It is not often that you see the masses siding with Vladimir Putin. For the longest time, the Russians have been known for their virility and a sense of masculinity that has been engrained in the very fabric of their upbringing. This has resulted in the Russians embracing various forms of martial arts such as sambo and systema.
Fedor Emelianenko is considered to be a living legend, especially in Russia, and is a close ally of the Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On more than one occasion, Putin has either endorsed or publicly showed his appreciation towards “The Last Emperor”, and the influence of Fedor in the Russian MMA circuit is fairly evident, with Fedor being the President of the MMA Union in Russia.
One other Putin ally, who is fairly influential in the world of MMA (by proxy) is the ruler of the turbulent Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.
Kadyrov, who had been implicated in several cases of torture and murder, has served as Putin’s right-hand man, but something transpired this past week which has created a rift between Kadyrov, and the man who helped Putin regain control over Russia in 2012, Fedor Emelianenko.
Fedor Emelianenko's influence during the Putin regime
In 2012, Russia was undergoing a major transformation. Dmitry Medvedev, who had held the office till then was going up against former President, Putin. Amidst the existential crisis and accusations of fraudulent behaviour during the polling sessions, the one person who gave Putin the edge over Medvedev was none other than Fedor.
In 2009, when Affliction went out of business and the talks between UFC and Fedor’s camp collapsed, Fedor thought about getting into politics. Seen as the ideal representation of the Russian fighting spirit, the indomitable, larger than life personality of Fedor enabled him to successfully contest for a five-year term as a deputy of the Belgorod Regional Duma in 2010 under the United Russia political party.
During the 2012 elections, Fedor played a key role in helping Putin get elected back into the office, and upon Putin’s victory, Emelianenko replaced Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as a staff member of Russia's Council of Physical Fitness & Sports.
The more interesting factoid was that the corresponding decree was signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin himself!
The growing rift between The Russian MMA Union and Akhmat MMA
It is important to understand the history between Putin and Fedor to really get into the underbelly of MMA in Chechnya, and how the rift between Fedor and Akhmat MMA started. While it is rather futile to talk about Kadyrov and his crimes against humanity, the oligarch is certainly an influential figure in the Russian MMA circuit.
Last week, to celebrate his 40th birthday, Kadyrov’s World Fight Championships of Akhmat (WFCA) conducted a “youth tournament” - an MMA tournament for - and you need to adjust your glasses at this point - kids.
While it is not entirely uncommon for kids to take part in martial arts/ MMA tournaments, what happened on October 4th received widespread criticism from all corners of the globe - including from the Russian President himself.
What made the event more flabbergasting was the fact that the entire tournament was televised live! Kadyrov’s three sons took part in the tournament themselves, with all three of them winning their respective fights, and in the end, being given miniature championship belts to crown their achievements.
Kadyrov and Akhmat MMA have since praised their efforts to promote the sport of MMA in Chechnya and Russia. However, the sight of a child getting knocked out on national television isn’t something to be gloated about. Unlike the necessary safety precautions that is taken during martial arts tournaments for kids, the children entered the cage only with gloves, as Kadyrov remained cage side to cheer his children on.
Setting aside the war crimes and his blatant threats to Putin’s opponents - going as far as to posting them on his social media accounts, Kadyrov’s disregard for the safety of the children was apparent. WSOF Flyweight Champion Magmoed Bibulatov also came out in Kadyrov’s defense, stating that what Kadyrov did was good for the sport.
However, the Kremlin’s spokesperson didn’t agree.
In a statement released to press, which read, “knockout of a child, especially on television, is a reason for the appropriate oversight agencies to get involved”, the spokesperson made it clear that the Russian Sports ministry would be launching an investigation to look into the matters.
It is illegal in Russia for kids under 12 to take part in the sport of MMA, and imperative for those under 21 to wear proper headgear while taking part in combat sports.
Fedor Emelianenko then released a statement saying, “What happened at the tournament in Grozny is unacceptable and, moreover, cannot be justified. Needless to say that kids under age of 12 cannot even attend MMA fights (in Russia) as spectators, but here we had little ones as young as eight beating each other up in front of happy adults..”
“I am outraged by the fact that the head of Chechnya was watching over it. Didn't [the Chechen] sports minister tell him about the fact that children under 12 cannot participate in MMA under any circumstances?”
However, this did not sit well with Kadyrov and his allies, which was when the likes of Bibulatov and Khabib saw fit to take digs at the Russian MMA legend.
From questioning his manhood to his integrity by bringing up his recent fight with Fabio, Akhmat MMA fighters saw fit to defend Kadyrov’s actions by questioning the legacy of Fedor.
Why Khabib’s words should be taken seriously: Influence of UFC fighters
Putting the implications on the political front aside, it is troubling to see that renowned mixed martial artists have since backed Kadyrov, and what transpired on October 4th.
Aside from Khabib, former UFC Heavyweight Champion Fabricio Werdum defended children fighting on national television. Back in 2015, a couple of UFC fighters - including Werdum - were paid an undisclosed sum to promote an Akhmat MMA event in Chechnya.
Khabib recently threatened the UFC that he would make it almost impossible to enter Russia, still fuming over UFC snubbing him to book a fight between Eddie Alvarez and Conor McGregor in MSG. Considering the close ties between Khabib and Kadyrov, no one expected Khabib to make empty threats either.
I support that kids should do and compete in any sport if the event are safe and well prepared for that. @akhmat_mma put a great show and have 6 kids competing MMA with different rules than adult MMA. Kids compete all around the World in contact sport as #Karate, #muaythai #jiujitsu #boxe #takendown #judo @kadyrov_95 @vismuradov_95_
While the promotion itself has nothing to do with the endorsements of its fighters, it needs to be taken into consideration what the fighters represent, and who they influence. Personal accountability is an act seldom practised, yet is important when it comes to influential figures endorsing certain events. If the recent Presidential elections in the United States have proved anything, it is how easily individuals can shy away from personal accountability, and how serious those repercussions can be.