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The Plot Thickens: Fresh details on the UFC fighter's death linked to Kadyrov
Abdul-Kerim Edilov, the former UFC fighter-turned-politician, was reportedly engaged in a feud with Kadyrov's nephew prior to his sudden disappearance and death.
In my early days as a sports journalist, I moonlighted as an English commentator for a Russian mixed martial arts organization called M-1 Global. During my time with M-1, which lasted between 2014-16, I traveled across the Russian Federation, from culturally-refined cities such as St. Petersburg to the mountainous landscapes of the North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia. It was during a trip to Moscow in 2015 that I first met Abdul-Kerim Edilov, a man who was known at the time as Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov’s favorite fighter.
I do not remember seeing Edilov walk into the arena, but I do remember the strange tension that reverberated through the crowd as he made his way cageside, flanked by several of Kadyrov’s intimidating henchmen. All of them were wearing black t-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “Akhmat MMA”, the name of Kadyrov’s newly established fight club.
“Those are some scary guys,” I remember my commentary partner saying at the time, and insisted that I should stay away from them.
Naturally, I ignored his advice.
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When Edilov made his UFC debut in 2017—months after reports emerged that Kadyrov was purging sexual minorities in Chechnya—I reported on the fighter’s close relationship with the dictator. While I would continue to report on his exploits over the next few years, the last thing I expected was to investigate Edilov’s sudden death and its mysterious links to Kadyrov himself.
On 29 December 2022, Chechen activists reported that Edilov had suddenly died and that the circumstances surrounding his death were unclear. The fighter’s passing was confirmed by the Chechen opposition movement 1ADAT, which shared a brief voice message stating that a commemoration would take place that morning in Edilov’s native village.
Edilov, 31, was once regarded as Kadyrov’s most promising fighter. When the dictator decided to start his own MMA fight club and competitive league in 2014, Edilov became one of his key representatives. He headlined several of Kadyrov’s early events before signing with the UFC in 2015. However, Edilov’s debut was delayed until September 2017 due to a 15-month suspension for testing positive for meldonium, a prohibited substance. He eventually made his UFC debut in the Netherlands, where he outclassed his opponent in front of an entourage of Kadyrov’s men seated in the front row.
Despite the impressive win, Edilov did not compete for the UFC again. Instead, he focused on a bigger prize: becoming a faithful servant to Kadyrov’s family.
Over the course of the next few years, Edilov gradually transformed from a full-time fighter into a glorified nanny for Kadyrov’s three teenage sons. He coached them to become fighters, attended Qur’an classes with them, and guarded them from prying eyes. His commitment earned him favor with Kadyrov, who showered him with praise and lavish gifts, such as luxury cars and expensive watches.
Edilov’s efforts paid off when he was elevated to his first official government role as Kadyrov’s chief of staff in November 2021. Three months later, he was promoted to deputy prime minister, with a focus on youth policy and sports.
“In his new post, Abdul-Kerim Edilov faces exceptionally complex and responsible tasks,” Kadyrov said in a press release announcing Edilov’s promotion. “I am sure that he will fully justify the trust placed in him.”
Edilov’s success, however, only lasted a few months. On 15 September 2022, Chechen dissident Tumso Abdurakhmanov claimed that Edilov had been “convicted of drug use” and that he had been tortured as a result. Other Chechen activists followed up with reports that Murad Agmerzoev, one of the bodyguards for Kadyrov’s children and a longtime friend of Edilov, had been executed on Kadyrov’s orders for allegedly supplying drugs to the dictator’s entourage.
Edilov was never seen in public again. His personal Instagram account, once filled with pictures of Kadyrov and his children, was also deleted. Then, on 23 November 2022, Chechnya’s official government website announced that the former UFC fighter had resigned from his role as deputy prime minister at “his own initiative.” His death was reported five weeks later.
Edilov’s death was not acknowledged by Kadyrov, his government, or the legion of fighters who trained with Edilov for years, leading critics to claim that Kadyrov’s silence was evidence of his guilt.
“Of course, we believe that it was Kadyrov [or someone on his orders] who killed Edilov,” Mansur Sadulaev, the founder of Swedish-based Chechen human rights organization Vayfond, told me by email (which I later reported in The Guardian). “We believe so because if Edilov had died in a different way or had been killed by anyone other than Kadyrov loyalists, then Kadyrov himself would have been furious and would have expressed his condolences over Edilov’s death.”
However, there appears to be more to the story.
According to the Novaya Gazetya, the exiled Russian outlet that first broke the story about Kadyrov’s purge of LGBTQ+ people in Chechnya, Edilov’s death was at least partially due to a rivalry he maintained with Kadyrov’s nephew, Khamzat Kadyrov.
Edilov allegedly maintained a relationship with certain women who had previously been associated to Khamzat. The fighter allegedly attempted to procure compromising information about Khamzat from the women. Kadyrov’s nephew discovered Edilov’s ploy and ordered that Edilov be taken in for questioning at a local police station. The fighter was not seen again.
It remains unclear whether Ramzan Kadyrov was aware of his nephew’s actions at the time. 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.
While some might view Edilov’s death as tragic, it is worth remembering that the fighter was a staunch supporter of Kadyrov and had reportedly been involved in countless human rights abuses.
“We are not saddened by this person's death, even if it sounds unethical,” Sadulaev told me via email. “Kadyrov is a big criminal, and everyone who friends and works for/with him are also criminals.
“We are happy when they reap their rewards.”