MMA reporter Ariel Helwani weighed the options for those who disagree with some fighters’ political alignments.
The connection between sports and politics has long been prevalent, especially in mixed martial arts, where fighters express their beliefs perhaps more publicly than many other sports. This is often the case in the UFC, where roster members have no limits on their political affiliations and opinions.
With this, controversy often arises. And on a night when a new UFC lightweight champion was crowned, one of the main talking points was a connection to a much-criticized and controversial diet.
Cageside at UFC 280 in Abu Dhabi earlier this month was welterweight contender Khamzat Chimaev. Next to him sat the 14-year-old son of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who has been accused of well-documented human rights abuses in the past. Among the allegations are executions, torture and the attempt to rid Chechnya of the LGBTQ+ community.
A Kadyrov’s attendance at one of the biggest UFC events of the year has come under scrutiny given the current political climate, which involves the continued invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
Just days before interacting with Chimaev and UFC President Dana White, Kadyrov’s son was filmed in military gear alongside Ukrainian POWs in Mariupol.
Given Kadyrov’s past interactions with mixed martial artists, including Khabib Nurmagomedov, many have accused the athletes of caving in to the leader’s attempts to wash the sport – that is, attempts by individuals, groups or governments to use sport as a means to improve reputations tarnished by wrongdoing.
The latest incident involving the UFC has drawn a lot of reactions on social media. Whereas a Twitter user suggested the promotion had gone ‘over the top’ with its political allowancesso much so that they stopped looking, another instead criticized journalist Karim Zidan for emphasizing ‘politics’ rather than fighting.
Despite the latter view, there were certainly plenty of voices against the UFC and its fighters’ association with the controversial leader. But according to Ariel Helwani, not much can be done.
Helwani: “There must be a line”
During a question-and-answer session on the latest episode of MMA hourhost Helwani was asked about Ali Kadyrov’s attendance at UFC 280, as well as his father’s many interactions with MMA fighters in the past.
The famed Canadian journalist began by acknowledging the unique dilemma facing MMA fans given the sport’s greater association with certain political controversies.
“It’s a tough question…I think it’s undeniable that Ramzan Kadyrov is a very controversial figure in the world. Some might call him a dictator,” Helwani said. very nice and I choose my words wisely.And then you see some of the best fighters in the UFC hanging out, rubbing elbows with family members, Dana White taking a picture with his son.
“But guys, Ramzan Kadyrov is… he’s like the leader of Chechnya, isn’t he? …You see these pictures…you think, ‘How am I supposed to feel about this?’ Helwani continued. “I don’t know if other top athletes in major sports in North America, I don’t know if fans face that dilemma.”
Helwani also noted the recent equivalent of boxing, which saw the Fury family caught up in the discussion surrounding US sanctions against Daniel Kinahan, who is believed to be the head of an Irish organized crime gang.
Although the reporter agreed that there must be “a line” of some sort, he wondered where said line lies when it comes to these controversial topics.
“Are we supposed to just separate those feelings and just enjoy the fighters? To some degree, people want to be fired because of their politics…but there has to be a limit. I agree there is a line,” Helwani said. “I just don’t know in that respect what that line is… They’re taking pictures with somebody who’s not a friend of the United States and isn’t considered a good guy… Qu are you supposed to do then?
“On the one hand, the UFC is saying, ‘Hey, everybody’s views are welcome here.’ But it looks like there has to be a line, and it looks like they’ll draw a line when it’s beneficial to them,” Helwani added. “It’s uncomfortable…it feels more and more prevalent in this sport.”
In the end, Helwani came up with a solution. If fans disagree with fighters like Chimaev associating themselves with individuals like Kadyrov, or appearing to publicly support criticized regimes, they should withdraw all support for them and their fights.
“There are people who are going to come from certain parts of the world, who are not going to match how we feel,” Helwani said. “The beauty of it is that you can choose who you want to support, who you want to root for, who you want to pay money to watch. It’s the best you can do, that’s really it.
“You don’t want to buy a Khamzat fight? Don’t buy it. It’s really the only thing you can do. He won’t stop being friends with this guy or his family because of you, or me, or anyone else. The only thing you can do is not watch.
Do you agree with Ariel Helwani’s assessment?
Please provide transcript credit with a link to this article if you use any of these citations.