Kadyrov linked to boxing champion's disappearance
Former IBO light-heavyweight champion Umar Salamov disappeared shortly after his most recent fight in September 2022.
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.
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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 disapperance matches an earlier report from Chechen opposition movement 1ADAT, which revealed that Kadyrov’s henchmen 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.
Kadyrov 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. Kadyrov’s 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,” Kadyrov 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.”
Salamov later won the WBO International light-heavyweight title but failed to add the WBA (Super) light-heavyweight title to his trophy mantle following a loss to Bivol in 2021. He would take part in one more fight before his eventual disappearance.
While it remains unclear why an apparent Kadyrov loyalist such as Salamov was abducted, it is worth noting that this is not the first time that a fighter associated with Kadyrov has suffered a sudden twist of fate.
In December 2022, former UFC fighter Abdul-Kerim Edilov was assassinated on orders from Kadyrov and his family. Edilov, who at the time served as Chechnya’s deputy prime minister, was reportedly involved in a feud with Kadyrov’s nephew that involved drugs, women, and extortion. Despite once holding a high-ranking government position, Edilov’s death was never acknowledged by Kadyrov or other Chechen officials. Meanwhile, he has since elevated Edilov’s brother, Walid, to Edilov’s old position as the the head of the secretariat of the leader of Chechnya.
Then on January 15, 2023—two days after Salamov’s disappearance—an MMA fighter from North Caucasus was found dead on a train traveling from Moscow. The death was “reportedly” violent and took place months after the fighter publicly appealed to Kadyrov to help find his aunt who had gone missing in Chechnya. In a video published online that has since gone viral, the fighter, Georgiy Gagloev, stated that his aunt may have been kidnapped because of her controversial career as a fortune teller, which is prohibited in Islam and is therefore banned throughout the Muslim-dominant North Caucasus, including in Chechnya.
Kadyrov never responded to the plea. Meanwhile, the aunt was never found and her nephew has since been killed.
Over the past 16 years, Kadyrov has ruled the semi-autonomous republic of Chechnya with an iron fist. During that time, he has been routinely accused of orchestrating human rights abuses including assassinations, abductions, torture, extrajudicial killings, and purges targeting the local LGBTQ+ community. Despite his harrowing human rights record, Kadyrov has managed to expand his sphere of influence through his patronage in combat sports
Apart from his fight club, Kadyrov owns one of the most prominent MMA organizations in Russia and has half a dozen fighters representing him in the UFC. The crown jewel among his prizefighters is Khamzat Chimaev, the Chechen-born Swedish superstar whom Kadyrov transformed into a glorified babysitter dedicated to accompanying the dictator’s teenage sons on trips to Dubai or training them to become professional fighters.
Last week, Kadyrov celebrated Chimaev’s birthday by posting a lengthy montage featuring footage of the fighter alongside the dictator and his family. The post was accompanied by a caption that read: “I sincerely wish him good health, family well-being, and good luck.”