If there's a disagreement, he beats first and asks no questions later. He believes gay people need to be purged from his country. Critics, including journalists, are summarily killed for infracting on his huge but delicate ego.
Unfortunately, those sorts of claims could fit a few different leaders on today's world stage. Why should Ramzan Kadyrov and his jackbooted fiefdom in the tiny Russian republic of Chechnya be different? For most Westerners, Chechnya is half a world away and far out of mind.
But for MMA fans, it's a shorter distance. Kadyrov is living right next door, and he's more entrenched in their neighborhood than many might understand or wish to believe.
Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel airs a feature Tuesday night on HBO that covers Kadyrov and his MMA ties in depth. Despite a handful of MMA reporters—Bloody Elbow's Karim Zidan, who is featured on the show, chief among them—working for years to shed light on the 40-year-old toughman's ties to the sport, a lot of mainstream fans still don't seem to know much about him or his deeds.
Part Vladimir Putin, part Sonny Corleone, part Dana White, part Slobodan Milosevic, Kadyrov rules his tiny republic with an iron fist inside a four-ounce glove.
On the world's geopolitical stage, he's best known for intolerance to opposition and minorities, which manifests in brutal governing tactics. As Chechnya's leader—his father, Akhmat, who was assassinated by rebels in 2004, was the nation's first official president—Kadyrov overseas a fiercely militaristic state apparatus that has been waging various wars for decades and proudly brandishes bloody solutions at just about any problem, real or perceived. Just this year, Chechnyan journalist Elena Milashina reported that Chechen soldiers were systematically rounding up, torturing and killing scores of gay Chechens.
"He wants to be the only person in Chechnya who decides everything," said Milashina on Real Sports. "The way you dress, the way you think, the way you pray. This guy wants to be a god for Chechens."
(For his part, Kadyrov issued a semi-denial of the charges on Real Sports, noting that "we don't have such people here" before adding, "To purify our blood, if there are any here, take them.")
Whether intentionally or otherwise, Kadyrov The MMA Fan shows a different side to the world. Here, he's the jovial impresario, trainer and cheerleader-in-chief, gleefully extolling the virtues of Chechen fighters and the glory they will bring to their nation (and, of course, their leader).
Imagine if American Top Team was state-run and you might have a sense of Akhmat Fight Club, the camp Kadyrov operates. The gym in particular and the general culture he is fostering are paying dividends for Kadyrov, as several established fighters—chief among them current UFC standouts Magomed Bibulatov (an Akhmat alum) and Zubaira Tukhugov—call Chechnya home.
But his ties don't end on the undercard. Eyebrows broke chandelier bulbs when current and former UFC champs Fabricio Werdum, Chris Weidman and Frank Mir showed up at a 2015 fight night to party with (and purportedly get paid by) Kadyrov. Boxers Floyd Mayweather and Mike Tyson have shown up, too. Big-time fighter managers like Ali Abdelaziz (Werdum, Frankie Edgar, Khabib Nurmagomedov and more) and Abraham Kawa (Jon Jones, Tyron Woodley, Carlos Condit, Jorge Masvidal and more) also have had warm working relationships with the warlord.
Not everyone is super excited about getting cozy-comfy with a dictator, however. One notable holdout is the UFC. Kadyrov noted this on Real Sports and—are you sitting down?—said he was angry about it.
"We propose that UFC and Akhmat face off in a tournament," Kadyrov said through an intepreter. "And we'll see who has the strongest fighters. I think it would be quite a spectacle."
Indeed. Oddly, no word yet from the UFC on this.
In the meantime, do you like Fedor Emelianenko? Kadyrov doesn't seem to. Soon after Emelianenko recently criticized a Chechen MMA event for featuring underage participants, Emelianenko's daughter was assaulted in the street. No direct connection was ever made to Kadyrov or his people, but Kadyrov did say thereafter that he believed Emelianenko had "realized his mistake."
In any case, MMA is a diversion for Chechen fans in that it diverts their attention from his repressive, my-way-or-you-better-start-running regime. It simultaneously celebrates and amplifies alpha male Chechen culture. Hard-faced, hard-bodied men for whom "death is better than second place," as Kadyrov himself puts it in on Real Sports, may be the wartorn republic's primary export.
MMA fans in other nations may have more options. Kadyrov is not a subtle person, and those things that bear his fingerprints, including his livestreamed World Fighting Championship Akhmat show, are not hard to identify. As impressive as it has been inside the cage, Kadyrov's MMA machine is far from the only game in town.
But as Real Sports shows, for now, it hums on. Sorry about all this repression—sorry, non-repression—but are you not entertained? Despite his murderous history, plenty of people in the MMA community have, to this point, seemed willing to play along.