Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures) repeats the words into a portable microphone set up in a back area inside “Big” John McCarthy’s gym in Valencia, Calif.
A rotund sound recordist annunciates each syllable again, hoping the soft-spoken Russian will pick up on the subtle corrections. Emelianenko recites the telephone greeting again thoughtfully, struggling to mimic what he’s just heard to make the technician happy.
It’s a rare moment where the world’s greatest fighter seems almost –- vulnerable. It only lasts for a moment.
Ten minutes later, Emelianenko is back in the gym standing inside a boxing ring raised a few feet off the floor. A camera crane hovers over the grinning fighter’s head, while a staff of 30 people congregates around TV screens and more cameras that peek between the ropes from all different angles.
Today the gym has become the set for an episode of Fox Sport Network’s “Sports Science,” which has enlisted the master grappler to demonstrate the finer points of chokes and holds.
The director yells “Action,” and Emelianenko takes McCarthy’s back in the blink of an eye, clutching the 6-foot-4, 280-pound retired referee like a koala bear hugging a thick tree trunk. A 15-year fixture around the sport, McCarthy has grappled with the greats, from the infamous Rickson Gracie (Pictures) to the cunning Randy Couture (Pictures) to the incredibly flexible B.J. Penn (Pictures).
Still, McCarthy doesn’t seem quite ready for the fluidity and speed in which this pudgy, unassuming-looking man moves. Nobody in the room does really, and that is part of what makes Fedor Fedor.
“He’s very explosive in his hips with very fast movements,” says McCarthy afterward. “He’s very quick in trying to move to those positions that he wants to get to with that explosiveness. He’s just a phenomenal athlete.”