Jeff Monson, a prominent American mixed martial arts fighter, has been granted Russian citizenship, the government announced Tuesday, becoming the latest fading Western star to be given a passport.
The president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, signed the decree days earlier, making Monson a citizen. Dmitry S. Peskov, the spokesman for the president, said it was in recognition of the fact that he was “an internationally acclaimed” fighter.
As a child, Monson lived in St. Paul and then in Princeton, Minn., about an hour north of the Twin Cities. He earned a master's degree in psychology from Minnesota Duluth and wrestled as an undergraduate at Illinois and Oregon State.
In 2006, Monson told Michael Rand of the Star Tribune that he started dabbling in mixed martial arts while a student at UMD and continued when he moved to Washington to open a gym. He described the sport at the time as "the most difficult sport. If you're not good at one aspect, you will get exploited."
Monson, 47, had expressed a wish as long as five years ago to officially become a Russian, and along the way he collected citizenship from a couple of dubious entities linked to Russia.
In 2016, Monson was named an honorary citizen of Abkhazia, a nominally independent enclave that broke away from Georgia and which few other nations outside Russia recognize. Last year he also became a citizen of the Luhansk People’s Republic, which even Russia still considers part of Ukraine despite its backing of the separatist forces fighting a war there.
Asked about his new status, Monson expressed a desire to make the transition into another field — that of Putin, in fact. “Right now I want to help youth, I want to make a lot of champions and into the future I want to be in politics as well,” Monson told Govorit Moskva radio station. “The reason that I want to be in politics is I want to help people.”
Quoting the writer Leo Tolstoy that the purpose of life was to serve other people, Monson said he planned to develop a gym and training academy for MMA fighters in Krasnogorsk, just northwest of Moscow.
Two Russian political parties expressed interest in sponsoring him as a candidate. Known as the Snowman, Monson has been a fighter since the late 1990s, but he shot to prominence in Russia after a bloody defeat against a Russian champion in 2011 with Putin, then Russia’s prime minister and a longtime martial arts fan, in the audience.
“You have the Russian spirit; you never give up,” Putin, impressed by Monson’s tenacity, told him.
After that Monson began making regular trips to Russia, facing ever-younger champions who apologized for pummeling one of their heroes. He joins other past-their-prime Western stars who have created something of a sensation in Russia by taking citizenship, with Putin handing out passports to enhance the country’s prestige in the eyes of his domestic audience.
Roy Jones Jr., an American boxer, got his Russian passport in 2015, after personally asking the Russian president for it. Steven Seagal, an American action-movie actor who became a Russian citizen in 2016, has been a frequent guest at Kremlin-hosted events including Putin’s inauguration and this year’s Victory Day parade.
Another famous example is Gerard Depardieu, the French actor.
Monson has not yet completed the steps needed to become a citizen, Peskov noted. For that he has to take an oath, pledging, among other things, “to hold true to Russia, to respect its culture, history and traditions.”