In July 2020, the UFC ventured to Yas Island —a tourist destination in Abu Dhabi, UAE — for a four-event showcase dubbed ‘Fight Island.’ The series of events featured exciting bouts, a handful of controversies, and even saw the rise of breakout star, Khamzat Chimaev.
Chimaev, a Chechen native living in Sweden, competed twice during Fight Island showcase, finishing both of his opponents in spectacular fashion. He submitted John Phillips in his UFC debut at the UFC on ESPN 13 event, and later knocked out Rhys McKee at UFC on ESPN 14 just 10 days later.
The Chechen fighter’s breakout performances set him the path towards UFC notoriety. Though just 8-0 in his professional career, Chimaev has already got the attention of UFC President Dana White, who called him the “real deal” and even suggested he wasn’t far off from a potential title shot.
“The guy is so dominant, so confident, wants to continue to fight every weekend,” White said.
“I love it. I love guys with that mentality. I love how talented this guy is. We threw the hottest prospect out of the U.K. at him and that kid is a badass. That kid is a legit great fighter. [Chimaev] made it look like he didn’t belong there. … The kid is legit. He’s real and he knows it and I love it.”
Few fighters have managed to make a lasting impression in as short a period as Chimaev has. However, while the 26-year-old has all the makings of a star, he also carries much of the same baggage that other Chechen fighters do, and that is the looming shadow of Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov.
“A True Chechen”
Shortly following Chimaev’s breakout performances on Fight Island, Kadyrov took to social media to congratulate Chimaev on his victories, referring to him as a “true Chechen.”
“In the history of the UFC league, no one before Chimaev had two fights in a ten-day period of time and won them. Moreover, Khamzat had to do this immediately after his debut in the [UFC]. Quite recently, on July 16, he fought with a representative of Wales and won this fight ahead of schedule, ”Ramzan Kadyrov wrote on his VK page on July 26.
Kadyrov was not deterred by the fact that Chimaev is based in Sweden, adding, “Regardless of the country in which he performs, Khamzat always remembers that he is, first of all, a Chechen, and strictly observes the traditions and customs of his people.”
Kadyrov’s sentiments were shared by AbuZayed Vismuradov, the dictator’s right hand man and fellow combat sports fanatic. Vismuradov, who was placed on the U.S. ‘Magnitsky’ sanctions list for his role in Chechnya’s anti-gay purges, has since continued to promote Chimaev and even shared several pictures of the two men posing together.
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Kadyrov making his self-promotion