On September 15, 2018, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will make its long-anticipated debut in Russia. The event will take place in Moscow and is set to feature a wide range of local fighters from various republics within the Russian Federation. Among those notable names is one that will be unfamiliar to most UFC fans despite being one of the most peculiar figures in the entire sport.
Adam Yandiev, a native of the Republic of Ingushetia in the North Caucasus, will make his UFC debut against Jordan Johnson on the preliminary portion of the UFC Fight Night show in Moscow later this month. At a glance, they appear to be a well-matched pairing. Both fighters boast a 9-0 undefeated record and represent different stylistic backgrounds. However, while Johnson has already fought in the UFC on three separate occasions, Yandiev has been on an extended hiatus since his last fight at M-1 Challenge 62 in October 2015.
Given Yandiev’s three-year absence from professional competition, the UFC’s decision to sign the undefeated light-heavyweight is a curious one. While Yandiev — also known by his nickname ‘Borada’ which translates to ‘beard’ — may not have fought in several years, his name has been associated with several strange and controversial incidents, including a clan feud that resulted in a public shootout, political interactions with regional leaders, and accusations of match-fixing stemming from his most recent fight.
The Yandiev Family
Born in Ingushetia, Adam Yandiev lived a privileged existence in one of Russia’s poorest republics. Raised alongside his older brother, Abukar, Adam was placed in a combat sports environment from a young age. His father, Alikhan Yandiev, was a Master of Sports in Judo — an honorary title given to national champions in the Russian Federation — and spent his time drilling basic hip tosses with his prepubescent sons. By the time Adam was nine years old, he had already competed in his first “mixed rules” fight.
Unlike the vast majority of Ingush citizens, Adam’s father Alikhan is also a wealthy businessman. The 53-year-old served as Ingushetia’s Deputy Minister of Construction, before being promoted to Director of Economics and Investment Programmes. Following his tenure in government, Alikhan founded his own construction company, which has been awarded a large number of government construction projects.
After Abukar received his father’s approval to become a professional fighter in 2014, Adam followed suit and quickly compiled a 9-0 professional record in the span of 11 months. Both brothers impressed their father so much that Alikhan decided to invest in M-1 Global and help bring events to his native Ingushetia. The promotion began to host shows in the impoverished republic — events known as the ‘Battle in the Mountains’ — which featured the two brothers.
As the M-1 Challenge events continued to grow in Ingushetia, so did Yandiev’s popularity as an Ingush sportsman. This eventually caught the attention of controversial political figures like Ramzan Kadyrov, the longtime head of the Chechen Republic responsible for a wide range of human rights atrocities over the past decade.
The Yandiev brothers were invited to Kadyrov’s palace in Grozny on numerous occasions. The strongman leader described the brothers as ‘true Muslims’ and ‘decent men’. Given his well-documented history of using MMA as propaganda to promote his political agenda, it should come as little surprise that Kadyrov wanted to meet with the Yandievs.
While Abukar would go on to claim the M-1 Global lightweight title, Adam stepped away from the sport in late 2015 after reportedly suffering a back injury. The injury took place shortly after his most recent professional fight — one that was already shrouded in controversy.
Accusations of Match-Fixing
On a windy weekend in Sochi, Russia, M-1 Global hosted the 62 edition of their Challenge series, featuring the likes of former featherweight champion Ivan Buchinger, Alexey Kunchenko, and Adam Yandiev. The latter’s fight was the more memorable affair that evening, as it featured a surreal promotional video as part of Yandiev’s entrance package.
Once the clip was done, Yandiev began to make his way towards the cage. Dressed in army camouflage with a bluish hue, Yandiev came out to a song by his friend Timati, a rapper considered to be one of Russia’s music sensations. The entrance lasted more than five minutes — a lengthy introduction even by pro wrestling standards — and far longer than the entire duration of the fight.
Yandiev was scheduled to face Dmitry Voitov, a Belarusian fighter with a respectable 12-4 record at the time. Once the bell sounded, Yandiev rushed forward and unloaded a barrage of punches on Voitov, which the Belarusian responded to in turn. Following a wild exchange in the opening minute, Yandiev dragged Voitov to the ground and attempted to lock in a north-south choke.
Voitov weathered the early storm, waited patiently, and eventually found the opening to get Yandiev’s back. Adam struggled until he was able to flip himself onto his own back, and thus allowed Voitov to advance to mount position. Yandiev was able to eventually reverse Voitov and steal top position but eventually found himself back on the bottom with Voitov in mount for a second time. This time, however, Voitov decided to step out of the mount position and opted to stand. He eventually shot for another takedown but Yandiev was able to reverse it and lock in a neck crank to secure the victory.
Voitov’s bizarre decision to give up a dominant position did not go unnoticed. In the weeks following M-1 Challenge 62, the Russian MMA Union, which regulates amateur and professional MMA in the Russian Federation, announced their intention to review the bout on suspicion that it had been “contractual.”
According to vice-president of the Russian MMA Union, Radimir Gabdullin, the bout between Yandiev and Voitov led to a questionable outcome and hopes that the promotion will take the necessary steps to examine the controversial bout.
”This precedent should worry the Union of MMA of Russia as a regulatory body,” said Gabdullin. “Such things undoubtedly have a negative impact on the reputation of MMA as a sport in general.To remove all doubts from the public, we recommend that M-1[Global] creates an independent panel to investigate this fight.”
The Russian MMA Union’s decision to publicize its concerns was significant, as M-1 Global founder Vadim Finkelchtein also served as the honorary president of the regulatory body as well. It should be noted that Adam Yandiev’s father, Alikhan Yandiev, was also one of the promotion’s investors during the time of this controversy.
M-1 Global responded shortly thereafter:
”We took into account your recommendation regarding the bout of Adam Yandiev and Dmitry Voitov, which took place at the M-1 Challenge 62 tournament. However, for an objective evaluation of the results of a bout by a third-party commission, strong arguments are needed. We ask the Russian MMA Union, as a regulatory body, to provide an official provision containing the criteria for evaluating battles as fixed. In other words, we will be grateful for the provision of an official list of criteria according to which a bout can be recognized as contractual. The presence of such a document will allow an independent examination, excluding subjectivity and emotional underpinnings.”
The promotion followed up by posting an interview with Voitov, where he was asked his opinion on the suggestion that his fight with Yandiev was fixed. Voitov explained that it is both “funny” and “at the same time, it’s insulting.” He added: “We just did our job. I think all these opinions arose because of the stature of Yandiev family. If he would have been an ordinary poor guy from the remote area, no one would have said a word.”
“I’ll say this: the lion does not look back at the dogs, but goes to battle with himself and lets the dogs bark. I have a very religious family. Therefore, I will give an example. When the prophet Moses asked the Almighty to protect him from evil tongues, God answered that he did not even protect himself from them. Similarly, we athletes, too, suffer from this scourge.”
Though Adam disappeared from the MMA scene shortly afterward, controversy continued to follow him over the next few years.
Clan Feud on Social Media
On May 2 2017, a group of unknown assailants attacked and shot 29-year-old boxer Ilyez Yandiev, hospitalizing him with a damaged back. The attack appeared to be the result of a feud between the Yandievs and the Belkharoyevs — two influential Ingush families — that began with an argument on social media.
According to media reports, the feud was kindled in 2016 when Ilyez’s paternal cousin, Adam Yandiev, posted a series of pictures of his wife on social media websites such as Instagram, where he has over 850,000 followers. Many of the pictures showed Adam alongside his wife. This apparently offended Isa Belkharoyev, who claimed that such public displays of affection brought shame on Ingush people. The feud escalated, with Belkharoyev demanding that Yandiev remove the pictures, while the fighter insisted that he would do no such thing. While the clan elders were able to calm the situation, Yandiev and Belkharoyev accidentally crossed paths at a restaurant several months later, which reportedly caused a fight to break out between their respective clans.
According to Belkharoyev, the fault lay with Yandiev and his wife, who picked a fight with him at the restaurant: “We would have talked. We would sit and drink tea. We would close this topic and no longer return to it, shake hands with each other and part ways. I would gladly invite him to my house, at the right time would extend a helping hand to him. Because if the elders have hushed up the conflict, no younger one has the right to renew it. And then his wife began to call me all sorts of foul words.”
The next day, headed to a meeting at the restaurant with Belkharoyev to settle the incident, Adam’s cousin Ilyez Yandiev was jumped by two masked men and shot in the back.
While it remains unclear what resolution the two clans came to following the feud, the incident provides some interesting insight into Adam Yandiev’s personality, cultural heritage, and inability to stay away from controversy.
By the time Yandiev makes his UFC debut in Moscow, it will have been nearly three years since his last professional fight. However, the charismatic fighter always remained involved in the sport, whether as part of his training regimen or as the pioneer of an MMA regulatory body in Central Asia.
His addition to the UFC Fight Night 136 event is understandable given Yandiev’s popularity and his exceptional brand awareness. However, his lack of recent experience, lengthy hiatus, and controversial behaviour makes him another questionable addition to the UFC’s roster.
Full Disclosure: I, Karim Zidan, served as one half of the English commentary team, alongside Ian Freeman, for the aforementioned M-1 Challenge 62 event in Sochi, Russia.