Bellator vet’s bizarre shooting highlights troubled Dagestan

Shahbulat Shamhalaev made it as far as the hospital courtyard before he was tracked down by bewildered doctors. They surrounded the fighter and looked…

By: Karim Zidan | 7 years ago
Bellator vet’s bizarre shooting highlights troubled Dagestan
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

Shahbulat Shamhalaev made it as far as the hospital courtyard before he was tracked down by bewildered doctors. They surrounded the fighter and looked to calm him down as he frantically attempted to escape the hospital he had been kept in for the past week.

For a fighter who had six bullets removed from him less than a week prior, his ability to run through the hospital stupefied surgeons. While his physical health had improved significantly during that time, Shamhalaev’s behaviour was erratic and volatile.

The former Bellator title challenger, dressed in nothing but a hospital gown, screamed at the top of his lungs that he needed to leave the premise immediately. He refused any treatment and insisted that he was in perfect health, despite the numerous bullet wounds and weak lungs.

“He shook all the doctors and screaming that he needed to call and leave immediately, ran out of the intensive care unit,” one of the doctors told the Caucasian Knot. “Yes, he regained consciousness, but his lungs were in bad condition. We had planned to leave the athlete under observation for at least another four days.”

Shamhalaev, 32, vehemently resisted treatment from the nurses. All he repeatedly stated was that he wanted to go home. His terrified appearance resonated with the staff, who were equally worried about how to handle the unstable patient. His nervousness was contagious.

“Now, what to do — what to do with the same patient?”

It was Shamhalaev’s second outburst since he regained consciousness several days earlier. When the fighter initially woke up, he “attacked” the nurses watching over him. Doctors placed the blame on the “hallucinogenic effects” of the strong drugs given to him.

According to reports, Shamhalaev was shot in a fashionable restaurant in the Dagestani capital of Makhachkala. Two assailants fired over 13 shots at Shamhalaev, who had walked into the restaurant armed with a pistol and a hunting rifle. The dispute between the fighter and the assailants, who were later identified as the bodyguards of a Dagestani politician, began the previous day.

“It all started one day before the shootout,” an unnamed athlete told Moskovsky Komsomolets. “On May 31, Shahbulat was dragged from a conversation into an argument. Words were exchanged and eventually the guy hit Shamhalaev. He wanted to answer the offender, but they got a pistol and began firing into the ground. Then pointed their guns at his head and said: ‘Do not show off, and then get killed.'”

“Shamhalaev replied, ‘Shoot, you’re a man.’ They told him to meet on 1 June. Shahbulat took a ‘Saiga’, a gun and went to the place of a showdown. They were waiting for him. I do not know why he went there alone! Apparently, the evil really was in the emotions. He never even started the first quarrel. He was a peace-loving man.”

Another report suggested that Shahbulat was targeted because of his work with law enforcement agencies in Dagestan. Though few details were mentioned regarding his link to police forces, others pointed to other cautionary tales like Ali Bulachaev, the Dagestani judoka who was killed in 2012 for his work with law enforcement in the region.

His widow eventually joined the ranks of a Dagestani terrorist group.

Others believe that Shamhalaev was shot because of his publicized friendship with renowned coach and Russian MMA pioneer Musail Allaudinov, the late head coach for the ‘Highlander’ club in Dagestan. The Ministry of Interior in Dagestan revealed that Musa was gunned down by an automatic weapon while on the Makhachkala – Kaspiysk highway. His Toyota Camry showed 27 bullet holes, and the murder weapon – a Kalashnikov – was left next to the car, which suggested that it was a contract killing and not a random occurrence.

A few days following the murder, investigators revealed that Allaudinov was “closely connected” with former Makhachkala mayor, Mr. Said Amirov, and was apparently selecting some of his top fighters to become a part of the Mayor’s security detail. They did not rule out that he might have been aware of “shady” activity and had become a liability.

The troubling state of affairs in Dagestan accentuates the difficult position many athletes who choose to remain in their native land have to endure. Some comply, while others are killed; sometimes the two are not even mutually exclusive.

As pundits and police officers continue to investigate the mysterious details surrounding the shooting, Shamhalaev remains in his room – moved from intensive care to a severe trauma unit. He refuses to accept any form of medication or treatment.

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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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