After more than two years away from competition, Ottman Azaitar returned to the Octagon as part of the UFC 281 fight card at Madison Square Garden.

Flanked by his brother, Abu Bakr Azaitar, as well as their father, the controversial Moroccan talent stepped into the cage opposite his American foe, Matt Frevola, while the Moroccan national anthem rang through the arena. 

The match-up was originally scheduled to take place at UFC 257 in September 2021 but was canceled when Azaitar was caught sneaking an unknown person and items into the Covid-19 isolation bubble that the UFC had established in the UAE’s Yas Island. 

Yet after years of anticipation, the fight was over in less than three minutes. As Azaitar came charging in, Frevola countered with a three-punch combination that sent Azaitar tumbling to the canvas. It was Azaitar’s first professional loss—a defeat that one prominent Moroccan newspaper labeled a “humiliation.”

While Azaitar’s defeat came as a blow to his legion of Moroccan fans looking to support their fellow countryman, the loss had little effect on his status as one of the king’s closest confidants. 

Ottman and his brother Abu have spent the last five years cultivating a friendship with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI—a unlikely alliance that has elevated the UFC fighters to elite status, expanded their influence within the palace walls, and emboldened them to build a controversial fast food empire.  

While the blossoming friendship between the UFC fighters and the Moroccan king may seem absurd, a recent expose published by The Economist suggests that a crisis is brewing in Morocco and the Azaitars may very well be part of the problem. 

UFC Fighters in the King’s Palace

Born in Frechen, Germany to parents who immigrated from Morocco, the Azaitar brothers attended the King Fahd Academy, a controversial Islamic school funded by Saudi Arabia and suspected of “attracting Islamists to Germany.” In 2003, the school was investigated for alleged ties to the terrorist network al Qaeda and other fundamentalist groups. That same year, Abu and Omar Azaitar—then known as the “brutal twins” in local media—appeared in juvenile court to face charges of inflicting bodily harm and gang theft.

Abu, who was 17 at the time, was accused of dousing a businessman in gasoline before stealing his Ferrari. He was sentenced in June 2004 to two years and three months in prison. He was released in 2006 but his issues with the law did not end there. 

Shortly following his release, Azaitar was accused of violently assaulting his girlfriend at a Christmas market and punching her repeatedly until her ear drum burst

By 2007, Abu Azaitar had pivoted towards mixed martial arts and began training to make his debut on the local German scene. Meanwhile, he made friends with local rappers and celebrities, and was reportedly associated with criminal clans. However, it was his unlikely friendship with King Mohammed VI that solidified the UFC fighter’s celebrity status.

The friendship began in 2018, shortly after the king quietly divorced Princess Laila Salma. According to Moroccan media reports, King Mohammed VI was keen to meet with Abu and Ottman because of their achievements in MMA (Abu was the first Moroccan national to sign with the UFC while Ottman had just claimed the Brave FC lightweight title and extended his unbeaten record to 10-0). The brothers became frequent visitors of the king, who took them on vacations and later allowed them to renovate one of the unused palaces in Tangiers into a sports club.

As the Azaitar brothers’ friendship with the king intensified, they began to take on more official roles within the Moroccan government. 

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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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