and the strict code was thereafter not as strongly adhered to.

Given that the fierce restrictions were eased after The Suka War, Emelianenko's tattoos cannot be read as proof that he is a member of the criminal underworld. Nevertheless, the meaning of the tattoos is interesting.

Aleks has stars on his shoulders and knees, a classic symbol of the Russian criminal fraternity. Stars on the knees mean the man will never kneel to the authorities, or cooperate in any way.

The cathedral on his right arm is a cathedral with five domes, one for each of his years of imprisonment.

The spider web on his right shoulder has multiple meanings. A spider going up the web means the wearer is a thief. A spider going down indicates retirement. It can also indicate addiction to narcotics.

The half-skull cat's head with the words "Homo homini lupus est" (Man is a wolf to his fellow man) on his right arm indicates a particularly dangerous prisoner - a dangerous man even among dangerous men.

The grim reaper holding a baby on his back with the German phrase "Gott Mit Uns" (God is with us) does not show Nazi sympathies. Rather, it indicates that the Vor were so opposed to the Soviet authorities that they would wear symbols of those authorities' greatest enemies.

Other symbols on his body that have meanings in the criminal underworld include a pirate, a dagger, a cross on a grave, and a slogan popular in juvenile detention.

Again, the tattoos are not proof that Aleks is a member of a criminal fraternity. Maybe he just likes them.

And here's a highlight of Aleks smashing people.

The scariest man in mixed martial arts: Part 2