U.S. sanctions Kadyrov henchman in charge of MMA fight club for role in Chechnya’s anti-gay purge

Last week, the United States placed sanctions on the Terek Special Rapid Response Team along with five other individuals over allegations of human rights…

By: Karim Zidan | 5 years ago
U.S. sanctions Kadyrov henchman in charge of MMA fight club for role in Chechnya’s anti-gay purge
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

Last week, the United States placed sanctions on the Terek Special Rapid Response Team along with five other individuals over allegations of human rights abuses, including the torture, and extrajudicial killings of LGBTI people in Chechnya. The sanctions were announced by the U.S. Treasury under the Magnitsky Act and included suspects in the deaths of Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky and opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. Among those who had sanctions imposed on them is Abuzayed Vismuradov, commander of the Terek unit in Chechnya and president of Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov’s MMA fight club and promotion.

Vismuradov was accused by the U.S. Treasury of “being responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” within Chechnya and was also in charge of an operation that “illegally detained and tortured individuals on the basis of their actual or perceived LGBTI status.” The imposed sanctions means that Vismuradov, as well as the other listed individuals, are banned from entering the United States and will have their U.S-based assets frozen.

Known by his nom de guerre, Patriot, Vismuradov is considered to be one of the three most powerful men in Chechnya. His position of influence was attained through fierce loyalty to Kadyrov. Vismuradov, a member of Kadyrov’s clan (via paternal blood tie), went to the same school as Kadyrov and later fought alongside him during the Chechen wars. Since Ramzan’s rise to power, Patriot has commanded Chechnya’s Special Forces, the Terek Special Rapid Response Team, as well as Kadyrov’s private security detail – a national security trifecta that makes him indispensable to Kadyrov’s government.

While Vismuradov is one of the most dangerous men in Chechnya, he also happens to be an influential figure in the world of mixed martial arts. Vismuradov is responsible for thousands of Chechen athletes who train at the Akhmat MMA facility and played a signifiant role in expanding relations between the fight club and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

Outside of his responsibilities towards the Chechen state, Vismuradov is also oversees Kadyrov’s fight club, Akhmat MMA, as well as his MMA promotion, Absolute Championship Akhmat (ACA). Founded in 2015, the Akhmat MMA fight club consists of several training facilities throughout Chechnya. They are sponsored by Kadyrov through his government budget and bears the name of his father, Akhmad Kadyrov.

While Vismuradov’s role with Akhmat MMA is that of a promoter, Kadyrov’s decision to place his most trusted commander in charge of his MMA organization emphasizes the link between sports and politics within Chechnya and suggests that the Akhmat MMA fight club is an extension of Kadyrov’s government. Several of the fighters who represent Akhmat MMA are also soldiers. These include Beslan Ushukov, a former WFCA welterweight champion who also serves as soldier in the Special Chechen Forces unit— a military unit controlled by Vismuradov himself.

With Vismuradov at the helm of Akhmat MMA, several fighters affiliated to Kadyrov’s fight club eventually signed with the UFC. Those who remain with the promotion in 2019 include Abdul-Kerim Edilov, Magomed Ankalaev, Said Nurmagomedov, and Liana Jojua. Yet as reports of human rights abuses and anti-gay purges continued to emerge from Chechnya, the UFC made little effort to distance itself from Kadyrov.

In September 2017, Vismuradov traveled to the Netherlands to watch Abdul-Kerim Edilov — a a representative of the Akhmat MMA fight club who allegedly threatened an HBO journalist in Chechnya — who was scheduled to make his UFC debut that weekend. Vismuradov was joined by an entourage of notable Chechens, including Timur Dugazayev, who refers to himself as “Kadyrov’s man in Germany.” This led to outrage from several human rights organizations, many of whom questioned how the colonel obtained a Schengen visa. Even Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb was questioned about whether he had known about the Chechen militant’s visit to his city.

In September 2018, Kadyrov attended the UFC’s inaugural event in Moscow alongside Vismuradov and two other loyal henchmen. His decision to attend the UFC’s first ever show in Russia is due to the presence of Magomed Ankhalaev, a UFC light heavyweight prospect from Dagestan who represents the dictator’s fight club. To Kadyrov’s delight, Ankhalaev won by head-kick KO and used his post-fight speech to thank Kadyrov for his support.

During the event, Vismuradov also posed for a picture with UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby. The picture, which was posted on the Akhmat MMA fight club social media pages, carried a caption claiming that the UFC and Akhmat MMA had reached a new agreement to continue signing fighters from the Chechen club. The caption confirms that the UFC plans to continue doing business with a special forces commander allegedly responsible for heinous crimes against his own people.

While the sanctions placed on Vismuradov limits his ability to do business in the United States, it will have little impact on his influential role in the MMA sphere. The same was true for Kadyrov, who was sanctioned under the Magnitsky Act in December 2017. The sanctions imposed by the US Treasury apply to property interests and other financial assets, which appears to have a limited effect on Kadyrov. The Chechen dictator does not appear to do business in the United States and based on his statements, does not have financial assets in any American banks or property in North America.

A spokesperson for the US Treasury informed BloodyElbow.com at the time that “Any property or interests in property of Kadyrov within U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and transactions by U.S. persons involving the designated persons are generally prohibited.”

However, when asked whether the sanctions would impact Kadyrov’s interests in international sports, the spokesperson was non-committal. “We do not have any additional information to share at this time on specific assets or financial associates that could be impacted by these actions or prohibitions.”

The UFC did not respond to a request for comment.

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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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