When Conor McGregor landed in New York City to take part in the UFC 229 press conference, many expected the brash Irishman to provide some entertaining banter in an attempt to promote his upcoming fight against UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. However, few anticipated that the former two-division champion would call Nurmagomedov’s father a coward, his manager a “terrorist snitch,” or make light of the shady figures linked to the current UFC champion.

During the course of the press conference, which took place at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan, McGregor took aim at Nurmagomedov by making references to Ziyavudin Magomedov, the Russian oligarch who sponsored Khabib Nurmagomedov until his arrest on embezzlement charges earlier this year: “When money got pumped into your camp by that little scumbag that’s now in the little 8×10 cell, you thought you were a don. Now look at you. No money left.”

McGregor did not stop there. Near the end of the 40-minute press conference, McGregor brought up Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov and labeled the champion’s father a coward for associating with him.

“Kadyrov’s the Chechen dictator, a crazy man, don’t get me wrong. But, Khabib’s father, lick-ass O’Hoolihan, posts a picture of Kadyrov at his mosque and the caption is, ‘Together we are stronger.’”

While McGregor’s decision to shed light on some of the more unsavoury aspects of Nurmagomedov’s career was likely an attempt at mind games ahead of the anticipated UFC 229 main event, it still brought attention to the questionable company he keeps, and the shady figures who have provided him with financial support during his career. From oligarchs to dictators and shady managers, Nurmagomedov has been linked to various concerning figures during the course of his illustrious career. This article will attempt to shed light on some of these questionable characters.

Ziyavudin Magomedov

UFC 223 is remembered as the event where Khabib Nurmagomedov extended his undefeated streak to become the UFC lightweight champion. However, it was also the night where the promotion’s newly minted titleholder decided to use his post-fight interview to plead with Russian president Vladimir Putin on television.

Following a standard post-fight interview, where Khabib Nurmagomedov thanked his father, coach Javier Mendez, and his management team while a smiling Joe Rogan held the microphone, Nurmagomedov abruptly switched from English to Russian and appealed to Putin to “help” Ziyavudin Magomedov, an oligarch arrested on embezzlement and organized crime charges.

”Our elder brother, co-owner of our team Ziyavudin Magomedov, is in a difficult situation,” Khabib said during the UFC 223 PPV. “He was very helpful to me and other athletes from Russia. Now he has problems, but I want him to know that we, the athletes, are praying for him. I believe that this situation will soon be resolved. I hope that our leader Vladimir Putin will help him. I want to congratulate him on the victory in the last election.”

When asked by Rogan to translate his statement, Nurmagomedov appeared reluctant to do so, though eventually explained: “It is a little bit hard for me. I talk about my big brother, Ziyavudin Magomedov. I want to wish him good luck.”

Magomedov was arrested on March 31 2018 and charged with embezzling over 2 billion rubles ($35 million +), fraud, and the “organization of a criminal community.” According to Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, Magomedov has been under investigation for several months to determine whether he embezzled money during the construction of a World Cup stadium in Kaliningrad, which his Summa Group company won the rights to build in 2014. He was denied bail and remains in pre-trial detention. If found guilty, Magomedov could face up to 20 years in prison.

Magomedov, whose wealth is estimated at $1.2 billion, is an combat sports enthusiast who has invested significant sums into Russian mixed martial arts. He owned a controlling share of Fight Nights Global, one of the most successful and popular promotions in the country. He also founded the Eagles MMA fight team, which UFC star Khabib Nurmagomedov is currently president of.

Given that Magomedov’s was the financial backer behind one of Russia’s biggest MMA promotions, his arrest has caused significant ripple effects in the sport. Fight Nights has been forced to cancel its international expansion plans and is on a gradual decline due to financial concerns. Several of the promotion’s top fighters, including Sergey Pavlovich, Vitaly Minakov, and Nikita Krylov have abandoned the sinking ship in search of other opportunities.

Magomedov also financially supported several fighters, including Nurmagomedov. Magomedov reportedly paid for the UFC champ’s back surgery in 2017, which was done in Germany, and funded the majority of Nurmagomedov’s expenses during training camps.

While Magomedov’s financial support of Nurmagomedov may have run dry, the UFC champion continued to vouch for the oligarch’s release by joining a list of 22 notable Russian athletes and champions in an attempt to get the businessman released from jail pending his trial.

Ramzan Kadyrov

In May 2016, Khabib Nurmagomedov visited Grozny, the capital of the Chechnya, where he was invited to host an MMA seminar for fighters who trained at the ‘Akhmat’ gym and training facility. Funded by the republic’s strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who juggles between his roles as a dictator and combat sports enthusiast, the fight club had already attracted several UFC champions with enticing offers to host seminars and masterclasses. Nurmagomedov — arguably the most recognizable Russian fighter in the world — was the latest to accept such an offer.

During Nurmagomedov’s seminar, Kadyrov walked into the Akhmat facility and greeted the fighters present. He shook hands with a few fighters and gave several others half-hearted hugs and pats on the back as he worked his way towards the UFC star. After speaking to the group for several minutes, the dictator decided to show off his grappling skills by dragging a fighter to the mat and throwing him over his head in a move reminiscent of professional wrestling. He placed a second fighter in a headlock and flung him into the mat before doubling over in laughter. All the fighters present joined in the laughter.

Prior to leaving the Akhmat facility, Kadyrov posed for pictures with several of his team’s most popular fighters, including Magomed Bibulatov and Abdul-kerim Edilov, both of whom are currently UFC fighters. He then proceeded to pick Nurmagomedov up, and placed him on his shoulder before settling him into a fireman’s carry.

Kadyrov’s foray into MMA began in 2015, when he founded the Akhmat MMA fight club and MMA promotion (known as World Fighting Championship of Akhmat — WFCA) and invited former UFC champions Frank Mir, Fabricio Werdum and Chris Weidman to attend the first show. He has since hosted other UFC fighters, including former UFC champ Frankie Edgar, title challenger Alexander Gustafsson, as well as Makwan Amirkhani, Ilir Latifi,and retired veterans like Renzo Gracie. Werdum continued to make trips to Chechnya during his UFC heavyweight title reign and signed a deal to become an ambassador to Kadyrov’s MMA promotion.

Kadyrov has shown some special interest in Khabib, promoting him on Instagram account (Kadyrov’s instagram and Facebook accounts have since been banned by the social media networks) and hosting him at Akhmat fight shows. An example of Kadyrov’s support for Nurmagomedov took place shortly following the Dagestani’s victory against Michael Johnson at UFC 205.

”It happened,” Kadyrov said on his Instagram (h/t onkavkaz.com). “Dear brother Khabib Nurmagomedov won the fight against Michael Johnson. He did not leave the American with a single chance to win. The battle ended prematurely! Khabib used a painful technique! Khabib made a fiery speech in which he sharply criticized the leadership of the UFC, which unreasonably denied him a title fight. He proved that he is not only a brilliant athlete, but also a patriot of his homeland.

At the time, Nurmagomedov was also highly complimentary of the Chechen dictator, particularly when speaking to Chechen state media.

”I would fight with honor at a UFC [event] in Grozny, because Chechnya is a brotherly republic,” Nurmagomedov told grozny.tv. “Ramzan Akhmatovich told me that he wants to host a tournament in Russia and that he wants me to fight there. I really hope that he will succeed. I will be infinitely grateful to him. I think this is in his power [to do so].”

While Nurmagomedov has not made any public statements in support of Kadyrov since then, his initial support for the Chechen dictator drew scorn from fans and pundits alike. However, while the UFC lightweight champion appears to have distanced himself from the strongman — even Kadyrov has stopped mentioning Nurmagomedov in social media posts and sided against him in a recent conflict between Nurmagomedov and notable Russian rapper, Timati— he continues to be linked to the Chechen dictator through his manager, Ali Abdelaziz.

Ali Abdelaziz

Regarded by some pundits as a “necessary evil,” Ali Abdelaziz is simultaneously one of the most successful managers in MMA, as well as a toxic influence on the sport he represents.

As the president and founder of Dominance MMA, Abdelaziz has spent the last decade building one of the largest rosters of clients of any manager in the sport. The Egyptian-born manager’s company represents well over 100 clients, including a host of current and former UFC champions like Khabib Nurmagomedov, Frankie Edgar, Fabricio Werdum, Cody Garbrant, and Rashad Evans. His Dominance MMA management team is also home to a wide selection of fighters from Russia’s North Caucasus region, including Omari Akhmedov, Rustam Khabilov, Muslim Salikhov, Islam Makhachev, and rising talent Zabit Magomedsharipov.

Abdelaziz’s impressive roster and overall managerial influence could be seen as a success story in MMA. However, his career has also been laced with various conflicts of interest, political associations with dictators, and, most recently at the UFC 229 press conference, accusations of being a “terrorist snitch” that overshadow his achievements in the sport.

The controversy surrounding Abdelaziz began in late 2015, when a lawsuit filled against World Series of Fighting (WSOF) claimed that Abdelaziz — at the time the vice-president and matchmaker for WSOF — had a “relationship to and control of an entity named Dominance, LLC.” The lawsuit alleged that Abdelaziz was in violation of the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NAC) regulations (specifically NAC 467.104) that states “promoter and certain others prohibited from acting as manager of unarmed combatant from holding certain financial interests.”

Here is a section of the complaint:

Plaintiff is informed and believes Dominance also arranged sponsorships for its fighters. On several occasions the sponsors for fighters managed by Dominance and those of WSOF were in conflict. When such conflicts arose, Mr. Abdeziz [sic] always favored the sponsors of Dominance over WSOF sponsors to the detriment of WSOF.

Moreover, Aziz refused to make fights that were in the best interest of MMAWC and WSOF. Rather than choosing the fights that would generate the most fan interest and thus revenue for WSOF, Aziz set matches that favored his fighters and his pocket. Aziz also often refused to set fights for fighters that were not managed by him. A promising fighter and champion, Jessica Aguliar was under contract with WSOF, and Aziz did not arrange fights for her required under WSOF’s contractual obligations. Ms. Aguilar was not one of Mr. Aziz’s fighters.

At the time, the Dominance MMA website listed Abdelaziz’s wife, Narwan Ghiasi, as the company’s president (this has since been changed back to Abdelaziz). However, it appeared that Abdelaziz maintained an interest in the company because several of the fighters contracted to his management team referred to him specifically as their manager. This raised suspicion significantly, as it was clear that Abdelaziz maintained an interest in Dominance MMA. Several of the Dominance MMA clients also competed on the WSOF roster, including David Branch, Marlon Moraes, and Justin Gaethje. WSOF eventually parted ways with Abdelaziz.

Abdelaziz’s indiscretions do not end there. After leaving WSOF and returning to his primary role as a manager, Abdelaziz began to secure relationships with several authoritarian regimes that just so happened to be fans of combat sports.

In 2015, Abdelaziz — along with Rizvan Magomedov, President of Dominance MMA in Russia — secured a lucrative deal for then UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum to become the “ambassador” for Kadyrov’s Akhmat MMA fight club and promotion. Abdelaziz told MMAJunkie that “Fabricio was happy to accept what ultimately was a very lucrative offer, but this deal is not just a financial arrangement. He was in Chechnya earlier this year, and he was treated like a king.”

Apart from Werdum, Abdelaziz also represents a handful of Chechen and Dagestani fighters who are linked to Kadyrov through his Akhmat MMA gyms (facilities funded by Kadyrov’s regime), including Magomed Bibulatov, Abdul-Kerim Edilov, Ruslan Magomedov, Said Nurmagomedov, and Magomed Ankhalaev. It should be noted that Abdelaziz does not represent any Chechen fighters not linked to Kadyrov, despite the long list of talented fighters from the region.

Apart from representing fighters linked to a vicious warlord who has reportedly conducted a purge of gay men in the Chechen Republic, along with various other crackdowns on his people, Abdelaziz is also highly complimentary of the dictator. In an interview with BloodyElbow in 2015, Abdelaziz stated that he “would not mind going to Chechnya and putting on a World Series of Fighting event there, even co-promote with Akhmat MMA.” Despite Kadyrov’s harrowing human rights abuses, Abdelaziz explained that the “fact that [Kadyrov] will go and train with these fighters is something remarkable; a leader of a country supporting our sport of MMA and investing in it is great.”

As a result of Abdelaziz’s public support for the dictator, he remains the sole representative of the fighters linked to Kadyrov that currently compete in the UFC.

After carving out a niche representing Kadyrov’s fighters in the UFC, Abdelaziz formed a relationship with a second authoritarian government: the kingdom of Bahrain through one of monarchy’s princes, Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al-Khalifa.

Apart from being a member of the Bahraini royal family, Sheikh Khalid is a military officer with the rank of Major, the First Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Council for Youth and Sports. Sheikh Khalid also happens to be the co-founder of the KHK MMA Organization, which consists of a local MMA gym, as well as the Brave FC promotion.

Through the patronage of Sheikh Khalid, KHK MMA recruited renowned coaches (Conor McGregor’s coach, John Kavanagh, chief among them) and prominent UFC fighters like former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar and current champ Nurmagomedov to join the upstart team in Bahrain. Those who joined the KHK MMA team were given access to elite resources at no cost, including medical coverage – a rare deal in the combat sports realm. The prince also sponsored fighters like Edgar to wear the Bahraini flag during his appearances on UFC broadcasts. On one particular occasion at the TUF 22 Finale, Sheikh Khalid actually accompanied Edgar to the Octagon.

While Kavanagh and Nurmagomedov are no longer linked to KHK MMA, Edgar was recently a guest commentator on one of the Brave FC shows, while another fighter represented by Abdelaziz, Zabit Magomedsharipov, posted a picture of himself posing with Sheikh Khalid in Bahrain.

It should be noted that Sheikh Khaild has not been implicated in any crimes. However, he represents a monarchy with significant human rights abuses to its name, particularly during the Arab Spring in 2011. The Bahraini monarchy continues to oppress its Shia-Islam majority, imprisoning peaceful dissenters, and stripping others of their nationality.

While Abdelaziz’s conflicts of interest and established links to dictators and gulf royalty is evidently clear, McGregor opted to take a different approach when targeting the manager during the UFC 229 press conference. The Irishman referred to Ali as a “terrorist snitch” before asking the question, “how’s Noah?”

“Shut your mouth, Ali Abdelaziz,” McGregor said after Abdelaziz reportedly questioned why McGregor was holding two belts at the presser. “You terrorist snitch! I know a lot about you as well, you mad man. I know a lot about you as well! You keep your mouth shut kid! How’s Noah? How’s Noah? Yeah, shut your mouth! Never speak about me, ever in your life! Watch yourself around me, ‘cuz you’ll be out of here quick.”

McGregor’s “terrorist snitch” comment appears to be a reference from the book Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and Bin Laden’s Final Plot Against America. The book mentions an “Egyptian mixed martial arts expert” by the name of Ali Abdeaziz, who was recruited by the NYPD in 2002 when he was 25 years old. According to authors Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, Abdelaziz eventually lost favour with the FBI and NYPD for being “deceitful”.

The below pictures are an excerpt from the book highlighting this little known aspect of Abdelaziz’s alleged past. (H/T John S. Nash)

As previously stated, McGregor’s detailed attacks on Nurmagomedov and those closest to him is likely an attempt to both promote the upcoming fight and play mind games against a stoic, undefeated champion. It can also be viewed as a strategic attempt to pivot negative attention from McGregor, who was involved in a bus attack incident that led to several UFC fighters being hospitalized and McGregor pleading guilty in a Brooklyn courthouse as part of a deal with prosecutors to resolve charges. It should also be noted that McGregor posed for a photo with Russian president Vladimir Putin during the World Cup final, a controversial figure who is also Kadyrov’s benefactor.

Regardless of McGregor’s personal reasons, his references to the likes of Magomedov and Kadyrov shed light on some of the shady characters who have been linked to Khabib Nurmagomedov at some point during his career.

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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