Issue 044

December 2008

Few fighters’ tattoos have generated as much interest as those of Aleksander Emelianenko’s. The heavyweight’s tattoos adorn much of his large frame and are the source of much controversy and rumour. Debate rages over the meaning of his markings: some believe he is a member of the Vor v Zakone (Russian mafia) while others suspect he is a neo-Nazi, but neither of these views are particularly accurate.

The most striking of all his tattoos is his mammoth back-piece: a grim representation of the hooded figure of Death holding a young child. Across his shoulders is the German phrase ‘Gott Mit Uns’, which means ‘God is with us’. This roused suspicion of ties with neo-Nazi organisations, as the words were found on accessories (particularly belt buckles) of German SS soldiers in the Second World War, yet the phrase actually comes from the Russian criminal world. 

Although he is tight-lipped about his past as an offender, Emelianenko spent time in prison as a juvenile. Some of his tattoos indicate a high-ranking Vor (member of the mafia), which is a status he would have been too young to achieve at the time of his imprisonment, so they are likely worn as much as a fashion statement as anything.  

The stars on his knees indicate the wearer will never kneel to musor (‘pigs’), or more precisely, that they will never under any circumstances cooperate with the police or government officials. On his right forearm, he has a cathedral with five domes – each dome symbolises one year of imprisonment.  

On his left shoulder, Aleks has a spider’s web – this particular tattoo can have several different meanings. If there is a spider going up the web, it means the wearer is a professional thief, but if the spider is going down the wearer is saying he is done with the criminal world. 

On the upper part of his right arm there is a distinctive tattoo that is a half cat’s head, half skull, with the legend Homo homini lupus est. This translates as ‘Man is a wolf to his fellow man’ and is used to indicate a very vicious and dangerous prisoner.  

In modern Russia there are many people who have traditional criminal tattoos applied to their skin for no better reason than simply wanting them. Certainly, many who wear these may be true criminals who have served jail time, but they are not Vor v Zakone in the true sense. 

Photos by Hywel Teague and Pride Worldwide Holdings LLC