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Tamerlan Tsarnaev, now world-famous boxing training terrorist (at an MMA gym)

By Zach Arnold | April 20, 2013

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Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Boston Marathon bombing suspect #1

“Suspect #1 was a boxer. Suspect #2 was a wrestler. The media will connect this to MMA somehow before its all said and done.”

Who knew that America’s most-wanted terrorist on Friday was, by mass media standards of portrayal, a prolific boxer who trained at a Mixed Martial Arts gym? Until Friday morning, the name Tamerlan Tsarnaev didn’t exactly register in the minds of the combat sports community. Dare I say, you probably wouldn’t have been able to identify him out of a police line-up.

Except that’s what the FBI essentially asked the public to do on Thursday when they released images of he and his younger brother in a Boston manhunt that saw the entire area locked down in a quasi-martial law scenario.

Given how young the sport of Mixed Martial Arts is, as a fan you get used to the media trying to tie MMA into any kind of horrific or inspirational story if it means generating a polarizing response from general readership.

Then, there’s the outrageously outrageous like Jarrod Wyatt, the MMA fighter who ripped out his friend’s heart & tongue out… literally. He got 47 years in California state prison for that act. It’s the kind of appalling story that draws negative press to Mixed Martial Arts amongst the general public. However, it’s not a story that makes you stop and go, “MMA is so barbaric, if it attracts guys like Jarrod Wyatt then I just can’t support it any more.” Sure, the story was picked up on various international news wires, but more out of morbid curiosity than anything else.

Another murderer, however, is managing to bring worldwide attention to boxing & Mixed Martial Arts in the kind of way that nobody in the industry could have expected. Jarrod Wyatt, meet Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. You could have met the same room temperature fate as Tsarnaev did early Friday morning in Watertown, MA.

When NBC Hall of Fame ace news reporter Pete Williams (along with the Associated Press) broke the news on Friday morning about the names of the two men fingered by the FBI in the Boston Marathon Bombings, there was an insane media rush to find out more information on the background of the two young men in question. Both Tsarnaev brothers were locals who had emigrated to the area a decade ago. The younger brother, captured by authorites in a boat on Friday night, was an amateur wrestler. He was portrayed as a ‘normal’ Cambridge kid who smoked marijuana and partied. His brother, however, quickly was identified in another manner. Grabbing onto any piece of information, tens of millions of television viewers in the United States and thousands of media writers scrambled to find some kind of information, any nugget, about a twisted, devious mastermind.

The media found their angle rather quickly on social media. “Will box for passport” photos. Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s background in the New England Golden Gloves circuit was quickly discovered. He was pictured here a Wai Kru Mixed Martial Arts shirt. Suddenly, the media found their angle to explain just how dangerous this man was and how his background could have contributed to molding & shaping his personality. He was a boxer training at an MMA gym. A perfect media storm.

The combat sports connection quickly gained steam on television outlets that tens of millions of Americans were watching on Friday. The Boston Globe was one of the first outlets to interview John Allan, the owner of the Wai Kru MMA gym.

Tamerlan, the eldest son, became an amateur boxer, emulating his father, who helped train him. Boxing as a heavyweight, he competed in the national Golden Gloves competition, said John Allan, owner of Wai Kru Mixed Martial Arts in Allston, who remembered seeing him compete.

“He was the best boxer in Boston,” said Allan. “He smoked all of the professionals.”

“He was noticeable because he was very relaxed, very smooth.” said Douglas A. Yoffe, the coach at the Harvard Boxing Club, who has seen Tamerlan box about half a dozen times over the past decade.

Allan found himself being interviewed on Friday afternoon by big-name media personalities like Brian Williams. Camera crews rushed to the Wai Kru gym to try to interview some individuals coming in-and-out of the facility. The pressure was intense. Tell us everything you know. Why didn’t you know he was a terrorist?

Slate described the scene at Wai Kru MMA gym on Friday during the lockdown:

The gym is a small store in a strip mall, next to a Laundromat and an instant oil change place. On the ground level, there are trophies, some heavy bags, a bunch of boxing gloves and MMA champion belts in a glass case, and a big sign celebrating a 2008 title in the New England Grappling Championship. Like every other business here, this one is empty. There’s a printed-out sign on this door that reads: “We will be closed today 4/19/13.”

MMA Convert: A primer for a possible mainstream media attack on MMA

The stories continued. The Globe published a picture of Tamerlan Tsarnaev with Micky Ward. Tsarnaev had aspirations of making the US Olympic boxing team.

““In the ring, he could knock a man out with one punch,’’ said Gene McCarthy, founder of the Somerville Boxing Club. “But when he sat at a piano, he could play classical music like you wouldn’t believe.’’

The boxing champ and ­piano man, it turned out to ­McCarthy’s horror, was also on his way to setting off a wave of violence that killed at least four people, wounded more than 170, and ended with his death early Friday morning in a firefight in Watertown with police.

Allan said Tsarnaev often sparred with Dorchester native John “Doomsday’’ Howard, who has since become a force in the Ultimate Fighting Championship competition.”

Imagine how John Howard is feeling this morning. It was Tsarnaev who allegedly planted one of the two pressure-cooker bombs right next to 8-year old boy & Dorchester native Martin Richard. As prolific Globe writer Kevin Cullen put it, “Nothing tough about this boxer’s character.”

For an inquisitive mass media, connecting Tamerlan Tsarnaev with a boxing & MMA training connection was a way to explain to viewers just how dangerous this man was. Think of it this way… people in the MMA industry want the sport to grow, to become mainstream, and to be accepted on a large scale. The kind of mainstream attention MMA wants is for the big fight shows. Occasionally, that happens. More often than not, however, the kind of mainstream attention MMA gets in the press is one of a dangerous allure, of the kind of training that makes a human more dangerous. The Jarrod Wyatts of the world. And now, the older brother who authorities portray as the mastermind behind the Boston Marathon Bombings.

Yesterday, Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s fighting background became a story that the media used to defined his persona. It became an aspect to define, in the minds of the masses, how and why this guy became so dangerous. Take a look at your favorite search engine or Lexis Nexus. A world-famous terrorist, now room temperature in a morgue somewhere, has put a hell of a mainstream media spotlight on the combat sports world. Just ask John Allan all about that.

Topics: Boxing, Media, MMA, Zach Arnold | 8 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

8 Responses to “Tamerlan Tsarnaev, now world-famous boxing training terrorist (at an MMA gym)”

  1. 45 Huddle says:

    Will have no effect on MMA.

    The older brother was called a boxer in some headlines. The younger brother was called a wrestler.

    And neither of these activities really had any negative impact on the stories. If anything, they were used as examples of how they were fitting in with people, which is uncommon for people who then blow up children.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      Agreed that there won’t be negative overall effect long-term — but the amount of saturation in the press over this story had to be pointed out. I couldn’t believe the flood of coverage once he was spotted with the Wai Kru shirt. Then it was a mass feeding frenzy.

      With that said, I would not be surprised to see the anti-MMA forces in New York try to make the connection in order to keep MMA legislation from passing.

      I have got to get my hands on the court records for that Jarrod Wyatt case. The reading would be beyond absurd. Ironically, the district attorney who went after him just got disbarred by Sacramento.

      • 45 Huddle says:

        I do think the boston bombers took the air out of the UFC event tonight. Heck it took the air out of basically an entire town in Texas blowing up.

        Combine that with no football to hype the UFC…. And the ratings should be interesting tonight.

        FUEL TV is finally getting to a point whete once they add Comcast…. The events will do about 500,000 viewers. But the FOX shows are really untested with a good card (and title fight) outside of football season.

        • Zach Arnold says:

          I think the ratings will be solid tonight. The crowd will be very respectable in size at HP Pavilion, probably the best crowd UFC has had to date since Coker/SVSE got out of Strikeforce.

          High hopes & high expectations are justified here.

  2. RST says:

    “He got 47 years in California state prison for that act.”

    So now I’ve got to pay to feed, clothe and house him so he can watch TV and workout for the next 47 years.

    I could probably think of 8 billion better things to do with my money.

  3. The Predictable Johnny Rodz says:

    This reads like an MMA panic piece from 2005, back when everyone assumed that anything potentially negative in MMA was going to end up with the sport being banned. Things have changed, no damage is going to happen to MMA because of this. None.

  4. Jay B. says:

    Only people that care is CNN, which SI is interviewing the coaches and the teammates of the younger brother whow as a wrestling captain allegedly. I live in MA and people are just happy that these chechen SOBs were caught. Besides CNNSI, thats the only pieces I seen on these guys having a fight background.

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