On May 14, 2020, KHK Sports — the sports collective founded by Bahrain’s Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa — announced its decision to appoint Daniel Kinahan, a senior figure in organized crime, as a ‘special advisor’ to its combat sports division.
KHK Sports revealed that Kinahan’s role will be to “advise across KHK Sports entire portfolio, encompassing KHK MMA, KHK Boxing and Mixed Martial Arts Promotion and BRAVE Combat Federation.” Referring to the controversial figure as an “international boxing power broker,” KHK Sports added that Kinahan’s international connections will strengthen its brand and expand its international reach.
Despite his links to organized crime in Ireland, Kinahan is now in a position to become an influential figure in the Middle Eastern combat sports scene.
“It is an honour for me to work with His Highness Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad al Khalifa, Mr Mohammed Shahid and the entire team at KHK Sports,” Kinahan said in the KHK press release. “KHK Sports has made an impressive mark on the world of combat sports and has fantastic ambitions to grow into a global powerhouse. I look forward to working with the team to realise these dreams and further build Bahrain combat sports into a globally recognised presence.”
Kinahan’s statement was his first public comment since the infamous 2016 Regency Hotel shooting in Dublin — an incident that escalated a longstanding feud between the Kinahans and the rival Hutch Organized Crime Group and forced Kinahan to seek refuge in the Middle East. This article will attempt to explore the Kinahan cartel’s role in combat sports in Ireland and how its alleged leader became a significant figure in a sports organization founded by a member of Bahrain’s royal family.
Kinahan Cartel in Combat Sports
Two years ago, Daniel Kinahan was identified in the High Court in Dublin as a senior figure in organized crime.
At the time, Kinahan — the eldest son of notorious crime boss Christy ‘The Dapper Don’ Kinahan — had reinvented himself as a boxing promoter despite the Irish Criminal Assets Bureau revealing that he “controlled and managed” the operations of the Kinahan Organized Crime Group, Ireland’s largest narcotics and weapons traffickers. And while Kinahan continues to deny his role in the family business, he remains a “person of interest” for local Irish authorities and a key figure in the country’s organized crime network.
According to recent court findings that described the inner workings of the gang, the Kinahan Organized Crime Group is organized in a hierarchical structure which is made up of sub-cells, which operate independently. The local Dublin branch of the Kinahan organized crime group is operated by Liam Byrne, whose brother David was shot dead at the infamous Regency Hotel shooting in February 2016.
The shooting garnered international attention and indirectly revealed some of the associations between combat sports in Ireland and the drug-dealing gangsters surrounding it. Several athletes were singled out for their alleged ties to the mob, including UFC star Conor McGregor.
The bloody gangland feud between the the Hutch mob and the Kinahan cartel spiralled out of control. It began when Gary Hutch was murdered in Spain in 2015 by the Kinahans for his alleged role as a police informant. Gary’s uncle, the ‘Monk’ retaliated by attacking the boxing weigh-in. Following Byrne’s death, the Kinahans responded with a string of assassinations that seemingly dismantled the Monk’s stronghold in Dublin. All told, 18 people have been killed so far in the Hutch-Kinahan feud.
At the time, reports suggested that Daniel Kinahan could end up being “murdered” by his own men, due to the cartel being in the midst of a serious crisis. He was also at risk of assassination by the Hutch gang. The retaliatory feud placed the Kinahans under severe pressure from local Irish police and Spanish authorities. As a result, the Kinahans moved to the Middle East and currently reside in Dubai.
While Daniel Kinahan’s family name is synonymous with the most notorious gangland feud in modern Irish history, he continues to try and persuade the world that he is just a boxing promoter.
Kinahan is the owner of MTK Global (formerly Macklin’s Gym Marbella - MGM), which he set up with his partner, former British-Irish boxer Matthew Macklin. The gym, which has since evolved into a boxing promotion and management company, is based in Spain, which is one of the Kinahan cartel’s strongholds. Yet once the Kinahan-Hutch rivalry escalated following the Regency Hotel shooting, Kinahan took a backseat role in the organization due to ‘bad publicity.’ That was when the gym rechristened itself as MTK – Mack the Knife – Gym, and claimed to have severed ties with Daniel Kinahan. However, gym founder Macklin revealed in November 2017 that Kinahan “still advises lots of fighters.”
In 2017, Tyson Fury, posted a picture of himself posing with Kinahan on twitter. Fury is represented by MTK, along with several other notable boxers and UFC fighters such as Darren Till, Carl Frampton, Billy Joe Saunders, and Phil Baroni.
Despite his alleged criminal background, Kinahan continues to make appearances alongside notable fighters. In March 2020, he posed alongside UFC welterweight Darren Till and MTK Global’s Bahrain Brand Ambassador Mohamed Bin Mansoor Al Arayedh. When faced with criticism for his affiliation with the alleged leader of the drug trafficking ring, Till released a statement defending his “friendship” with Kinahan.
“Yes I am friends with Daniel Kinahan... & what? I’ve never hidden his friendship & why should I when the man has given me more valuable advice as a friend than anyone I’ve ever met in a professional capacity. I’ve been friend with Dan for years & years long before I ever joined MTK Global so why would it automatically be presumed the two are linked. There are thousands of people dying all over the world right now, people losing they’re jobs & struggling to keep a roof over their heads & put food on the table & this is NEWS?!! These journalists who are harassing me right now for a statement & writing lies & hated in an effort to make this news need to take a long hard look at themselves & ask what they are really contributing to the world. I won’t be commenting on this shit anymore, instead I’ll focus on more important things! I.e keeping my loved ones safe! #TheSunLie #Slander #Rats”
Despite Till’s emphatic defence, it should be noted that Kinahan is also wanted by Irish police over a failed plot to murder former Hutch associate Gary Hanley. He remains a person of interest in the ongoing conspiracy to murder probe by the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau. The National Crime Agency and the Spanish Police are also “very interested” in Kinahan’s current activities.
And now, he is also a leading and influential figure in the Middle East’s combat sports scene.
Kinahan and the Prince
it remains unclear what Kinahan’s new role with KHK Sports will entail.
Speaking on the announcement, KHK Sports CEO Mohammed Shahid said; “I would like to officially welcome Mr. Daniel Kinahan to the KHK Family. It is a pleasure to have him on board. His involvement in combat sports, his achievements and his knowledge is what we need for our vision for KHK sports.”
KHK Sports is a sports conglomerate that holds several sports properties including KHK MMA, KHK Boxing, KHK Racing, KHK Wrestling, KHK Cricket and MMA promotion BRAVE Combat Federation (Brave CF). The conglomerate is also investing in European soccer clubs, according to their press release.
KHK Sports was founded by Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the fifth son of Bahraini ruler, King Hamad. Apart from being a member of the Bahraini royal family, Sheikh Khalid is a military officer with the rank of Major, the First Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Council for Youth and Sports.
Through the patronage of Sheikh Khalid, KHK MMA recruited renowned coaches (Conor McGregor’s coach, John Kavanagh, chief among them) and prominent UFC fighters like former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar and current champ Nurmagomedov to join the upstart team in Bahrain. Those who joined the KHK MMA team were given access to elite resources at no cost, including medical coverage - a rare deal in the combat sports realm. The prince also sponsored fighters like Edgar to wear the Bahraini flag during his appearances on UFC broadcasts. On one particular occasion at the TUF 22 Finale, Sheikh Khalid actually accompanied Edgar to the Octagon.
Soon thereafter, KHK MMA founded Brave CF. Through the Sheikh’s patronage, the promotion enjoyed significant growth, hosting shows in Brazil, India, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Indonesia, Colombia, Pakistan, South Africa and Mexico. As a result of its international expansion, Brave CF has showcased talented fighters from a variety of nations that rarely get an international platform. It has also served as the primary platform for Arab fighters from across the Middle East and North Africa.
Despite these positive developments, the organization also operates as an extension of the government agenda, a tool for diplomacy and improved bilateral relations between Bahrain and other countries and a distraction against ongoing human rights concerns.
In the eight years that followed the 2011 Arab Spring protests, which saw Bahrain’s Shia-Islam majority population revolt against the centuries old Sunni monarchy, Bahrain’s government has continued to oppress the vast majority of its population in an attempt to maintain power. Tactics such as the dissolution of political parties, passport confiscations, and torture, became common practice.
It should be noted that Sheikh Khaild has not been implicated in any crimes. However, he represents a monarchy with significant human rights abuses to its name, and continues to use his sports organization as a tool for diplomacy, Foreign Direct Investment, and improved trade relations with other countries. He has even established ties with Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov through their respective MMA promotions.
The decision to work with Kinahan is an opportunity for KHK Sports to expand its global footprint and make significant moves within the boxing realm. It should also be noted that the organization also announced a separate partnership with MTK Global to bring combat sports events to the Middle East. While MTK has claimed to have parted ways with Kinahan several years ago, it now appears that all three entities (Kinahan, KHK Sports, and MTK Global) will be working together in the coming future.
Speaking on the signing of Daniel Kinahan, Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa also released a statement reiterating his vision to create a sports entity that could unite the world in a single project.
“Sports plays a major part in shaping our youth and defining the future of the world. With an infrastructure that can evolve, the sports provide opportunity, regardless or race, religion or even marketability; and simply based on talent and becoming a global project for uniting the world. It is about hope and belief that the impossible does not exist. This will be our vision for KHK sports to achieve and with a great team we can.”
The press release concludes with the statement, “His Highness appreciates the tremendous value Mr. Kinahan will lend to the organization.”