Had, say, somebody like Donnie Fleeman defeated Cassius Clay back in the tender year of 1961, here’s guessing the trunks he wore that night at Miami’s Municipal Auditorium would carry not only historical significance, but a hefty dollar tag. It didn’t happen, of course. The pride of Midlothian lasted only 6 rounds with the then 19-year-old Clay, losing the exchanges through a glaring discrepancy of speed. It was Fleeman’s last fight, and he ultimately became a footnote in the monolithic career of the Muhammad Ali.
Artemij Sitenkov had better luck than Fleeman. The night he arrived in Dublin to fight a still soft-faced Conor McGregor, he didn’t know he’d be smudging the record of a burgeoning icon. It was June 2008. The bout was a main event, held in a gymnasium with the kind of acoustics that scream rinky-dink affair. McGregor walked out to Biggie Small’s “Notorious,” and got a local hero’s welcome. Sitenkov, in his red trunks standing in a little red cage, was just some dude from Lithuania.
Yet, that dude pulled guard pretty quickly, and — while taking a good many preventative hammerfists — executed a knee bar. McGregor tapped with little hesitation. At the time, it was just another fight, and just another win. A decade later, as McGregor gets set to fight Floyd Mayweather in a boxing bout of historical proportion on Aug. 26, the entire path to the moment lights up like a runway. And the trunks Sitenkov wore the night he dealt McGregor his first loss would seem to carry historical significance.
Now, he wants to know if there’s a hefty dollar tag.
Sitenkov is auctioning off the red trunks he defeated McGregor wearing on eBay, with half of the proceeds going to charity. The idea struck him like an epiphany when he was rummaging through his old junk.
“I just found them in my closet, and somehow I figured out that those were the trunks that I defeated McGregor in,” he told MMA Fighting. “And since I’m involved in charity, and I take some kids from the orphanage to train them for free, my acquaintance — who involved me with a specific charity — told me about a program. I don’t have a lot of money, and somehow the idea came. I thought it would be cool.
“In the context of hype about this next Conor fight, everything just felt logical and the idea came just in time.”
These days Sitenkov lives in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. He’s the co-founder of two gyms in his home country with his manager, Alfredas Lifsicas, called the Vale Tudo MMA Academy. He also owns a pawnshop in the city and deals in antiques. Las Vegas and nine-figure paydays are about a million miles away from his place of operation.
Yet given the situation going on in Vegas, he realized he, of all people, had a unique piece of memorabilia that could potentially raise some money to help orphans in the district of Vilnius who could use the uplift.
“I want to help kids,” he says. “There may be wishes, desires, quality of life. I want to help.”
The auction, which was set up in a 10-day bidding window, will close on Aug. 25 — the night before McGregor and Mayweather do battle in Las Vegas. Sitenkov, who fought primarily as a flyweight in his career, was only 25 when he faced McGregor. After doing a circuit of twilight bouts on the fumes of his biggest feat, he’s now retired from prizefighting. He last competed over a year ago, but had stopped training in earnest well before then.
“Since I couldn’t make it to UFC, I quit training, and I was just fighting for fun,” he says. “Since I was the guy who beat McGregor, I had a lot of offers, and I got some money for that. I was thinking realistically, they want a guy who defeated McGregor. I’m not training, I may not be the greatest fighter of all time, but still I can have a good time. And I get to go to different parts of the world to fight, to most definitely lose, to get some money, but it’s a fun time for me. So maybe six or seven of my last fights were like that — just for fun and money.”
There was a time, though, back in the mid-to-late aughts, when Sitenkov was a highly ranked flyweight in Europe. He stood above names such as Neil Seery (whom he also defeated) and Phil Harris, each who eventually found their way to the UFC. When he took out McGregor, Sitenkov was just doing what he did at the time. And even looking back on the bout, he says he’s not surprised that he got it done, nor does he hold any bitterness about the wildly divergent paths that each took in the aftermath.
“No, I mean — [McGregor]’s a normal guy,” he says. “He trained hard and reached all his goals. Congrats to him.
“But, I had my goals, and I couldn’t reach them. I am older than him, and the UFC started the flyweight division quite late for me. I had some chances to get in there, but UFC managers weren’t interested in me. Maybe because of my age, maybe because of my origin. Lithuania is so small. I couldn’t generate enough money for UFC managers to be interested in me. I just accepted my fate. OK, I couldn’t make it. Maybe it was because I wasn’t good enough, or maybe it was because of other reasons, but I’m good with that.”
The trunks mean something, though, because they fall into McGregor’s legacy more than his own. As far as collector memorabilia, it’s tied to something that will never lose its meaning — McGregor’s first loss. Thinking back on that night in June 2008, Sitenkov, now 34, says nothing special stood out about the fight.
“I remember it was a small venue, small money for me — it was local cagefighting,” he says. “We were in his hometown, so there were a lot of his friends and relatives. Since it was a small arena — and it wasn’t even an arena, maybe it was a basketball court or something like that — half his spectators were his friends or relatives. I was just a foreigner from a different country with maybe five people cheering for me.”
When McGregor tapped, Sitenkov coolly stood up and stretched his arms out in victory. He then bowed to the crowd, flexing a little as he did, while the Irish fans continued to rumble. “It’s usually not so quiet when you fight in Ireland,” he says, “because everybody is so drunk and shouting something.” It was only McGregor’s third professional fight.
These days people talk about McGregor’s loss to Joseph Duffy in Cage Warriors as the novelty, along with his lost to Nate Diaz at UFC 196. Because those fights carried bigger spotlights — Duffy was his last loss before his run began in the UFC, and Diaz helped McGregor break pay-per-view records — Sitenkov’s accomplishment sits at the far back.
In fact, he’s not even famous in Lithuania.
“Not really,” he says. “MMA isn’t popular in my country. Of course those who trained, and those who are interested in MMA, they know about me. But nobody recognizes me on the streets. I don’t feel myself locally famous. The thing is, if you’re not a basketball player, you will not be famous.”
But with that one precious accomplishment in his back pocket, Sitenkov is hoping to put it to good use. The other half of the proceeds he earns from his eBay auction he intends to make use of for his gyms. For a man who deals in antiques, he knows — the trunks are tied to history, and history tells its own stories. Memorabilia is to own a piece of the times, and that particular piece of the times was just buried in a closet in Vilnius.
As for how the man who dealt McGregor his first loss thinks the Irishman will fare against Mayweather? He believes McGregor will last longer in the boxing ring than he did against him nine years ago in Dublin (69 seconds). If only because he believes Mayweather will string the fight out in an effort to give people their money’s worth.
“I don’t think McGregor has a chance over Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match, but since it’s a money fight — as everybody calls it — I don’t think Floyd will be allowed to defeat him instantly,” he says. “Maybe he’s not able to defeat him instantly, but still, since there’s a lot of money invested in this, organizers most likely want this fight to last longer. It’ll last longer than those old Mike Tyson fights.”