Former UFC fighter Igor Zinoviev believes Jeffrey Epstein’s death was no accident.
As intense speculation swirls around the cause of the disgraced financier’s death in jail, Zinoviev, Epstein’s bodyguard, has emerged as a figure in the highly publicized case.
Best known in MMA circles for a vicious 1998 knockout loss to Frank Shamrock at UFC 16, Zinoviev, 53, told New York Magazine’s Intelligencer “somebody helped him to do that” when reacting to Epstein’s suicide by hanging.
When asked why, the Zinoview said, “Listen, you know, that’s going a little too deep.”
Zinoviev has largely eluded reporters over his work with Epstein, which included martial arts training and chauffeur services in New York and Palm Beach, Fla. But he spoke to the Intelligencer’s M.L. Nestel on two occasions, most recently on Monday, when he gave a startling claim about his former boss’ death.
Zinoviev said he lived in the guest house of Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion – where much of the alleged sexual abuse took place – for at least five years. Yet after he reportedly spoke of warning Epstein about bad behavior and tried to help him avoid scrutiny from police, Zinoviev tried to retract earlier claims about Epstein’s alleged relationships with teenage girls, calling them “a misunderstanding.” He denied seeing anything improper or advising Epstein against the relationships.
Zinoviev also tried to deny an earlier claim that local police had tipped off Epstein to a pending raid at his mansion and told Nestel, “don’t put yourself in trouble.”
“Listen, you’re really smart, and I’m not going to offer that over the phone right now, okay? You’re really smart,” Zinoviev said. “You have no idea. Please!”
When the reporter asked whether he’d been contacted by the government or the FBI, Zinoviev quickly ended the call.
It was an unsettling look at a figure with a small part in MMA history. This past month, Bloody Elbow‘s Karim Zidan took a closer look at Zinoviev’s history with Epstein, which included multiple visits to the prison where Epstein was sent after a striking a favorable plea deal with prosecutors in his first sexual trafficking case.
Zinoviev reportedly showed up with Epstein to intimidate an alleged victim, drawing complaints from prosecutors.
A Village Voice profile from 2003 said Zinoviev is a former Red Army commando who grew up poor in St. Petersburg before finding a second life in the U.S. as a fighter and – after Shamrock ended his career with the slam – a personal trainer, bodyguard and stuntman.