The UFC continues to play with fire.
The Las Vegas based mixed martial arts organization is still booking fighters affiliated to Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov’s Akhmat MMA fight club despite the gym and its affiliates being sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Over the past few weeks, Albert Duraev vs. Joaquin Buckley was added to the June 18 UFC Fight Night in Austin, Texas. Said Nurmagomedov will face Douglas Silva de Andrade at a UFC Fight Night on July 9 while Magomed Ankalaev vs. Anthony Smith was scheduled for the UFC 277 pay-per-view on July 30.
Duraev, Nurmagomedov and Ankalaev are official Akhmat MMA representatives.
The Akhmat MMA fight club, which was founded in 2015, consists of an MMA promotion and several training facilities throughout Chechnya and various other post-Soviet states. The fight 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 expenses, training costs, and travel fees. Depending on the level of success achieved, fighters are also gifted with expensive cars and other ostentatious goods.
While a handful of Kadyrov’s fighters have managed to join the UFC and other fight leagues, many of those who do not become professional fighters are funneled into Kadyrov’s private army instead.
Kadyrov’s fight club is operated by AbuZayed Vismuradov, one of the most powerful men in Chechnya who is also sanctioned by the U.S Treasury for “extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” Vismuradov is responsible for thousands of Chechen athletes who train at the Akhmat MMA facility and played a significant role in expanding relations between the fight club and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). He was even pictured alongside UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby during the UFC’s debut event in Moscow several years ago.
Kadyrov’s exploitation of his citizens, including MMA fighters, has become more prominent amid Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine. According to recent reports, Kadyrov has been abducting and extorting Chechen citizens to fight in the war, which has led to Chechens fleeing their homes in order to avoid being drafted.
However, sources close to Kadyrov’s fight club confirmed to BloodyElbow that the dictator continues to select fighters from among the thousands who train at Akhmat MMA facilities to take part in the war, further underscoring the horrific nature of the fight club currently being platformed on UFC programming.
Though Duraev and Ankalaev are both Russian citizens, the U.S. sanctioned levied against the Akhmat MMA fight club applies to all “U.S. persons,” including visa holders and non-citizens working on U.S. soil.