On Saturday night, Artur Beterbiev successfully unified the WBC, WBO and IBF light-heavyweight titles following a knockout victory against Joe Smith Jr. at Madison Square Garden.
The undefeated Chechen-born and Canada-based boxer scored three knockdowns before the fight was stopped with less than a minute of round two remaining. The victory improved the 37-year-old boxer’s record to a flawless 18-0, all by knockout, and places him in line for some exciting bouts in the near future.
Yet among those who stayed up to watch Beterbiev throttle his opponent was Ramzan Kadyrov, the dictator at the helm of Russia’s Chechnya region who is currently facing U.S. sanctions for human rights abuses including forced disappearances, torture, summary executions and an ongoing purge of Chechnya’s LGBTQ+ community.
The dictator posted a clip from the fight, along with his praise and analysis of Beterbiev’s performance on Sunday morning.
“Friends, Artur Beterbiev had an amazing fight tonight,” Kadyrov said on Instagram. “In New York, our boxer met in the ring with John Smith Jr. It was a really amazing and spectacular fight that can be reviewed dozens of times. From the very beginning, Beterbiev looked a cut above. In the first round, he knocked Smith out of the rut, leaving the latter with no hope of winning, knocking him down. In the second round, Arthur continued to attack the enemy, using his rich arsenal. Smith tried to answer, but it was already clear that he was no match for our Beterbiev. Another knockdown, and then, after a powerful uppercut, the American took the lead in the ring, and the referee stopped the fight. An unconditional, absolute, clear victory for our talented boxer!”
Kadyrov has also been known to reward fighters who successfully represent his regime with lavish gifts. Beterbiev, himself a member of Kadyrov’s Akhmat fight club—also sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury—was awarded a Mercedes Benz and bestowed the title of ‘Honorary Citizen of Grozny’ in December 2021.
Whenever Beterbiev returns to Chechnya, he is greeted with a hero’s welcome along with state parades in his honor. Much of this is performative theatre aimed to enhance Kadyrov’s cult of personality, bolster his reputation as a benevolent leader, and distract from ongoing abuses in Chechnya.
“Artur has devoted his whole life to boxing and inspires thousands and thousands of young guys,” Kadyrov continued. “It’s nice to see how the victories did not intoxicate him, and he remains a modest Chechen guy, a real role model, an idol for beginner boxers. I am proud that our people have such a noble, honest, religious son who glorifies our republic throughout the world.”
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