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The Kadyrov Archives
Eight years of investigative reporting on the Chechen warlord with a penchant for the fight game.
I still remember the first time I decided to write about Ramzan Kadyrov.
It was October 2015. I was scrolling through Twitter at a cafe in Sochi, the resort town along the Black Sea, when a baffling image appeared before me: Kadyrov standing beside then-UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum while holding his oversized championship belt.
The Brazilian fighter had signed an affiliation agreement with Kadyrov’s personal MMA fight club, Akhmat MMA. His deal consisted of frequent visits to Chechnya as an ambassador for the promotion and required him to conduct a portion of his future training camps there. Once the deal was struck, Werdum was paraded around in the streets of the Chechen capital, Grozny, dressed in the conservative Islamic clothing typical in the region.
It was quite a sight: the UFC’s reigning heavyweight champion stoically positioned behind a man accused of horrific human rights abuses that would only grow more sinister over the coming years.
Weeks later, I published my first investigative article on Kadyrov—a decision that changed the entire trajectory of my professional career.
Ramzan Kadyrov continues to weaponize sports for political gain. Please consider becoming a paid subscriber so I can continue holding him accountable.
Over the next eight years, my reporting on Kadyrov would make it into The New York Times, The Guardian, and Foreign Policy.
But it wasn’t always so straightforward.
When I first started reporting on Kadyrov, only a handful of outlets were willing to consider my pitches. Most of my work ended up being featured at, where my boss saw value in my work on the dictator's growing influence in the world of combat sports. He was right, and that same reporting would later serve as the basis of an award-winning HBO Real Sports documentary titled ‘MMA Fight Club.‘
The documentary opened doors that were previously sealed shut. I began working for The Guardian and even lectured on the subject at universities such as Princeton. It also drew attention from Kadyrov and his henchmen. I began receiving emails and messages demanding that I apologize to Kadyrov for spreading lies about him. Some threatened to find and kill me. I decided to keep reporting anyway.
This sort of journalism is not for the faint of heart. And though it can come at great personal expense, it can also be a vehicle for change.
In December 2020, the United States Department of the Treasury issued sanctions targeting Kadyrov and his fight club. It was the first time that a country had issued sanctions targeting Kadyrov’s sports investments and paved the way for the federal government to scrutinize his affiliations with American athletes and organizations such as the UFC. My reporting helped make that happen.
Now—eight years and more than 40 feature-length articles later—I thought it was time to establish an archive of sorts; a timeline of all my investigative reporting on the Chechen warlord. And since Kadyrov remains an influential figure in MMA, it will unfortunately continue to be updated on a regular basis.
Shortly after I published my first feature on Kadyrov in 2015 for the defunct Sports on Earth, the Chechen dictator made headlines for a controversial MMA event he hosted on his 40th birthday. The event included three fights featuring the dictator’s own sons—Akhmad, Ali, and Adam—all of whom ranged between eight and 11 years of age. The fights were broadcast across the Russian Federation despite the fact that full-contact fights between children are illegal in the country. Nevertheless, the three princelings won their fights and were awarded miniaturized championship belts for their victories.
In April 2017, the renowned Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta published an expose on Kadyrov’s harrowing campaign of kidnappings, torture, and killing perpetrated against Chechnya’s LGBTQ+ community. The investigation redoubled concerns about the dictator’s growing influence in the world of sports, which I continued to cover in detail. This was also the year that HBO first became interested in my work.
Kadyrov continued to be a significant presence at international sports events despite the human rights accusations levied against him. He hosted the Egyptian national team during the 2018 World Cup and later attended the UFC’s debut event in Moscow, Russia.
Chechen Diplomacy: How Kadyrov’s appearance at UFC 242 advances two of his political goals | BloodyElbow
In 2019, Kadyrov began to find new ways to utilize his love of combat sports. He attended UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi alongside the UAE’s Minister of Culture, Youth, and Social Development, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan—an encounter which I later reported was an example of his cunning sports diplomacy at work. He also continued to ingratiate himself to fighters like Khabib Nurmagomedov—a local hero in neighbouring Dagestan—to further his geopolitical ambitions.
By 2020, much of my focus had shifted to other reporting projects. I covered the 2020 presidential election and continued my work on the rise of neo-Nazi fight clubs. However, I still had time for the occasional article on Kadyrov’s latest antics.
2021 & 2022
In April 2021, I achieved a career ambition of being published in The New York Times. The article, which I co-authored with my talented colleague Kevin Draper, focused on the relationship that the UFC and some of its athletes maintained with Kadyrov despite the U.S. sanctions levied against him. Six months later, we published a second article confirming that the U.S. State Department was looking into the UFC’s ties to Kadyrov.
Shortly following former UFC fighter Abdulkerim Edilov’s sudden death in December 2022, I was able to confirm that the Kadyrov loyalist had been killed on the dictator’s orders after a falling out. It was yet another reminder of Kadyrov’s iron grip over the sport.