US weighs in on Kadyrov ‘ties’ to UFC fighters
Kamaru Usman, Henry Cejudo, and Justin Gaethje recently visited Chechnya
The US State Department has commented after a joint trip to Chechnya by ex-UFC champions Kamaru Usman and Henry Cejudo, plus former lightweight title challenger Justin Gaethje.
The group recently enjoyed time in the Russian republic in the North Caucasus after reportedly being invited by local leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
A State Department official familiar with American investigations into Kadyrov told the New York Times that the organization “is aware of Kadyrov’s association with Chechen UFC fighters,” which the newspaper claims is the “first direct mention of athletes with the UFC having ties to Kadyrov.”
The American trio that recently traveled to Chechnya were not mentioned.
Kadyrov has shown support to Russian UFC fighters such as Stockholm-based welterweight star Khamzat Chimaev, who was born in Chechnya.
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But it came as a surprise to some in the US in late November to see Cejudo, Gaethje, and Usman in photos and videos shooting assault weapons and firing rocket launchers at the Russian Special Forces University in Chechnya.
Kadyrov has been the subject of US Treasury Department sanctions since 2017 and received additional sanctions in September for supporting and providing soldiers for the military operation in Ukraine.
Responding to the trio’s trip, a State Department spokesperson said to MMA Junkie that it reiterated US citizens “should not travel to Russia and those in Russia should depart immediately.”
The spokesperson would not specify if Cejudo, Gaethje, and Usman had violated rules in relation to the sanctions placed on Kadyrov.
When the images of the trip appeared on social media, it was reported that the fighters had attended a birthday party thrown for one of Kadyrov’s sons.
Cejudo and Gaethje were visiting Chechnya for the first time while Usman reportedly enjoyed his third visit since November 2020.
Usman was previously spotted sparring with one of Kadyrov’s sons and attending his 2021 birthday party.
Kadyrov is not known to have any official relationship with the UFC, but the elite MMA promotion has signed fighters from his Akhmat MMA fight club founded in 2014.
These include Chimaev, recent light heavyweight title challenger Magomed Ankalaev, Albert Duraev, and Said Nurmagomedov.
At the height of his career, retired lightweight great Khabib Nurmagomedov was also seen alongside Kadyrov.
Like Usman, Cejudo, and Gaethje, Nurmagomedov is managed by Ali Abdelaziz.
One of Kadyrov’s sons attended UFC 280 with Chimaev in Abu Dhabi in October, which is where Nurmagomedov’s protege, Islam Makhachev, was crowned the new lightweight champion after winning the vacant belt against Charles Oliveira.
After Chimaev scuffled with Nurmagomedov’s cousin Abubakar in the Etihad Arena, Kadyrov acted to soothe tensions and later shared a video of the men making peace.
“I have been assured of it personally,” Kadyrov said in the caption on his Instagram post.
Following Ankalaev’s disappointing draw against Jan Blachowicz at UFC 282 in Las Vegas at the weekend, Kadyrov targeted UFC president Dana White and questioned his integrity, after feeling his fighter had done enough to become 205lbs champion.