Roughly three months before his sudden disappearance, Umar Salamov stepped into the ring to compete in the main event of the Kazan Kremlin Cup.
It was September 25, 2022. Salamov, dressed in a pair of black boxing shorts emblazoned with an emblem associated with Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov, was set to face a journeyman boxer from Namibia named Vikapita Meroro. The fight lasted less than 90 seconds, with Salamov dominating Meroro before landing a powerful liver shot that sent him crumbling to the canvas. The referee called off the fight and Salamov returned to celebrate with his cornermen.
During the celebration, one of the men handed him a phone. It was Kadyrov calling to congratulate him on FaceTime. The boxer thanked his benefactor and rounded off by chanting “Akhmat Sila,” a reference to the infamous battlecry used by Kadyrov loyalists that translates to Akhmat Power. Kadyrov smiled.
Salamov was on top of the world. He had earned the feared warlord’s favor and was back to his winning ways following a loss to WBA light-heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol. Little did he know that his brief encounter with Meroro would be his last.
‘Kadyrov, do you know where to find him?’
Last month, Chechen dissident Tumso Abdurakhmanov revealed that Salamov had gone missing and hinted that Kadyrov was likely involved in his potential abduction.
“Kadyrov, do you know where to find him? I’m sure you know,” Abdurakhmanov wrote on Telegram. “And you, and I, and many others, we all know where to look for it. But I’m at a loss as to what he did wrong to you? Won’t you tell?
“I’m sure it’s an interesting story.”
Salamov has not been seen in public in several months and has not posted on his verified social media accounts since September 2022. The 28-year-old boxer’s last recorded interview took place in December 2022, when he told a local boxing website that he was interested in fighting Sergey Kovalev in the coming year.
Abdurakhmanov’s claim about Salamov’s disappearance matches an earlier report from Chechen opposition movement 1ADAT, which revealed that Chechen officials had abducted 27 men, including Salamov, from the fighter’s native village of Alkhan-Kala on January 13, 2023 as part of a “cleansing operation.” The boxer was reportedly taken to detention facilities under the control of Chechnya’s Ministry of Internal Affairs—facilities that are rife with torture and other forms of abuse.
Salamov’s abduction comes as a surprise given his status as one of Chechnya’s most successful boxers. He got his start as a professional fighter in 2012, when he signed a deal to fight for the boxing promotion owned by Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko. Over the next few years, he continued to fight in Ukraine and compiled an impressive 14-0 undefeated record that got him noticed by Kadyrov. The dictator had just launched his MMA gym franchise in 2015 and was looking to expand into boxing. Salamov signed with the warlord’s Akhmat Boxing Club in 2016 and remained with the club for the remainder of his short-lived career.
The dictator funded Salamov’s career as part of his contract with the gym. Apart from training in Chechnya, he funded Salamov’s move to Las Vegas, where he trained at Kevin Barry’s gym alongside the likes of former WBO heavyweight champion Joseph Parker. The investment paid off, as Salamov signed with Bob Arum’s Top Rank promotion and won the vacant IBO light-heavyweight title in May 2016. And though Salamov would lose the title a year later, Kadyrov remained among his most vocal supporters.
“Congratulations, dear BROTHER! We believed in you! And you justified the hopes of the fans,” the dictator wrote on VKontakte following Salamov’s victory against Emmanuel Anim in December 2018. “The evening ended with the triumph of Umar in the main fight! Umar Salamov once again proved that he is one one of the most experienced and invincible in his weight category in the world of professional boxing.”
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