The presence of Ramzan Kadyrov in the front row of a UFC show highlights a troubling link between the Chechen strongman and the MMA promotion
On Saturday 15 September, Ramzan Kadyrov walked into Moscow's Olimpiyskiy Stadium to watch the evening's fightings. Dressed in beige jeans and a white t-shirt with a matching jacket, the notorious Chechen strongman was surrounded by three of his most loyal henchmen– one of whom has been accused of torture and another of plotting an assassination– as he made his way to the front row of the 35,000 -capacity arena. Seated just a few feet away from the cage, Kadyrov and his cronies watched the evening's battles in an entirely new setting. Though used to attending mixed martial arts events on a near-weekly basis in his native Chechnya, this was the first time that Kadyrov was present at a Ultimate Fighting Championship show.
Given Kadyrov's well-documented human rights abuses- the latest of which includes a deadly crackdown on LGBTQ+ people within Chechnya resulting in torture and summary executions – his presence in the front row of a UFC event highlights a concerning link between the dictator and the world's largest MMA promotion.
Kadyrov's decision to attend the UFC's first ever show in Moscow is due to the presence of Magomed Ankhalaev, a UFC light heavyweight prospect from Dagestan who represents Kadyrov through the dictator's fight club, Akhmat MMA. That night, Ankalaev defeated Marcin Prachnio by head-kick knockout in the opening round. During his post-fight interview in the octagon, Ankalaev thanked Kadyrov for his support and finished off with Kadyrov's now-infamous motto” Akhmat Sila”( Akhmat Power ).
Founded in 2015, the Akhmat MMA fight club consists of an MMA promotion and several develop facilities throughout Chechnya and various other post-Soviet countries. The fighting club is sponsored by Kadyrov himself through his government's budget and bears the name of Kadyrov's father, Akhmad Kadyrov. Fighters who are signed to the fight club's official roster are paid monthly stipends that cover medical expenditures, training expenses, and travelling fees. Depending on the level of success achieved, fighters are also gifted with expensive autoes and other ostentatious goods.
The Akhmat MMA fight club is operated by Abuzayed Vismuradov, a colonel considered to be one of the most powerful men in Chechnya. Known by his nom de guerre' Patriot ‘, Vismuradov once opposed in the Chechen wars against Russia alongside Kadyrov himself, before being elevated to commander of the Chechnya's Special Forces-out, the' Terek' Chechen SWAT unit, as well as Kadyrov's private security detail. Kadyrov's decision to place one of his most influential security figures in charge of his MMA promotion and fighting club suggests that the Akhmat fight club is likely an extension of Kadyrov's own government.
Through Kadyrov's patronage and supporting, the Akhmat fight club has risen to become one of the largest MMA train facilities and promotions within the Russian Federation. The fighting club has signed several notable fighters from other MMA organizations and has placed its promotional might and resources behind them. Five of these battles have moved on to sign with the UFC: Magomed Bibulatov, Abdul-Kerim Edilov, Ruslan Magomedov, Said Nurmagomedov, and Magomed Ankalaev. Four of those fighters remain under contract with the UFC, despite the undeniable link between them and Kadyrov, while Edilov- who reportedly threatened an HBO journalist in Chechnya– was reportedly released from his UFC contract in August 2018.
Other UFC battles have established relationships with Kadyrov. For example, in 2015 former UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum signed a” lucrative” deal to become an ambassador for Kadyrov's Akhmat MMA fight club. He, too, was gifted an expensive auto for his services to the dictator, though has since deleted the video of the car from social media.
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