This fall, an American heavyweight mixed martial artist found himself in the middle of a Russian political scandal – one that was the first chink in Vladimir Putin’s Teflon political image, all the more significant since it was broadcast live on television.
Jeff Monson came to challenge Russian fighter Fyodor Yemelyanenko in Moscow’s biggest stadium, Olimpiysky. Prime Minister Putin showed up unexpectedly, sat close to the ring, and enjoyed the spotlight. But when he entered the ring and took the microphone after the fight was over, a low but thunderous murmur of “boos” forced Putin to pause; parts of his speech were almost inaudible. Some in the audience also whistled, according to YouTube clips made from the stands, and, according to eyewitness accounts, expressed clear displeasure at the sight of Putin in the ring.
The internet exploded. Russians couldn’t believe that Putin - still officially considered a popular leader - had suffered such a public embarrassment. His press service went into damage control mode, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov arranging a conference call to explain that the audience had in fact been booing the American fighter Jeff Monson, who was being dragged out of the ring with a broken leg. Meanwhile, Channel One edited the audio of scenes shown in its late night new broadcast, cutting out the whistles and leaving in the clapping for Yemelyanenko.
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