Karim Zidan looks at the unexpected meeting between Floyd Mayweather and Chechnya’s unsavoury leader Ramzan Kadyrov. On Thursday, March 16, Floyd Mayweather stepped off his private jet, a custom-built Gulfstream III, to a hero’s welcome in Grozny, Chechnya. A handful of Chechens dressed in multi-colored tracksuits with the Akhmat MMA logo emblazoned on their chests clapped and cheered as ‘Money’ descended from his 12-seat luxury plane. Dressed in a stripped blue suit and plain white shirt — no tie — Mayweather shook hands with the privileged few who awaited him at the airport, all of whom loyally represented the republic’s ruthless leader, Ramzan Kadyrov.
Amidst the crowd of Chechnya’s elite – fighters and close associates of Kadyrov himself – emerged Adam Delimkhanov, a politician and State Duma representative. He is also considered to be one of the most powerful men in the Chechen Republic. He directed the boxer to the vehicle that would take them to Kadyrov’s palace, which he drove personally while taking selfies and videos with Mayweather strapped in the passenger seat. Little did Mayweather know that he was being personally chauffeured by one of the country’s most notorious strongmen.
Cousin to the leader of the Chechen Republic, Delimkhanov has been accused of a host of atrocities, including having ordered the assassination of the former Chechen warlord and Russian military commander Sulim Yamadayev in Dubai. He also publicly threatened legendary Russian fighter Fedor Emelianenko.
Given the infamy attached to his name, Delimkhanov is a primary actor in Chechnya’s absurdist political theatre.
Floyd Mayweather is meeting w/ Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov right now. Video shows him being driven by crony who threatened Fedor’s life pic.twitter.com/reLYFpe6B8— Karim Zidan (@ZidanSports) March 16, 2017
So how did Mayweather, an undefeated American boxer with little reason to be 11,000km away from home, end up sharing a vehicle with an accused assassination mastermind, and lunch with a dictator and his cronies? it began when the boxer ventured to the Russian Federation to attend the grand opening of a new boxing gym in Moscow, and to coach an accompanying masterclass. According to reports, Mayweather was paid over $86,500 for the day’s effort. Shortly thereafter, he headed to Chechnya at Kadyrov’s invitation.
And where Mayweather saw another paid public appearance, Kadyrov chanced upon an opportunity for boxing diplomacy.
Following a rich lunch heavy in meats, cheese, leeks, and Hingalsh, a dry-fried dough with sweet pumpkin filling, Mayweather toured Kadyrov’s palace and spent a short while chatting with the leader through a translator. Kadyrov later revealed that the two discussed plans for further cooperation between the two notable figures, likely in reference to a proposed boxing partnerships between his state-sponsored Akhmat fighters and Mayweather’s network of coaches and talent in the United States.
Kadyrov’s calculated effort is an example of the leader’s keen interest in using sports to enhance his personal image and that of the city he built from the ashes of the 2nd Chechen War. Shrewdly aware of how invaluable Mayweather could be to the betterment of Chechnya’s reputation, the leader cultivated the relationship from the moment he welcomed Mayweather into his home with open arms and a list of jokes. Yet their post-lunch conversation was merely the beginning of series of stops that day designed to impress the visiting foreigner. Next up was the Akhmat facility in Grozny.
Accompanied by several members of his ‘Money Team’ entourage, Mayweather arrived at the Akhmat gym, a large-scale, state-sponsored facility that housed hundreds of prospective fighters, as well as current MMA champions of the World Fighting Championship of Akhmat (WFCA) promotion, which is also funded by Kadyrov’s coffers. Mayweather, clearly taken aback by the 8,000 square meter space and state-of-the-art equipment, commended Kadyrov on his dedication to combat sports. Whether he was unaware of Kadyrov’s oppressive attitude towards the majority of his population or simply didn’t care, remains to be seen.
The head of the Chechen Republic later revealed that Mayweather “highly appreciated the conditions created for the development of martial arts in Chechnya” and plans to “invite a team of trainers in boxing and MMA from the US.”
Дорогие друзья! В Чечню по моему приглашению прибыл чемпион мира в пяти весовых категориях, легенда бокса, не знающий горечь поражений Флойд Мейвезер. Вместе с гостем мы посетили многофункциональный спорткомплекс клуба “Ахмат” в Гудермесе. Мейвезер ознакомился с тренировочным процессом, посмотрел показательные выступления боксеров и бойцов ММА, пообщался со спортсменами. Он высоко оценил условия, созданные для развития единоборств в Чечне. Гость остался под приятным впечатлением от общения с людьми и увиденной в Грозном, Гудермесе и Аргуне картины. Флойд намерен совершить в республику повторный визит и пригласить команду тренеров по боксу и ММА из США. Надеюсь, что наше сотрудничество будет носить долгосрочный и продуктивный характер. Уверен, опыт такого великого спортсмена будет бесценен для воспитанников клуба “Ахмат”. #Кадыров #Россия #Чечня #Бокс #Мейвезер #ММА A post shared by Ramzan Kadyrov (@kadyrov_95) on Mar 16, 2017 at 1:05pm PDT
Kadyrov’s boxing diplomacy worked. He had secured an active working relationship with the greatest boxer of the generation.
“Of course, I have to plan for the future and will agree with his team and friends, but we’re going to go back and plan to bring with us a top American boxing coach and the best trainers from the UFC,” Mayweather told Russian media following his day in Chechnya. “I think it will help to ensure that Chechen fighters will be able to get a higher level of training.”
Mayweather’s visits ensured that Kadyrov-sponsored Akhmat fighters will likely have the opportunity to train at U.S. facilities associated with Mayweather and his team. It established a working relationship between the two regions and opens the door for Kadyrov and his fighters to become as relevant in boxing as they already are in MMA and the UFC.
While Mayweather’s appearance in Chechnya was as surreal as it was unexpected, it is far from the first time that a notable athlete has visited Ramzan Kadyrov, though the 49-0 boxer may have been the most well known. Countless UFC fighters, including a handful of former champions like Fabricio Werdum, Frank Mir, Chris Weidman, and Frankie Edgar have been paid to attend his MMA events in Grozny, Chechnya. He has since hosted other UFC fighters, including Khabib, Alexander Gustafsson, Makwan Amirkhani, Ilir Latifi. Werdum also happens to be an ambassador to Kadyrov’s MMA promotion. The head of the Chechen Republic also promoted kickboxing shows headlined by Badr Hari (who was infamously pictured with a gold Ak-47 in Kadyrov’s bathtub) and even hosted actors like Steven Seagal.
In most cases, Kadyrov does this to present the image of a wealthy and powerful leader associating with masculine athletes and celebrities that his people would approve off. Well-edited vignettes featuring strategic shots of Kadyrov mingling with American and foreign fighters are later placed on his Instagram account, his preferred outlet for communication with the Chechen people, and the medium for the vast majority of his personal propaganda.
While this approach might appear far-fetched to some, it’s in keeping with the broader narrative that Kadyrov propagates amongst his people: a fabricated form of Chechen machismo. He regularly posts videos of himself wearing a Putin t-shirt and working out in the gym, or training with MMA fighters and boxers. He promotes Chechen manhood, though a version that suits his political needs. His sports socialization tactic allows Kadyrov to assimilate Chechens en masse into combat sports programs. Associating with famed fighters only serves to enhance his personal image as the embodiment of Chechen ideals and traditional masculinity, and thus, secures his de facto reign over the Chechen Republic.
Photo by Kadyrov Press Office/Getty Images
By presenting a specific image of Chechnya during Mayweather’s stay, Kadyrov was able to reap the benefits in the form of propaganda spread across local Chechen outlets. When Mayweather was asked his thoughts about the republic, his response was perfectly in line with what Kadyrov needs to enhance his state prestige.
“I was already in the capital of Russia, so I decided to come to Chechnya,” Mayweather was quoted saying on various Chechen outlets. “I knew that there are good fighters and wanted to see the conditions in which they train. Honestly, I’m amazed by the conditions created in Chechnya for boxing, and with how things are doing. Of course, the technology used in training differs slightly from the US, but in general, there are all conditions for the success of the fighters. I loved it.”
In his first major display of boxing diplomacy since inviting Mike Tyson to visit several years ago, Kadyrov seemingly managed to create a lasting relationship that would be mutually beneficial to both parties involved. Mayweather would likely be well compensated for his efforts, while return Kaydrov’s team wound enjoy their newfound association and links to the United States boxing world.
Despite Mayweather’s controversial image in the U.S. stemming from domestic abuse cases he was convicted in, he remains a significant asset to a warlord with countless human rights accusations and a morbid fascination with combat sports.