Artem Levin, one of the top pound-for-pound kickboxers, has not appeared in big kickboxing events since his controversial refusal to continue in his title fight with Simon Marcus at GLORY 27 in February 2016. In that fight, referee Al Wichgers ruled an eight-count knockdown against Levin, the reigning and defending middleweight champion, just after Levin went outside the ropes following a knee from Marcus and deducted two points from Levin for intensive clinching, despite clinching initiated by both fighters.
After the controversial calls, Wichgers ceased to officiate for GLORY, while Levin terminated his contract with the promotion and Marcus became the GLORY middleweight champion.
Now, more than one year after this scandalous fight, Levin sat down to talk to Combat Press. What follows is a translation of the interview, which was originally conducted in Russian by Combat Press writer Ruslan Navshyrvanov.
Recently you returned to San Diego from your business trip to Russia.
Yes, presently I have such activity. I visited two tournaments. First, I went to Russian Challenge 3, where I was invited as a special guest by my friend, Dzhabar Askerov. And then circumstances brought me to a second international tournament, WHCM in Chechnya, also as a special guest. It is a young but actively developing tournament. Presently Chechnya invests money to develop sport, and we should understand that it leads to results. We can see it.
With your great experience, what do you think about the present level of Russian professional Muay Thai and kickboxing tournaments?
We should understand that these are international and ambitious but very young tournaments, which cannot compete with such leagues as GLORY, Kunlun or Bellator. We will see how the situation develops, because if someone will make efforts — financial, first of all — then one of the world’s leading promotions can appear in Russia. Russia has everything for it — finance, fighters, resources.
The main problem is the impossibility to sell TV broadcasting in Russia. For example, in the United States, your promotion can be recognized as successful if TV channels broadcast your tournaments. In China, the situation is different. Investors literally fight for the possibility to sponsor a tournament. China has money presently. Even the UFC is owned by Chinese investors. Thus, we can say that China dominates in martial arts presently.
Russia can also develop a global promotion. We need interested people who can invest and create a quality product. Not a one-event tournament, but build a strategic business model. Today, professional sport is not only sport itself, but business that requires planning, strategy and future recoupment.
So, in Russia, you need to attract advertisers because you cannot sell pay-per-views?
Yes, it is the main problem. First of all, we need sponsorship. In order to be broadcasted in Russia, you need support of sport authorities or you can pay the TV channel directly to be broadcasted. We face misunderstandings with broadcast management. But it will be solved in the future, I guess.
You were a commentator on Russian Challenge 3. Did you enjoy the experience? Any plans to do it again?
I would not say that it is my first experience. I like it and the quality of my job should be rated by viewers who heard my comments. Actually, I am interested. If I get more offers, I would join with pleasure. I like to watch fights from outside of the ring, and when you have an interesting companion who understand fights, it is always interesting.
Glad to see that you, as probably the main Russian kickboxing star, support and develop this sport in the Russian Federation and don’t forget your motherland. Yet, you have been living in San Diego for three years, correct?
Yes. But you can’t say it exactly like that. I would say that I live in two countries. I come about three times a year to my native Prokopyevsk, as usual as I did during my amateur career, when we were traveling all the time. I come almost every month to Russia for master classes, tournaments as a guest and other projects.
So, it is more correct to say that I live in two countries.
For some people, “home” is where your parents live. For others, it is a place where family stays. For some, it is the town where they live now. What do you personally consider as your home?
You’re correct. First of all, it is the parent’s home, because I have very strong connection with my parents. I am the youngest son, so I bear responsibility for my parents, and parents are saints for me. Every New Year’s Eve, we celebrate together. I always try to visit them and invite them to visit me in San Diego.
Second is family. Actually, parents are family. Of course, so is my wife and children. They are all my family. Parents are family. Children and wife are my family. So I would say that I have two homes now.
And, generally, I consider myself a citizen of the world, because I have so many friends everywhere — in China, Thailand, Africa, Russia, from Far East to Kaliningrad — so I can consider myself as a citizen of the world with all responsibility.
You uploaded video with a spectacular view of San Diego and introduction of your new gym, The Boxing Club, to your VK [Russian’s equivalent of Facebook] page. Can you talk about your training process? For how long have you been training in this gym?
Thank you for the positive words about the video. Presently, I am running my video diary. My business is shooting, and my wife’s is editing. It’s my hobby, my new start.
About the gym… First, when I came to the States and moved to San Diego, I visited this gym immediately. I would even say that I came specifically to visit this gym, because it is owned by my good friend Artem Sharoshkin. I came to San Diego for the first time by his invitation and enjoyed this city. Actually, the gym is targeted more for fitness than for professional sport, but it has everything for a good professional preparation. I can maintain my shape here. There are good trainers with whom I can work on pads. There are kickboxing and Muay Thai trainers.
But for sparring and tactical work, I try to train in Prokopyevsk three to four weeks before the fight. Or in Moscow, sometimes. It is more close to my mentality. You need to be psychologically balanced before the fight, and I get this balance from communication with my friends who make me feel relaxed psychologically. And here in San Diego, I gain and maintain my shape. Even now, if I receive a good offer, I will be ready to fight within several weeks.
In February at GLORY 38, Artem Vakhitov successfully defended the GLORy light heavyweight belt against Saulo Cavalari. You were there in Vakhitov’s corner. Are you in talks with GLORY presently?
There is no dialogue presently, but let’s have a look on GLORY 40. Honestly, I didn’t follow GLORY for a while and don’t know what’s happening in my division. I know that Jason Wilnis is a champ, and I support him. I wished him good luck before his title fight with Marcus because I respect him as a sportsman and as a person. And I wish him good luck in his upcoming defense.
Honestly, it’s a pity that there is no strong competition right now. If you have a look at the GLORY rankings, you will find total no-names in the eight and ninth positions. There are just four or five top fighters who always fight against each other. GLORY has a problem about new blood. And, as I think, that is the main problem for the promotion. Actually, now I am ready to come back and recapture my belt.
All kickboxing fans would be happy to see you back, because this story with Simon Marcus seems like unfinished business.
Yes. Presently I run all my business by myself. I hold all the responsibility about contract details, so it will not include some clauses which I was surprised about, to say the least of it.
So-called hidden obstacles?
Yes, but let’s not talk about details. Now, I’ve become wiser and I bear all the responsibility for myself. Now, my team serves as my assistants. And if I make some mistakes, I can only be disappointed about my own negligence.
What are your future plans? In the middle of last year, you hinted at Bellator. In a December interview, you said a contract with the WLF was almost signed. And just a few weeks ago, you posted a photo with Adam Delimkhanov, a Russian fight promoter. Are you thinking about Russian promotions?
Honestly, there is no difference for me where to box now, because now I mostly fight for myself. I don’t survive by fighting. Now, fighting is my hobby.
With my experience, I should understand that fighting is my health and it should be payed well. I have been fighting for 20 years during my amateur and professional career — for honors, for medals. Practically, those days there was no honors in professional kickboxing and Muay Thai fights. We did it just for experience. And I believe that every professional sportsman should have such experience.
Now you need to get something for boxing. First of all, it is pleasure, of course. But you should understand that to prepare for the fight, you are running out of your usual schedule for one month and you lose some earnings respectively. So it should be compensated. I am ready to cooperate with any promotion that will make an interesting financial proposition.
You said that today fights are not your main source of income. What is your main activity now?
I would like not to define it. I develop in my own directions and don’t want to label them. Success loves silence.
Let’s get back to your sporting career then. You continued to compete in the amateur ring after turning professional. Are you planning to compete as an amateur more? Maybe in the Olympic Games, if Muay Thai will be present?
Why not? It is a long-term question, but we will see. I think every fighter — even not just a fighter, but every sportsman — would like to become an Olympic champion.
In one of his interviews, Arthur Kyshenko said that he prefers kickboxing to Muay Thai because of frequent stoppages after cuts in Muay Thai. Which martial art is more attractive for you, as a professional?
You know, cuts appear in every contact sport. To make a cut in Muay Thai, you must be perfect with your elbows, and that is one of the things I like in it. Thai boxing is my base, my story. I love it with all my soul. If you have a look, you will find that most notable fighters in K-1 and GLORY came out of Muay Thai — Masato, Buakaw, so many fighters with a Muay Thai base. Artem Vakhitov and Alexey Ulianov from my native gym. Even if someone is not successful as a professional, the fact of their signing to the biggest professional promotion says that the gym in Prokopyevsk under the guidance of Vitaliy Miller is the mecca of thai boxing in Russia today.
Will we see you in the ring against a top fighter this year?
I will not give names presently. Time will tell. But I think I will fight this year for sure. I would like to fight in Russia, as it is my motherland. I would like to fight twice a year in Russia, at least. And specifically in Russia, I see my development not only as fighter, but as some sort of a brand, successful product. China is also interesting, because of it financial constituent. They pay good money to fighters. The United States? Maybe, GLORY.
Does it depend on their offer?
Why? No. I will get the offer and decide after. I think GLORY fans understand who is the real champion. Right now, Wilnis deservedly holds the belt.
Of course, he worked hard and won it by knockout. No questions.
He is a real hard-working soldier. He deserves it. But I am ready to return and take my belt back.