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Short, combative past for Chechen man killed during FBI questioning

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Ibragim Todashev is seen in 2009 at the Massachusetts gym where Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev trained.

The friend of Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev who law enforcement forces said was shot and killed Wednesday after being questioned by the FBI about a brutal 2011 Boston-area homicide was a promising if somewhat forgettable mixed martial artist, fellow practitioners of the sport said.

Chris Palmquist, who operates the official registry for amateur and professional MMA fighters, said Ibragim Todashev, 27, fought his matches under the name Ibrahim Tody. “I don’t know if it was an alias he gave or if it was just a misspelling. Or a promoter could have entered him,” said Palmquist, who fought Todashev once in a competition about four years ago.

There was “nothing that stood out” about Todashev when the two faced off in a 2009 New England grappling competition, a video of which is online.

In another video from 2009, this one showing an MMA bout at American Steel Cage Fighting in New Hampshire, the man who was shot on Wednesday strides into the circular ring to the thumping bass of Cypress Hill’s song “Rock Superstar”: “You want to be a rock superstar and live large / A big house, five cars, you’re in charge.”

The announcer introduces him as “hailing” from Chechnya, a “freestyle fighter” with a “perfect amateur mixed martial arts record with four victories in all four of his bouts.” Before the start of the three-round fight – which Todashev would lose – two bikini-clad card girls circle the ring.

Courtesy of Gary Marino

Ibragim Todashev weighing in at a 2009 mixed martial arts competition in Salem, New Hampshire.

Todashev is credited in that video with fighting for Wai Kru, the same gym in Allston, Mass., frequented by Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The man’s father, Abdul Baki Todashev, told NBC News in a phone interview from Chechnya that his son and Tamerlan Tsarnaev “went to the same gym for boxing classes.”

His son and Tsarnaev, the older bombing suspect who was killed in a shootout with police, “never were close friends,” he said.

Mixed martial arts is a popular, full-contact fighting sport in which competitors use boxing and martial arts skills combined with grappling and wrestling moves to defeat their opponent. The introduction of the Ultimate Fighting Championship brought mixed martial arts to greater attention in the United States in the early 1990s.

A matchmaker who organized the 2009 fight in New Hampshire, Gary Marino, said he remembered Todashev from the Wai Kru gym and the weigh-in before the bout.

“I remember that kid, the way he looked at me was weird, he kind of looked right through you,” Marino said. “He was very quiet but he kind of looked right through you like he didn’t know what you were talking about.”

Palmquist also trained MMA fighter Evan Scott, who fought Todashev in his last sanctioned amateur MMA bout. Scott beat the 5-foot-9, 160-pound Todashev with an armbar submission in the second round.

“You get a fair mix of guys who come from solid backgrounds, and then you get guys who probably shouldn’t be fighting already but just kind of jump in there,” Palmquist said. “He was definitely a pretty good amateur fighter. He definitely came from some kind of wrestling background.”

Todashev fought a total of six sanctioned amateur matches, winning four and losing two, according to his official MMA record. He fought one unsanctioned amateur bout in February 2012, and one sanctioned professional bout in July of that year, winning both.

Todashev applied for a mixed martial arts license with the Florida State Boxing Commision on July 26, 2012. On an application for a national MMA identification card filed on the same day, he wrote that he had four years of experience in the sport. The Florida license was issued in August 2012 and expired in December of that year, according to the state department of business and professional regulation.

He spent at least some of that time training at The Jungle MMA and Fitness, a gym that bills itself as “Central Florida’s Premier Spot” for MMA training. He did not fight any matches through the gym, according to staff there.

AP Photo / Orange County Corrections Department

In this May 4, 2013 police mug provided by the Orange County Corrections Department in Orlando, Fla., shows Ibragim Todashev after his arrest for aggravated battery in Orlando. Todashev, who was being questioned in Orlando by authorities in the Boston bombing probe, was fatally shot Wednesday, May 22, 2013 when he initiated a violent confrontation, FBI officials said.

“He was here for about maybe two months about a year and a half ago,” said gym manager John Morehouse.

Todashev was “pretty unmemorable,” Morehouse said. “You know, your basic guy, come in, take a class. I don’t think he had any friends here.”

Law enforcement sources have said Todashev had two prior run-ins with the law and had confessed to involvement in a 2011 triple murder before he was shot. People familiar with MMA said if he did have a violent past, it’s not typical of the sport’s practitioners. Most amateur and professional fighters are no more violent outside the ring than anyone else, they said.

Mark Tullius fell into the world of amateur MMA after graduating with a degree in sociology from Brown University. After being active in the sport from 1998 to 2002, Tullius abandoned it because he was “turned off by the violence,” he said. Over the past year, he has traveled to 15 states and interviewed more than 250 mixed martial arts fighters to figure out what makes them tick.

“Ninety-five to 97 percent of them are just awesome people,” Tullius said of the fighters and their coaches.

“I think when a lot of people go to the gym, they’re looking for something they’re missing,” Tullis said. “There are lots of different kinds of fighters. Lots of today’s fighters are wrestlers who are just super competitive and are looking for another way to compete.”

While pro MMA matches are regulated, amateur competition often goes on with little oversight, according to Gregory Sirb, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission and former president of the Association of Boxing Commissions. Amateur mixed martial arts competitions are banned in West Virginia, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Colorado, and North Dakota, according to the ABC. Bouts at the amateur level go on completely unregulated in 11 states, the organization says.

“It’s horrible,” Sirb said. “For a sport that’s so violent – this sport screams for oversight.”

While amateur match-ups may not be heavily regulated by the states, experienced fighters tend to have their own code of conduct, Tullius said, an ethic Todashev violated in at least two incidents when he appears to have used his fighting abilities well outside the ring.

"Some places will say if you get into a fight you're not training here," Tullius said. "And a professional would not want to do that."

Todashev was arrested in Boston in 2010 after aggressively confronting two women following an accident involving his van and their car, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office told NBC affiliate WHDH. There were no injuries and no charges were pressed, authorities said.

He was arrested a second time this year, for aggravated battery on May 4, after allegedly getting into a fight with a man and his son over a parking space in Orlando, according to an Orange County Sheriff’s Office arrest affidavit. Todashev told officers he was a mixed martial artist before being transported to the booking and release center, according to the affidavit.

“This skill puts his fighting ability way above that of a normal person,” the arresting officer wrote in the affidavit.

Todashev was released the next day on a $3,500 surety bond.