Return of martial arts star is boost for Chechen dictator
HE WANTS TO “Smash the faces” of his enemies “chicken” and floored his latest victim with a punch. Khamzat Shimaev, of Chechen descent, known as borz (“Wolf”), fights as fiercely as its nickname suggests. It was one of the most fashionable mixed martial arts in the world (Mma) stars in 2020, before being shot down by a tough opponent: a brutal covid-19 fight. He considered retiring, but was dissuaded, not by his coach or sponsors, but apparently by Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya. In July, Chimaev announced that after a one-year hiatus, he was training for a fight in October.
Mr. Kadyrov controls everything in the Russian republic, from dress codes to religious practices. He crushes dissenters, but adores combat sports and builds gymnasiums for his subjects to punch and wrestle. Fighting in his Mma arena in Grozny, the capital, he yells, shouts and kisses the victors.
Many young Chechens dream of becoming famous fighters. Some are treated as heroes, plastered on billboards and housed in luxury apartments. Some of Mr. Kadyrov’s hopes fought in the US Ultimate Fighting Championship. But before the borz, Chechnya lacked a true superstar.
the borz ‘his return was important to Mr. Kadyrov, and not just because of his love for Mma. Mr. Kadryov knows that Mr. Shimaev will inspire more young Chechens to join fight clubs, where they will become loyal and highly skilled warriors. Many would later join his private army. Some believe that Mr. Kadyrov’s gymnasiums, called “Akhmat Fight Club”, recruit pools for Chechen special forces. (Both organizations have the same boss, Abuzayed Vismuradov, Mr. Kadyrov’s right-hand man.)
The return of Mr. Shimaev will strengthen the image of Mr. Kadyrov. Star fighters provide a distraction from his purges of those he deems weak, such as gays. Blood sports are doing well on Instagram as well. Mr. Kadyrov presents himself as a strong and athletic leader, like his boss, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. He recently had a fight with the borz on camera, and in May, the two vacationed together. They took selfies and met a lion cub.
This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the title “Le retour du loup”