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Fightweets: The Ramzan Kadyrov problem for UFC, MMA

FC Anji Makhachkala v PFC CSKA Moscow - Russian Cup Final Photo by Dmitry Korotayev/Epsilon/Getty Images

Back-to-back fight weekends kick off with Saturday’s UFC on FOX 25 from Long Island, N.Y.

But the most consequential news item of the week was supplied by HBO’s Real Sports, which took a chilling look at Ramzan Kadyrov, the dictator of the Russian republic of Chechnya, and his ties to the sport of mixed martial arts.

Lest you think this was something that can just be brushed aside and ignored, consider that one of Saturday’s headliners, Chris Weidman, was a tangential figure in the piece, as someone who has visited Chechnya in the past.

So how does the sport deal with it’s Chechen issue moving forward? We take a look at that and more in this week’s Fightweets.

Real Sports piece on Chechnya

@MacPherson9999: is it possible to separate sports from politics? Can we, in good conscience, support, say, Werdum or Weidman until they renounce Kadyrov?

HBO’s interview with Kadyrov, the military dictator of Chechnya, was simultaneously a spectacular piece of journalism and a chilling look at a murderous autocrat.

It’s also a definitive answer for those who complain we should “stick to sports” when politics encroach on the sports world. Kadyrov has used the sport of mixed martial arts to consolidate his power and raise his profile on the world stage.

If this was just another controversial head of state, that would be one thing. One of MMA’s great appeals is that it welcomes people of all races, creeds, religions, and political philosophies from all over the world.

What makes this situation different, though, is the allegations of torture and murder of gay men in the Chechen Republic. Two men who were interviewed by HBO described being tortured and returned to their families in a sack. Kadyrov, for his part, barely did anything to dispel the allegations.

This is a moment of truth for both the UFC and the fighters who have been over to Chechnya.

Let’s start with the competitors. I think it’s absolutely fair to give fighters like Weidman and Fabricio Werdum the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t know what was going on when they made their trips to Chechnya. These appearances were likely just presented to them as an opportunity to make some quick and easy money, and news of the violence against gay men only surfaced in recent months.

But after the HBO segment, ignorance is no longer an excuse. I understand fighters need to make every dollar they can while their window is open, but they can do so without resorting to taking blood money which helps glamorize a military dictator.

That brings us to the UFC, which has contracts with several Chechen fighters. There is precedent in the sports world for cutting ties to nations and states with noxious political ideology, the most famous of which was the international sporting boycott of South African athletes until it dropped its apartheid policies of racial segregation.

In recent years, the Zuffa version of UFC made big strides in repairing its image in the LGBT community. It made generous donations to the gay and lesbian center of Las Vegas and launched a “We Are All Fighters” campaign last summer.

Does WME-IMG have the same commitment?

WME-IMG CEO Ari Emanuel is scheduled to receive an award in September from the LGBT Center of Los Angeles honoring his service toward the community. Given the alleged atrocities against gay men brought to light by the HBO report, now would be as good a time as any for WME-IMG to clarify the UFC's policy on fighters from Chechnya and whether it will do business in the region.

Weidman’s future

@Jortiz523 2: How far would Weidman be away from a title shot if he beats Kelvin big this Saturday

@msolis1982: What happens to Weidman if Gastelum smokes him? Does he leave?

I’m lumping both these questions together because they basically sum up just how much the former middleweight champion has riding on his UFC on FOX 25 main event on Saturday. If Weidman defeats Kelvin Gastelum? Hey, fighters have come out of three-fight losing streaks and gotten back on track before. In his losses against Yoel Romero and Gegard Mousasi, Weidman was winning the fight until he wasn’t, which suggest mistakes that are correctable with tweaks here and there.

With a win, it’s not like Weidman immediately vaults back to the top of the pack at 185 pounds. But in a shifting field in which champion Michael Bisping is sidelined, interim champ Robert Whittaker is healing a leg injury, Mousasi is no longer with the company, Luke Rockhold continues with his one-man strike, and Jacare Souza and Romero are both coming off losses, then yeah, Weidman stakes a solid spot somewhere in that mix with a victory.

With a loss to Gastelum, Weidman’s future becomes a real question mark. How do you shake off four losses in a row? Particularly when you’re too small to move up to light heavyweight and too big to realistically cut down to welterweight? It’s not likely Weidman would be able to reinvent himself in the manner of Frankie Edgar.

It’s rare we see fights with such much-or-break implications, but this is one.

Under the radar

@hunt5588: What is your sleeper fight for #UFCLongIsland?

Patrick Cummins vs. Gian Villante, hands down. You know what you’re getting from both of these guys. They’re finished products with legitimate strengths (Cummins’ gas tank lasts for days; Villante hits like a runaway truck); glaring weaknesses (Cummins’ standup; Villante can get hit by a runaway truck); and both guys are fearless and have heart like few others. It sure won’t be the technical fight of the year, but it has all the makings of a good old-fashioned brawl.

Salty Mouse

@SadJonJones: Like or dislike the new DJ?

Like, but with the qualifier that it’s time to pump the brakes a little bit. Demetrious Johnson had plenty of valid reasons to go public with his complaints about the UFC and Dana White. The UFC flyweight champion had done his job faithfully and with little complaint for years. He picked exactly the right spot to air his grievances when White tried to force him to take the T.J. Dillashaw fight.

But now? Johnson has gotten everything he asked for. He got the headline spot on the UFC 215 pay-per-view. He has a high-powered agent now in Malki Kawa. He has his chance to beat Anderson Silva’s title defense record and make history. And he even got the Best Fighter ESPY, which shows more fans appreciate his talents than was previously assumed.

Johnson still sounded pretty angry in the wake of his ESPY, though. The line between dude with a righteous grip and chronic complainer is more than than ever these days. Mighty Mouse would be wise to find said line.

Silva-Diaz 2?

@dpack19358: Will Nick Diaz return for the Anderson Silva fight, since Silva is calling for the rematch?

God, I hope not. Silva vs. Diaz at UFC 183 was a great-sounding idea on paper that simply didn’t pan out. It was a 50-45 fight whose only particularly entertaining moment was Diaz lying on the mat and clowning Silva. In the aftermath, of course, both Silva and Diaz popped, and the fallout from this (coming right after the Jon Jones UFC 182 cocaine test) pushed Zuffa into panic mode on drug testing.

That was two-and-a-half years ago. Now you’d be talking about a 42-year-old Silva against a rusty Diaz who hasn’t fought since. And that’s not even taking Diaz’s latest brush with USADA into account.

UFC 183 was a night to forget, not one to relive.

Brock talk

@TeamkillerHenry: Is there any real chance of Brock returning? And if he does, who do you think it will make sense for him to face?

Well, as of now, Brock Lesnar has not re-entered the USADA testing pool. Until he does, his suspension related to his UFC 200 fight with Mark Hunt will remain frozen. The former UFC heavyweight champion’s WWE contract comes due in the spring of next year.

For all his angry-farmboy bluster, Lesnar’s long been one of the smartest people in the game in terms of leveraging his drawing power. If he’s serious about scoring one last giant contract in his early 40s, then he needs to get the option of returning to the UFC on the table sooner rather than later so he can try to play the sides off one another.

The surface idea, here, is that Lesnar can make a ridiculous amount of money in one night in the UFC. The next level of thinking is that I’m not sure Lesnar still has the drawing power he once had. Lesnar’s first return was always going to be the big one. He was gone for five years, with the questions remaining about having his prime cut out from under him by diverticulitis. He delivered a giant buy rate at UFC 200, but the match itself, with Mark Hunt, didn’t leave people wanting to see what’s next.

And then you dig even deeper, and remember that the UFC desperately needs headliners -- there were even rumors of Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate 3 out there for awhile -- and you realize that the UFC could overpay Lesnar simply based on perceived value. Which is why Lesnar, whether he returns or not, likely floated the idea in the first place.


@Carl_MacFarlane: Who would win in a boxing match, Floyd Mayweather in his prime, or Bruce Lee in his prime?

Under boxing rules? Floyd, of course. But this tweet suddenly made me want to see Mayweather fight Conor McGregor in the Hall of Mirrors.

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