The former UFC fighter with ties to child sex abuser Jeffery Epstein

In 2008, American financier and registered sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was convicted of soliciting a 14-year-old girl for prostitution after pleading guilty. He served…

By: Karim Zidan | 4 years ago
The former UFC fighter with ties to child sex abuser Jeffery Epstein
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

In 2008, American financier and registered sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was convicted of soliciting a 14-year-old girl for prostitution after pleading guilty. He served 13 months in “custody and work release” as part of a plea deal after investigators identified 36 victims. During his time at a Palm Beach County jail, Epstein was visited by a cast of characters that included a college friend to former President Bill Clinton, as well as Russian mixed martial artist and former UFC fighter Igor Zinoviev.

The list of people who visited Epstein at the time, which was taken from visitor logs reviewed by CNBC, was recently published in the wake of Epstein being charged this past week by federal prosecutors in New York with sex trafficking of minors. Epstein, a former friend of incumbent U.S. President Donald Trump, could face up to 45 years in prison.

Epstein’s case highlights the abuse of power, the influence of wealthy and influential friends, and the problems with a justice system that ignores the accusations of girls and women in favour of their abusers. [CJ1] When authorities began investigated Epstein well over a decade ago, he used private investigators to uncover dirt on his accusers, and later assembled a team of powerful lawyers (including Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz) to defend his case. It also appears he used a mixed martial arts fighter to intimidate the victims.

According to a report in the Palm Beach Daily News, which focused on Epstein being a “model prisoner” during his stint in prison in 2008-09, several of the victims’s attorneys claimed that Epstein was harassing the young women who filed civil suits against him. Attorney Andrew Horowitz threatened to ask a judge to hold Epstein in contempt after he made a surprise appearance at a deposition and glared at his client, who accused Epstein of molesting her when she was 15.

“Jane Doe began crying uncontrollably and was unable to proceed with her deposition,” Horowitz said in court papers.

Epstein was not alone when he showed up to the deposition. Though the money manager’s lawyers had claimed he would not be present, Epstein turned up with former UFC fighter Igor Zinoviev, whom the article referred to as his “driver,” to intimidate the young woman.

A former Red Army commando who grew up in an impoverished St. Petersburg family, Zinoviev moved to the United States following the fall of the Soviet Union and discovered the upstart world of ultimate fighting. After taking a handful of illegal bare-knuckle boxing fights in warehouses across Brooklyn and Queens, he joined the Extreme Fighting championship in 1995. Later that year, he took part in a one-night tournament that saw him defeat Mario Sperry, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu champion and one of the founders of Brazilian Top Team, who trained the likes of the Nogueira brothers and Ricardo Arona. Zinoviev, a massive underdog at the time, was crowned Extreme Fighting Middleweight Champion.

Zinoviev went on to defeat the likes of Enson Inoue before suffering draws against John Lober and Osami Shibuya in Pancrase. In 1998, he stepped into the UFC Octagon to challenge Frank Shamrock at UFC 16. Shamrock knocked his Russian adversary out in 22 seconds with a vicious slam that shattered Zinoviev’s collarbone and put an end to his career. He retired with a 4-1-2 professional record.

The Russian fighter disappeared for several years before resurfacingas the coach for one of the International Fight League (IFL) teams, the Chicago Red Bears. The stint did not last long and he soon returned to other side jobs such as personal training, stunt work, and body guarding.

Shortly thereafter, Zinoviev began to appear with Epstein. He showed up alongside the child predator at deposition meetings, allegedly to intimidate the victims of sexual assault. He also visited Epstein in prison, though it remains unclear why he was present.

While the nature of the relationship between Epstein and Zinoviev is difficult to confirm, it appears likely based on the reports that the former UFC fighter served as an enforcer and bodyguard for the convicted child abuser.

Zinoviev, 53, is not the only fighter affiliated to shady businessmen. Ziyavudin Magomedov, the Dagestani billionaire businessman currently in pre-trial detention on charges of embezzling over 2 billion rubles, fraud, and organized crime, is affiliated to several local fighters, including UFC champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. Magomedov, whose wealth is estimated at $1.2 billion, reportedly paid for the UFC champ’s back surgery in 2017, which was done in Germany. He also funded the majority of Nurmagomedov’s expenses during training camps.

Magomedov also founded the Eagles MMA fight team. The gym recently came under fire after it was reported that one its executives, Denis Klopnev, was arrested in absentia for the attempted murder of sambo fighter Shamil Kuramagomedov, a bronze medalist in the 2017 Russian Combat Sambo Championship. According to the report, Kuramagomedov and the suspects all trained at the same gym, which was also owned by Summa Group.

While the crimes Magomedov has been accused of have nothing to do with Epstein’s pedophilia conviction and ongoing federal cases, it emphasizes the strange urge for powerful businessmen to associate with MMA fighters and to use them for their own personal gain.

Share this story

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.

More from the author

Related Stories