MMA Hitman: The former UFC fighter who became a dangerous contract killer

On a frosty Christmas Day in the small town of Rostov, Russia, a little-publicized hearing took place in a North Caucasian District Military Court.…

By: Karim Zidan | 7 years ago
MMA Hitman: The former UFC fighter who became a dangerous contract killer
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

On a frosty Christmas Day in the small town of Rostov, Russia, a little-publicized hearing took place in a North Caucasian District Military Court. Sergei Zirinov, a Krasnodar parliamentarian and member of the Legislative Assembly, was on trial for the attempted murder of the deputy leader of the Anapa City Cossack Society, Nikolai Nesterenko. Zirinov was joined by five other defendants, each charged with either murder and attempted murder in aggravated circumstances, banditry and illicit arms trafficking, depending on the role they played. One of those defendants was 40-year-old Amar Suloev, a former UFC and Pride FC fighter.

It was a stunning revelation: Suloev, the Armenian-Russian with Yazidi origins dating back to Mesopotamia – the man who had faced Chuck Liddell at UFC 35 – was an alleged contract killer.

Amar competed professionally in mixed martial arts between 1999-2008. He began under the M-1 Global banner, where he lost by submission to Andrei Semenov, However, he then took part in a 11th edition of the World Vale Tudo Championship — a bare-knuckle tournament – and eventually won all three fights in a single night. His gutsy performance was featured in one of the first MMA documentaries ‘Rites of Passage.’

From there, Suloev compiled an eight-fight win streak that earned him an opportunity to fight in the UFC. His first opponent was none other than the ‘Iceman’ Chuck Liddell. Amar survived the dangerous striker’s onslaught and lasted long enough to lose a unanimous decision to the soon-to-be champion. He was given another opportunity in the UFC against Phil Baroni, who knocked the Armenian out within the first three minutes of the fight to put an abrupt end to his UFC tenure.

Suloev continued to fight for another seven years following his UFC exit. While training at Fedor’s future gym, Red Devil Fight Club in Stary Oskol – now known as Alexander Nevsky Club — Amar competed for the likes of Pride FC, Cage Rage, M-1 Global, and BodogFight (where he fought Chael Sonnen) before he eventually retired in 2008 with a 24-7 record. Suloev even had a submission named after him – a variation of the thigh slicer known as the The Suloev Stretch.

Following Suloev’s retirement eight years ago, he joined a private security company (VAN) in the Krasnodarsky Krai region of Russia. It was there that he met Sergei Zirinov, an ill-fated acquaintance that took Amar down a desperate spiral to the underworld of illegal activities. Zirinov, a Krasnodar legislative assemblyman, was later arrested for allegedly assassinating his political rivals. Sergei was also a member of President Vladimir’s Putin’s ‘United Russia’ party. Suloev appeared to be a rising member of his organized crime group.

The gang is believed to have killed the director of the Malaya Bukhta sanatorium, Vitaly Sadovnichy, and his wife Olga Ivankina, as well as businessman Salman Nabiyev. They had attempted to assassinate Nikolai Nesterenko but killed his driver instead and left the deputy wounded from the injuries.

The assailants, including Zirinov and Suloev, were arrested in 2013 shortly following this incident. One of the defendants, who offered a testimony in exchange for a shortened sentence, placed Suloev as the driver during the botched Nesterenko murder.

Over the following three years, the courts probed the case. Countless hearings took place, including a recent one at the start of 2016, around Christmas time. However, the hearing was cut short and a verdict was not handed down to the five defendants. One of them was very sick and desperately needed medical attention.

Amar Suloev appeared to be dying. The court was adjourned.

Instead of being sent to a medical facility, Suloev was returned to his jail cell, where he lost 48 pounds during the Christmas holidays. Prosecutors continued to deny him medical attention until he began to bleed internally. He even pled his own case:

“Your Honor, I am worse and worse. It’s a vicious circle. I could not participate in the process. From my judgment, I am returned to prison where nobody cares about my condition, and no one involved in my treatment. I’m not trying to make you pity. I can make anything you want. But what I want here? I really do not understand what is happening. I do not listen. I feel dizzy. Noise in the ears. Weight loss continues. I ask you to treat with understanding and adjourn.”

Suloev was taken to the hospital in Rostov and a gastroscopy that found an “aggravated ulcer” and “chemical burns in the esophagus” that had caused gastric bleeding. However, when it was time to examine the stomach tissue closely to ensure that there was no risk of stomach cancer, the doctors did not undergo the testing because of “technical issues.”

“The likelihood of cancer is quite large,” Amar’s lawyer, Alexander Pervach, said. “This can be seen even from a single endoscopy. The conclusions of this week are very disappointing. Our client is slowly dying, and ten lawyers and four public prosecutor can not possibly get medical treatment from the court.”

The trial is still ongoing. An April 12 hearing, the most recent one of note, was postponed indefinitely. Russian law does not place a limit on the amount of postponements of court hearings during criminal cases.

As the courts moved ahead at a snail’s pace, Suloev, a former World Champion turned contract killer, sat in his jail cell clutching at his stomach as he waited for his verdict, or death.

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About the author
Karim Zidan
Karim Zidan

Karim Zidan is a investigative reporter and feature writer focusing on the intersection of sports and politics. He has written for BloodyElbow since 2014 and has served as an associate editor since 2016. He also writes for The New York Times and The Guardian. Karim has been invited to speak about his work at numerous universities, including Princeton, and was a panelist at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival and the Oslo Freedom Forum. He also participated in the United Nations counter-terrorism conference in 2021. His reporting on Ramzan Kadyrov’s involvement in MMA, much of which was done for Bloody Elbow, has led to numerous award nominations, and was the basis of an award-winning HBO Real Sports documentary.

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