In 2015, former UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum signed a lucrative deal to become an ambassador for a mixed martial arts fight club headed by Ramzan Kadyrov.
The incident marked the first time that a UFC fighter had established a relationship with the Chechen dictator accused of well-documented human rights abuses, including forced disappearances, torture, summary executions and an ongoing purge of Chechnya’s LGBTQ+ community.
As the official representative of the so-called Akhmat MMA fight club, Werdum’s responsibilities included regular visits to Chechnya, training the dictator’s chosen fighters, and promoting the club on social media and at UFC events.
During an episode of Brazilian podcast Podpah, Werdum recalled how his decision to promote Kadyrov’s fight club during a UFC event led to him being gifted a Mercedes Benz.
“So I represented Akhmat Fight Club for three years,” Werdum said. “So whenever I say something, it was always Akhmat Sila. I was the president’s MMA representative, right? Then I fought in the UFC...So I’m in the fight, fight is over, I won, I gave the interview and when Joe Rogan was leaving, I took the mic and said ‘Akhmat Sila.’
“Man, when I said ‘Akhmat Sila,’ I got off the octagon and the president called me on FaceTime, ‘Werdum, I really liked it! Akhmat Sila! When you come home, go wherever you want and buy the car you want, I want to give you a car as a gift.’ I said, ‘No I can’t take it.’ ‘Yes you can, take the car you want’... I went to Mercedes. I stopped by Mercedes very quickly.”
Akhmat Sila is a battle cry popularized by Kadyrov that translates to Akhmat Power. It is a propaganda slogan that is utilized by Kadyrov loyalists to honor Akhmad Kadyrov, the Chechen strongman’s father who was killed in 2004.
Werdum’s affiliation to Kadyrov has raised concerns about prominent UFC fighters associating with a warlord with a long list of human rights abuses to his name. However, when the Ufc was asked about the relationship in 2015, the organization stated that “UFC fighters operate as independent business partners, not employees, and that subject to their contractual commitments to UFC they are free to conduct business and to participate in activities as they choose.”