Khamzat Chimaev has only one goal: the Chechen doesn’t just want to defeat his opponents, he wants to destroy them. This attitude is only conducive to his career as an MMA fighter. Chimaev is considered an upcoming superstar. And one man is particularly happy about it: Ramzan Kadyrov.
The war against Ukraine has two protagonists on the side of the Russian invaders: President Vladimir Putin, who ordered the attack, and the Chechen Ramzan Kadyrov. At least the leader of the autonomous republic would like to take on this role. Since the start of the war, he has repeatedly offered himself to Putin as a solution for a rapid end to hostilities. Whenever there are reports of Russian reverses, tactical errors or even failure on a front, Kadyrov is immediately on the air via Telegram, and as a counter reaction repeatedly threatens to capture all major cities and a ruthless purge of all enemies. Putin, who has apparently requested the support of the “Kadyrovtsy”, is also probably waiting for a signal from their deployment: the account of their brutality, torture and murderous greed is above all an attempt at intimidation.
No one in this war uses brutal rhetoric like Kadyrov. He repeatedly advises Putin to use even more violence and advocates the use of tactical nuclear weapons. The 45-year-old uses the reputation of his notorious army of mercenaries, the ‘Kadyrovzy’, who are believed to be responsible for several murders of Russian opposition figures on behalf of the Kremlin (which denies it) and is extremely barbaric at home against people who think differently (before but especially against homosexuals). Kadyrov likes to present himself and his fighters as hypermasculine – meaning the particular emphasis on strength, aggression and sexuality. One who fulfills this ideal of power and great victories is Khamzat Chimaev, a mixed martial artist who is the scene’s rising superstar.
Chimaev, writes the newspaper “Welt”, brutally distributes, but almost does not take. In his previous fights, he reportedly landed 252 punches against his opponents in brutal octagon duels, but only took two. A statistic that wants to make him seem almost invincible in this merciless and poorly regulated sport. Kadyrov, who is sacred only for the rules of his harsh regime, likes it. The Chechen leader is an ardent fan of cage fighting, which is very difficult for neutral viewers to bear, two of his sons are also already active in the octagon, and now one of its own. The 45-year-old knows how to take advantage of his homeland to become a superstar. The brutal dictator has offered himself as a boss to Chimaev and in exchange for love and luxury obtains his services as a propagandist.
Fighters know the horrors of Putin’s mafia
“Chimaev has repeatedly said that everything is fine in his native Chechnya and that he does not see any violation of human rights or other crimes that are being talked about.” So says Mansur Sadulaev, founder of the Chechen human rights organization Vayfond. Incidentally, he is based in Sweden. Chimaev emigrated to the country with his mother and older brother Artur in 2013.
“This [Kämpfer] are aware of the horrors this Putin mafia is sowing in Chechnya,” Sadulaev told martial arts portal BloodyElbow. “They are aware of kidnappings, torture, rape of women and murders. However, they prefer to buy their expensive Mercedes and praise these lunatics, thus helping to cover up all their criminal activities. They became Kadyrov’s propaganda mouthpiece.”
He adorns himself with MMA fighter fame and powerful assignments. Once Chimaev shows himself on a throne covered with wolf skins, while Kadyrov stands behind him with a fatherly smile. Other photos show her standing next to a cannon or stroking a tiger cub. The essential is hypermasculine. The essential is powerful. Chimaev’s Instagram account, which has 3.7 million followers, is littered with posts promoting the Chechen leader. What a massive platform. Like other leaders before him, Kadyrov uses sport to distract from well-documented human rights abuses and atrocities in his homeland. A process known as sportswashing that Qatar, host of the next World Cup, knows how to use for itself.
Chimaev is by no means the only star Kadyrov has drafted. At a football gala in Chechnya in May 2011, former world stars such as record international Lothar Matthäus, the late Diego Maradona, Luis Figo and Italian libero legend Franco Baresi opened a new stadium. For a seemingly lavish fee. The allegations of murder and torture against the leader loyal to the Kremlin? Never mind. This apparently also applied to stars such as violinist Vanessa Mae, singer Seal, actor Jean-Claude van Damme and Hollywood star Hilary Swank, who took part in a celebration in Grozny the same year, among others at the occasion of Kadyrov’s 35th birthday. Swank blew a Monroean “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.”
Huge outrage at the photo with Salah
A photo of Egyptian Liverpool superstar Mo Salah with Kadyrov at the 2018 World Cup in Russia caused particular outrage. The national team had set up their tournament quarters in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya – much to the chagrin of many human rights organisations. The anecdote of the time made waves. Kadyrov was not very enthusiastic when the team trained in front of 8,000 good spectators in the Achmat Arena – and Salah was not there. He then had his car sent to the hotel, a five-minute walk away. The star was woken up from his afternoon nap and immediately rushed to the stadium, where he was coerced into a big performance by Kadyrov. “We chose from the list that Fifa gave us,” Egyptian team manager Ihan Leheta told the New York Times at the time, “if people have a problem with Grozny, they should talk to FIFA”.
The connection between the cage fighter and the bully is much more intimate. Not only does Chimaev pose alongside Kadyrov, but he is also a regular fixture at Akhmat MMA Fight Club. The martial arts center with many branches is sponsored by Kadyrov from his government budget and named after his father Akhmad. Fighters included in the club’s official roster will receive monthly stipends covering medical costs, training costs and travel expenses, according to the BloodyElbow portal.
The fight club is reportedly headed by Abuzayed Vismuradov, a close ally and friend of Kadyrov. Not only is he considered one of the most powerful men in Chechnya, but he is said to command a special unit and lead the security team closest to the ruler. According to the martial arts portal report, he is also deployed in the Russian war in Ukraine. Warriors “Kadyrovtsy”, who have already been derided by experts as mercenary influencers – because they are more active in social networks than in action at the front (by the way, photos and videos from the supposed line front never show combat operations ) – reportedly posted corresponding video material on their social media channels. Even though the role of the Chechens in this war is still unclear (troops are said to have participated in the Bucha massacre), it seems clear: Akhmat MMA Fight Club is anything but an ordinary martial arts center.
End of career after the announcement of Covid-19
Chimaev apparently ignored all of this. He repeatedly held training seminars for children at MMA facilities, gave interviews that were later happily broadcast on Chechen state television, and took part in photo shoots with Kadyrov and Vismuradov. He regularly wore club clothes. He was also present last year when Kadyrov threatened to kill a 15-year-old Chechen teenager who had spoken out against his brutal rule. “You won’t sleep at night. You’ll write your will,” Kadyrov said during an Instagram live stream to the teenage dissident. “I will destroy you.” Chimaev said…nothing.
And even when Chimaev gave up his career in 2020 for health reasons, Kadyrov was by his side. “Borz”, as his fighting name is, broke records with his wins, but after a long battle with Covid-19, he announced he was “done” with fighting. Kadyrov did not accept this, took the fighter home, had him examined and spoke to his conscience. “I told him that all Chechens were shocked by this news. I reminded him that the young people he inspires have their hopes and expectations in his success.” He owns. And how he has this success. The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) considers him the successor to the legendary Conor McGregor.
But for the UFC, Chimaev can become not only a blessing, but also a problem. Due to close ties with Kadyrov. According to the New York Times, just hours before his last fight last Saturday, the 27-year-old posted a photo on his Instagram story that showed him video chatting with Kadyrov. It was the first joint “appearance” of the two since the start of the war in Ukraine.
UFC talks about its connections
Since Putin’s invasion, nearly every major sports federation and league has distanced itself from Russian owners, teams and athletes, but not the UFC. It sticks to its broadcast partnership with a state-controlled Russian media company, as well as its Russian fighters. Chimaev officially has Swedish citizenship. The New York Times writes: “The UFC has long cultivated a brash and rebellious image, embraced the brutality of martial arts, pushed the boundaries of decency and the law, and eschewed much of the buttoned-down face other big player sports leagues.”
But the organization is not only threatened by an image problem, but perhaps also by a legal problem. Because since 2017, American citizens and people present in the United States have been prohibited from doing business with Kadyrov and his close entourage because of the atrocities committed at home and probably also in the name of the Kremlin. The UFC reminds the New York Times that its fighters are independent contractors and that it contracts directly with them, without intermediaries. The organization also stated that it has no affiliation with Akhmat MMA and complies with all laws and regulations. Details of how mixed martial arts fighters are paid are often unclear as their contracts with organizations like the UFC are usually private.
Last Saturday, Chimaev won his spectacular fight against the surprisingly strong Brazilian Gilbert Burns on points. After that, he sent a greeting to his homeland. He wanted to “say hello” to his country. He then spoke in Chechen: “Brother, I know you are watching from home. I said I would do it quickly today, but today it didn’t work out. Thank you, brother. God bless you. bless. I know that watching this fight. Thank you to all Chechens. God bless you. The message was not addressed by name, but the recipient should be clear. And he replied via Telegram. Kadyrov celebrated his fifth victory in the fifth UFC fight as “proof that Khamzat is the king of the cage. His king of the cage.