The summer evening at a beachside nightclub in the Black Sea resort of Sochi was filled with excitement as a modern-day version of a gladiator fight unfolded before the crowd. Russian fighters faced off against a “world” team in a mixed martial arts contest, with scantily dressed women waving Russian flags and the crowd cheering on the home squad as they racked up victories. The highlight of the evening came with the knockout of a 44-year-old American fighter.
This event took place in August 2013 and saw Vladimir Putin seated in a front-row seat, flanked by security guards and political acolytes, observing the action in a white dress shirt. Just six months later, Putin would set his country on a path to war by seizing Crimea from Ukraine, ultimately leading to a full-scale invasion that has now entered its third year.
The juxtaposition of the intense gladiator-style fight and Putin’s presence at the event foreshadowed the aggressive and militaristic actions that would soon be taken by Russia. The energy and excitement of the nightclub were a stark contrast to the political implications that would arise from Putin’s actions in the months following the event.