In Voronezh, Russia – a city that lies on the Southeastern Railway connecting Western Russia with the Urals, Siberia, the North and South Caucasus, as well as Ukraine – one can stumble across a peculiar clothing store specializing in lifestyle choices for those “united by common ideas.”
Aptly named ‘Aggressive Clothing Comp,’ the store’s only recognizable feature is the white banner proudly positioned outside its entrance. Three figures are drawn on the banner above the store: a crusader, a Viking, and a fighter. The three figures face a pagan symbol known as the Schwarze Sonne (Black Sun). The symbol, a modified version of one used by ancient Norse and Germanic tribes, is synonymous with “far-right groups who traffic in neo-Nazi or neo-Volkisch ideologies”. Emblazoned next to the occultist symbol are the words WHITE REX.
The banner is not unique to the Voronezh oblast (region). According to the brand’s social media page, White Rex clothes are available in 29 locations across Russia, including five separate outlets in cosmopolitan Moscow. Some of the outlets carrying White Rex clothing are christened with names such as White Brothers, Radical Wear, Pridetown, and Rus Ultras, all of which specialize in sports wear that promotes a similar ideology.
Yet while White Rex is only one of many brands that cater to white supremacist ideologies, their organization has gone well beyond selling controversial clothing items. The organization, acting under the guise of an MMA lifestyle brand, reportedly funds far-right groups and bands with revenue from their sales, and even train neo-Nazi thugs in martial arts and unarmed combat. Their continued existence raises questions about use of mixed martial arts as a medium for white supremacy.
White Rex: A Troubling History
Founded in 2008, White Rex is a Russian clothing brand that appeals to fans of combat sports. The company produces shirts, hoodies, pants, sports gear, and other items branded with fascist and neo-Nazi symbols. Occasionally, the symbols are disguised, but not always; indeed, they have produced t-shirts that clearly show the black sun and swastika amalgamated into a single symbol. Some of the White Rex shirts openly state slogans such as “Zero Tolerance,” “Angry Europeans,” and “White Rex Against Tolerance.” Others, including women’s wear, sport symbols such as “88,” which stands for “Heil Hitler.”
The White Rex brand was established as an “ambitious project” to bring together like-minded individuals, as is evident from the symbolism and ambiguous statements present on their website, as well as those of their distributors and retailers.
“Europeans, pressured by the propaganda of alien values, lost the spirit of a path-breaker, the spirit of a fighter, the Spirit of a Warrior! One of the main objectives of White Rex is to revive this spirit. Modern society brings up philistines and consumers; yet we want to see WARRIORS – people who are strong morally and physically.”
According to their official website, White Rex began organizing mixed martial arts events in 2011 under the name “Warrior Spirit.” The first event, an all-amateur tournament, was held on June 18, 2011 in Voronezh. The promotion transitioned to professional events by late 2013 and slowly began to gain notoriety within the MMA industry. Over the next couple of years, White Rex featured notable Russian fighters like ACB’s Sergey Khandozhko and M-1 staples Sergey Romanov, Vladimir Nikitin, Andrey Seledtsov, and Valery Myasnikov.
This is all public information I gathered from simply looking at their event history on MMA websites. Also stated on their website, which is down at the moment.While the majority of the fighters who competed for the promotion were likely not supportive of its ideology, it became evidently clear that the White Rex organization was using its “Spirit Warrior” events to promote its mission statement. According to reports, a well-known neo-Nazi activist from the Format18 organization, Maxim “Tesak” Martsinkevich, had a spoken word performance during the last fight during a 2012 event. His performance and status as an honored guest at the event came on the heels of a three-and-a-half-year imprisonment for inciting ethnic violence.
On May 31, 2013, White Rex hosted its first event in Rome, Italy. White Rex hired former Bellator champion Alexander Shlemenko to train their team ahead of the show. Shlemenko, who previously attended numerous White Rex events, was pictured with the controversial team. A report from The Interpreter also revealed that one of the guests of honor at the event was Erich Priebke, a “convicted war criminal and former SS Hauptsturmführer who died later that year.”
White Rex Website
On October 4, 2013, White Rex ventured to Moscow for its first pro MMA tournament and dubbed the event ‘Birth of a Nation,’ which is a reference to the title of the racist 1915 silent film. The movie, which romanticized the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), is credited as pivotal inspiration for the formation of the second era of the KKK later in that same year.
Among the fighters featured on the Birth of a Nation event was current Bellator star Anastasia Yankova, who made her professional debut with a submission victory against Eleonora Tassinari. A former KGB operative turned Russian businessman, Sergei Badyuk, played the role of “tournament host,” while convicted criminal Maxim “Tesak” was once again invited to attend the event. You Must Murder, a far-right Moscow band, was invited to perform for the 2000 attendees.
Despite their growing popularity among neo-Nazi groups in countries like the Czech Republic, Poland, and Russia, White Rex held its final MMA event on June 19, 2015. In its final few months as a promotion, White Rex was embroiled in more controversy when a report from The Daily Star Sunday revealed that the Russian extreme-right group was training British thugs in private boot camps in Wales.
Yet despite the insidious reports, Denis Nitkin, a former skinhead turned entrepreneur and the founder of White Rex, rejects the label of a “neo-Nazi” or “far-right extremist,” instead referring to himself as a “nationalist.”
“I spent ten years in Europe: in Germany, Holland and Ireland,”Nitikin told Inosmi.ru. “Gradually, I began to understand the ideas of nationalism. I began to ask myself why the white man was oppressed, and realized that something was completely wrong. Since the Rights were driven out of politics, they had to express their resistance, going to the streets and beating up migrants. This was the only opportunity for protest.
“In the West, nationalists say that “I’m not a racist, but … “I do not particularly like it, they should fight for what they believe in. I want people to proudly say that they are nationalists again.”
The Prevalence of Fascism in Combat Sports
Though racially-based ideologies rooted in hate are not outwardly tolerated within mixed martial arts’ top organizations, the problem of neo-Nazis and white supremacists hiding under the guise of combat sports remains a significant concern.
Shortly following the formation of White Rex in 2008, Hoelzer Reich, another highly controversial clothing company known for propagating extremist symbols like the White Cross began to sponsor UFC fighters. In 2009, BloodyElbow’s Brent Brookhouse reported that UFC fighter Joe Brammer would be sponsored by the far-right brand. The brand has also sponsored Westwall, a neo-Nazi metal band helmed by the former leader of the skinhead group Northern Hammerskins, and fighters with neo-Nazi tattoos such as Niko Puhakka. However,fighters like Donald Cerrone and Lyle Beerbohm have also received sponsorship from Hoelzer Reich.
By December 2009, Hoelzer Reich had been banned by both Zuffa and Strikeforce.
In March 2012, Roger Bowling defeated Brandon Saling by technical knockout on the Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey fight card. Shortly following the event, reports revealed that Saling was a convicted sex offender and white supremacist. Saling had been convicted of pedophilia and placed on a sex offender list for first-degree rape of a minor. Four years later, he was charged with domestic violence and served a 40-day jail sentence. He also sports the “88” tattoo, which denotes “Heil Hitler.”
Saling was able to compete on the ZUFFA-owned Strikeforce event because he lied on his application form for the athletic commission. His presence at the event was also due to MMA promotions not performing background checks on newly acquired fighters.
“Obviously this guy is never going to fight for us again,” UFC President Dana White told MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani. “For this guy to ever get licensed again he’d have to go before a hearing for the athletic commissions and I find it hard to believe that this guy will ever be licensed again. He better go find another job.”
(Note: Dana White’s decision to fire multiple white supremacists led far-right website DailyStormer to suggest that White Rex would be the brand that “Dana White is going to hate”)
17 months following the Saling fiasco, ZUFFA released another fighter with alleged ties to neo-Nazi groups, this time from their flagship promotion, the UFC. German welterweight Benjamin Brinsa, a former football hooligan, was accused by German media of maintaining ties to extremist groups in his native country. His fight team, La Familia, was also accused of becoming a shelter for neo-Nazi fighters. Brisna vehemently denied the accusations.
“I am not a neo-Nazi, never have been, never will be,” Brinsa (13-0) wrote on Facebook in response to the reports (h/t MMAJunkie). “At no time in my life have I ever made any xenophobic, anti-Semitic or racist statements, either in public or in private.”
While Brisna was released before he could make his UFC debut, he continued to fight professionally for another year, including for the Russian-based promotion Fight Nights.
By 2014, another fighter was released from one of MMA’s top promotions for similar reasons. World Series of Fighting released Dustin Holyko after a BloodyElbow report listed the criminal charges filed against him, including felony battery domestic violence and domestic battery by strangulation. The report also highlighted Holyko’s tattoos that helped identify his association with neo-Nazis. These include the iron cross and the Nazi “SS” symbol. After his release, Holyko explained that he is “proud” of his race but doesn’t consider himself a Nazi.
“When I was 18, I went to prison, and I got white pride tattooed on my arms because prison is pretty racially separated,” he said. “I am proud of my race, but I’m not racist or any kind of Nazi.”
The most recent case of a fighter associated with neo-Nazi ideology involved in mixed martial arts took place in 2017. On May 26, M-1 Global booked Frank Kortz, an alleged neo-Nazi and Hell’s Angels member, to compete on their M-1 Challenge 78 show in Orenburg, Russia. He lost that fight by knockout and has not competed since.
The controversy surrounding fighters with alleged connections to neo-Nazi symbolism and white supremacy is not limited to their decision to compete inside the cage. Ahead of Bellator 184 in 2013, Emanuel Newton had to fight off a group of racist skinheads at a concert in Orange County.
“The pit had just started, and I could really tell that they were checking us out. I started circle-pitting, and a guy tried to trip me,” Newton told Sherdog.com. “I turned and looked, and I knew it was a white power guy. One guy had ‘white power’ tattooed on the back of his head.
“After I warned my boys, one of those guys came up and just blatantly took a swing at me,” Newton recalled. “I saw it coming, of course, so I slipped it and threw a punch that dropped him and put him out. [His friends] then started jumping in. I think one of them shot a double-leg on me, and I was up against the stage. Then some white power girl came up and started swinging at me.”
The inherently violent nature of combat sports arguably provides an effective medium to promote equally violent ideologies. While political examples include Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov using MMA as a tool for propaganda and a farming system for his private army, social examples include the rise of neo-Nazism within certain crevasses in the sport. White Rex’s existence and decision to brand itself under the guise of combat sports apparel speaks to the ongoing correlation between the two phenomena.
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